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How to Deal with Severe Autism Behavior

written by: Daphne Matthews • edited by: Paul Arnold • updated: 3/31/2011

Treatments for severe autism behavior vary depending on each individual and the severity of their autism. Some treatments are verified by scientific research and others are based on anecdotal evidence.

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    Severe Autism Behavior

    To determine if an autism behavior is severe, a caregiver must first determine whether or not the behavior is life threatening or if the behavior is harmful to the autistic individual or to others. A caregiver must also determine whether or not the behavior is likely to become more serious over time. Caregivers might also want to consider if the behavior will interfere with community acceptance (Ward 2001). If the answer to any of these questions is yes, then the behavior is likely to be severe.

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    Dealing with Severe Autism Behavior

    As parents and caregivers analyze their loved one’s severe autism behaviors, they will learn which situations cause a meltdown. Some of these situations can be avoided but most will have to be dealt with. If a caregiver sees that a meltdown is arising, distraction sometimes works for the autistic individual. By distracting the sufferer, the caregiver basically derails the meltdown that was beginning and offers an alternate way to look at things.

    For an autistic person who has trouble with change, a caregiver can go over the daily schedule each morning, taking time to prepare the autistic person for any changes in the daily routine. While this can be time consuming, it is well worth the effort because it will lessen the meltdown later in the day.

    Help the autistic individual feel like they have more control in their lives by including them in as many decisions as possible. Autistic people tend to feel overwhelmed by too many choices, so when the opportunity arises, give them two to three choices. They are less likely to have a meltdown if they play a role in the choices presented to them.

    Autistic children don’t seem to understand time-outs. Therefore, teaching an autistic child to abandon a behavior is best done by taking away something they enjoy, like playing on the computer, for a while. Good behavior can be reinforced by giving them more time for something they enjoy.

    Some autistic children lash out at their siblings which may cause serious injury. Finding an outlet for their pent up energy is necessary to keep control. The more anxious an autistic child is the more damage they can cause. Physical activity each day plays an important role in controlling the anxiety as it will tire the child and help them to relax more later in the day.

    When parents of autistic children supervise playtime with other children, they should limit their time together so that all parties leave on a happy note. Other children are more likely not to shun an autistic child if they share a positive experience with them. This can help an autistic child make more friends once the begin school.

    Sometimes autistic children misbehave in order to get the attention of their parents. To avoid reinforcing this behavior, a parent should speak in a monotone voice and not rush to the child’s side each time a problem arises. By restraining the urge, the parent is letting the child know that the behavior will not get them what they want and, in time, with patience, the behavior will subside.

    Applied behavior analysis calls for “an intensive, one-on-one child-teacher interaction for 40 hours a week, (which lays) a foundation for other educators and researchers in the search for further effective early interventions to help those with ASD attain their potential” (NIMH 2009). This treatment can be applied at home as well. By spending time getting to know the autistic person that a caregiver takes care of, they are allowing for a better understanding of how the autistic brain works and will find the best ways to deal with those behaviors.

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    In Conclusion

    Severe autism behavior affects not only the lives of autistic people but also everyone they come in contact with. With patience, love, and education, these behaviors can lessen so that they don't control the lives of those affected.

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    References:

    National Institute of Mental Health. “Treatment Options.” July 22, 2009. http://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/publications/autism/treatment-options.shtml

    Rellini, E., D. Tortolani, S. Trillo, et al. “Childhood Autism Rating Scale (CARS) and Autism Behavior Checklist (ABC) Correspondence and Conflicts with DSM-IV Criteria in Diagnosis of Autism.” Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, Vol. 34, No. 6, December 2004, http://home.cc.gatech.edu/autism/uploads/34/dsmvscar.pdf.

    Ward, Kimberly and Murray Gaetz. “Dealing with Severe Behaviors: Proactive Strategies and Effective Consequences.” Feb. 16, 2001. http://autism.ca/aide.htm.