When Your Child with Autism Has Challenging Behaviors

By: Kerry Magro – Self-Advocate, National Speaker, and Author

Growing up on the spectrum, one of the struggles I had to deal with the most revolved around communication. However, one area that I sometimes don’t bring up is some of my challenging behaviors. I was recently reading a tool kit from Autism Speaks called the Challenging Behavior Tool Kit that truly resonated with me. Often when I go out to speak at events, one of the main questions that comes up is, “How can I get my child to speak?” Challenging behavior questions often fall through the cracks.

My sensory issues, which started when I was about two, led to behaviors that were harmful to myself and to others in my family. These behaviors can become a lifelong issue for some on the spectrum. Luckily for me, I overcame many of my challenging behaviors over time. It started with having a focused plan on early intervention. Early on, I had over 25 hours of occupational, speech and physical therapy that helped with many of my communication and sensory issues. In addition to the therapy, one of the biggest reasons for my challenging behaviors subsiding was because my parents included me in the conversation of why my behavior was challenging to them.

This was of a big benefit to my development. As I got older, I started to change that narrative to be part of a larger conversation because, while challenges may be difficult for my family, I often had to explain to them about the challenges I had trying to navigate the world around me.

Today, the challenging behaviors that might be associated with an autism diagnosis can include self-injury, social issues, communication and language difficulties, repetitive motions and obsessions, stimming, meltdowns, executive function issues, and much more.

The most important advice I can give to families when these behaviors come about is the importance of getting help, not only for your child but for yourself. Talk to your child’s pediatrician and study team and find that plan. Then, it’s imperative for you to find support groups or places you can lean on. While many of our roads may be different, we can find similarities often in our journeys with a loved one on the spectrum. Keep sharing those stories to better educate our community.

For additional resources, I’d suggest reading Dr. Jed Baker’s “No More Meltdowns: Positive Strategies for Managing and Preventing Out-Of-Control Behavior” and Ellen Notbohm’s “Ten Things Every Child with Autism Wishes You Knew.”

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