There are several characteristic features of autism and each varies depending on the child. Sometimes, these characteristics lead to problem behaviours at home, in the classroom, or in the community which can be frustrating both for the child and the adult caring for the child.

Since each child is unique, different strategies have to be tried to determine which works best for the child. Here are some strategies that could prevent problematic behaviours or promote positive behavioural changes:                                                                                  

*Provide a structured, predictable plan (Tell the child what will happen next).

For example, “After playing with these puzzles, you will brush your teeth”, or “In five minutes, you will turn off the computer and start your writing assignment.” For some children, it helps if a timer is set so the child keeps track of how much time is left.

So, in the above example, a timer would be set for five minutes to serve as a reminder to turn off the computer. Some children may need reminders as the time winds down to 2 minutes, 1 minute, etc.

Also, children who have difficulty understanding oral communication may respond better to pictures showing them what is expected, rather than verbal directions.

 Set expectations and rules, be consistent, and follow through

For instance, if you tell your child that you will play his favourite game with him if he plays quietly while you talk on the phone for five minutes, make sure that you keep your end of the bargain (barring unforeseen circumstances).

You may need to give him a choice of what activity to do during that time that you are on the phone. If your child can’t tell the time, set a timer that your child can see & understand, get off the phone in exactly 5 minutes (barring unforeseen consequences), and play the game. If you do this consistently, your child will understand what is expected and will rely on your instructions & promises. As he improves, you can increase the time. Once he learns how to play independently while you talk on the phone, you may be able to relax on such rigid set-ups, but it is a good starting point to teach him how to act while you talk on the phone. This is one example but can be applied to many scenarios.

If you don’t implement expectations with consistency and follow through on your words, your child will not know what to expect. This can lead to anxiety and challenging behaviour (e.g. talking to you while you are on the phone, repeatedly asking when you will be off the phone, etc.).

Children with autism or other challenging behaviours thrive on predictability, so do your best to make their world predictable.

For children with language difficulties, showing the child the activity or toy that he will be utilizing next is helpful to encourage him to move from one activity to another

For example, if the child is on the computer and you want him to work on a puzzle, show him the puzzle so he knows what it is you want him to do.

If possible, use a picture schedule to let the child know how his day will go

For children who have trouble reading or understanding language, a visual schedule would be best. A schedule for after school could include “eating a snack”, “doing homework”, “watching TV”, “playing a game with the family”, “reading a book”, “taking a bath” and “going to bed.” A visual schedule at school could include “math”, “reading”, “gym”, “lunch”, “recess”, “art”, “science”, “packing up”, and “getting on the bus.” Below is an example of a visual schedule:

Give Choices

All children, including those with autism, like to feel a sense of control over their world. Many children benefit from having choices limited to two to four options (depending on the child), as they get overwhelmed with too many choices and cannot decide. Examples of choices are: “Do you want to play a board game or watch TV,” “Do you want butter or jelly on your bagel,” “Do you want to wear the green or red shirt?” Again, children with language difficulties often have more success making choices when you show them the options or pictures of the options (e.g., hold up the red and green shirt and let them point to the one they want).