Dealing With Severe Autism Behaviors: Prevention and Reaction

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Behaviors in People with Severe Autism

With the autism crisis today, many of us will come into contact with people who have autism. When you are dealing with someone who has severe autism, behaviors that seem strange to outsiders may become commonplace. For example, people with autism may constantly rock, flap, or perform other repetitive motions. They may also act aggressively towards others, especially when they are bothered by some external stimulation or by a change in schedule. When working with people who have severe autism, it is important to remember that they may be extremely sensitive to light, sounds, and textures, and any of these may be the cause of severe autism behaviors.

Avoiding Negative Behaviors

You can reduce the number of times that a person with autism exhibits severe autistic behaviors by taking the following important steps:

  • Give sufficient warnings if something may happen that the person with autism will find difficult to deal with, such as a transition or a change in schedule. As much as possible, avoid unnecessary situations that might cause discomfort.
  • Provide choices rather than giving explicit directions. This can make the person with autism feel more in control of the situation, which can reduce the likelihood of severe autism behaviors.
  • Teach the person with autism relaxation techniques and calming strategies.
  • Develop explicit rules to help the person with autism deal with problematic situations.
  • Give the person with autism a safe place to release energy and to deal with frustrated emotions.

Responding to Behaviors

In order to respond effectively to severe autism behaviors, it is important to learn to recognize the warning signs. That way, you can steer the situation in a different direction so that the behaviors never appear. If you see that the severe behavior is already underway, try to use distraction rather than discipline at first, as that may be all that is needed. Alternatively, try planned ignoring if you think that the behaviors being displayed are an attempt to get attention.

If you feel that you must intervene, make sure that you reinforce only the behaviors that you wish to continue. For example, do not give a lot of attention or display overwhelming visible emotion in response to a severe autism behavior. When people with autism look at a person yelling and screaming, they may view it as nothing more than a cartoon or a funny caricature. Instead, act calmly and firmly, putting logical consequences into place without much drama. Make sure to give positive reinforcement at other times when the person with autism is acting appropriately.

Use physical restraint ONLY to protect people and ensure the safety of the person with autism or of those around him or her. In addition, make sure that you have adequate training so that you are able to restrain the person safely. Restraining a person with autism without the proper training can cause harm to one or both of you accidentally, and may cause the situation to escalate.


This post is part of the series: Aggression and Autism

Is your autistic child aggressive? If so, this series contains articles that can help you understand what your child may be feeling and how to control these aggressive tendencies.

  1. How to Stop Autistic Kids from Hitting: Advice for Parents and Teachers
  2. How to Deal with Severe Autism Behaviors
  3. The Top Five Ways to Help Autistic Aggression
  4. Four Strategies to Use for Severely Autistic Children