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Managing Challenging Behaviors in Autism: Effective Strategies for Behavior Support Plans

Managing challenging behaviors in autism can be a significant concern for families with people who have autism. However, behavior support plans can provide a structured framework for managing these behaviors effectively. In this article, we will explore practical strategies and techniques that can be incorporated into behavior support plans to address challenging behaviors in individuals with autism. Let’s dive in and discover strategies that can make a positive difference.

Understanding Challenging Behaviors

Challenging behaviors in autism can manifest in various forms, such as meltdowns, aggression, self-injury, or repetitive actions. It’s important to recognize that these behaviors often serve a purpose or communicate an underlying need. By understanding the triggers and functions of these behaviors, we can develop targeted strategies to address them effectively.

Positive Behavior Support

Positive behavior support (PBS) is a person-centered approach that focuses on understanding the individual’s needs and creating a supportive environment. Here are some key strategies to consider:

  1. Functional Behavior Assessment (FBA): Conducting an FBA helps identify the function or purpose behind challenging behaviors. Understanding the underlying cause allows us to develop interventions that address the specific needs driving those behaviors.
  2. Behavior Intervention Plan (BIP): A BIP outlines strategies and techniques to prevent and respond to challenging behaviors effectively. It includes proactive approaches such as visual supports, structured routines, and social stories to promote positive behavior.
  3. Reinforcement Strategies: Utilizing positive reinforcement, such as rewards or praise, can help increase desired behaviors. This approach focuses on acknowledging and reinforcing appropriate behaviors rather than solely punishing or extinguishing challenging ones.
  4. Teaching Replacement Skills: Instead of solely focusing on eliminating challenging behaviors, PBS emphasizes teaching and reinforcing alternative, appropriate behaviors. This can involve communication strategies, social skills training, or self-regulation techniques.

Visual Supports and Structured Environment

Visual supports and structured routines can play a crucial role in behavior support plans. These strategies provide individuals with autism clear expectations, reduce anxiety, and enhance predictability. Consider incorporating the following:

  1. Visual Schedules: Visual schedules use pictures or symbols to outline daily activities and transitions, helping individuals with autism understand what comes next and reducing anxiety.
  2. First-Then Boards: First-Then boards visually represent a sequence of activities, showing individuals what they need to do first and what they will get to do afterward. This helps with motivation and promoting cooperation.
  3. Social Stories: Social stories use visual and written cues to explain social situations and appropriate behavior expectations. They can be customized to address specific challenging behaviors and aid in promoting understanding.

Implementing Communication Strategies

Challenging behaviors can often stem from difficulties in communication. By enhancing communication skills, individuals with autism can express their needs and desires more effectively. Consider the following strategies:

  1. Augmentative and Alternative Communication (AAC): AAC systems, such as picture exchange communication systems (PECS) or speech-generating devices, can support nonverbal or minimally verbal individuals in expressing themselves.
  2. Visual Supports for Communication: Visual supports, such as communication boards or choice boards, can help individuals with autism communicate their wants, needs, or preferences visually.
  3. Social Skills Training: Teaching social skills and providing opportunities for practicing social interactions can reduce frustration and promote positive behavior in social situations. This can be facilitated through structured playgroups, therapy sessions, or specialized social skills training programs.

Seeking Professional Support

Consulting with professionals who specialize in autism and behavior support can provide valuable guidance and expertise. Consider reaching out to the following professionals:

  1. Behavior Analysts: Board Certified Behavior Analysts (BCBAs) can conduct assessments, develop behavior intervention plans, and provide ongoing support and training.
  2. Occupational Therapists: Occupational therapists can address sensory sensitivities, self-regulation, and fine motor skills, which can contribute to challenging behaviors.
  3. Speech-Language Pathologists: Speech-language pathologists can assist in improving communication skills and addressing speech and language difficulties, reducing frustration and enhancing social interactions.

Behavior support plans are essential tools in managing challenging behaviors in autism. By implementing positive behavior support strategies, incorporating visual supports and structured routines, promoting communication skills, and seeking professional support, we can create a supportive environment that addresses the unique needs of individuals with autism. With consistent implementation and patience, individuals with autism can develop appropriate behaviors, enhance their quality of life, and thrive in their everyday activities.

More information and resources

You can learn more about telehealth, autism diagnosis, and what it  means for you and your family here: