Challenging Behaviours & Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD)

Parents and families of children living with autism often describe certain behaviours exhibited by them as challenging. They are sometimes at a loss as to what could possibly have triggered such reactions from their children and are more confused about how to help their children during this period. In this article, we will discuss what challenging behaviours are, and how you, as parents and caregivers can effectively help your child.


Challenging behaviours can be described as certain ways a child with ASD behaves which might be difficult to manage and have negative impact on the child, their learning and environment. Challenging behaviours are also referred to as problem behaviours by professionals.

Some of these behaviours include;

  • Being aggressive or putting up a tantrum.
  • Non-compliance.
  • Socially unacceptable behaviours, like screaming or taking off clothes in public.
  • Engaging in self-stimulating behaviours like rocking.
  • Engaging in self-injurious behaviours like head banging.
  • Pica (eating or mouthing non-edible items).

In order to effectively manage these behaviours, one must look out for what could be a possible trigger, such as:

  • Anxiety
  • Change in routine
  • Over-sensitivity or under-sensitivity to sensory stimuli.
  • Transition between activities.
  • Lack of understanding of what is happening around them or what is being communicated to them.
  • Inability to communicate their needs which can lead to frustration.
  • Other physical reasons like discomfort, hunger, tiredness, and so on.


The first step is to determine ‘Why?’ That is, the reason or function the behaviour serves the child. This is done by tracking settings (environment), the history and origin of the behaviour. This can be better understood using the ABC Model of behaviour.

An ABC Model is a direct observation tool that can be used to collect information about occurring events and activities within a child’s environment. An ABC Chart is used to organize information over several observation sessions by recording the types of behaviours observed and the events that precede and follow the behaviour. Observing and recording ABC data assists the team in forming a hypothesis statement and gathering evidence that the function of a problem behaviour has been identified. First, let’s look at each of the three parts of the model.

“A” refers to the antecedent, or the event or activity that immediately precedes a problem behaviour which may likely be the trigger (not necessarily the trigger) or gives insights and clues into the behaviour trigger.

The “B” refers to behaviour, which is the specific behaviour being observed and analysed.

“C” refers to the consequence, or the response that immediately follows the observed behaviour. This response could be in form of Reinforcement (could be positive or negative).

Here, it is important to keep tabs of what triggers behaviour in order for it to be effectively managed.


The case scenario below highlights how to use ABC technique in managing a challenging behaviour.

Sally cries each time her mum takes her to the mall for shopping. She does not cry in the car but starts when they approach the mall. As a result of this consistent behaviour, her mother avoids taking her to the mall.

The possible antecedent here is ‘The mall’.

The behaviour here is ‘Crying’.

The consequence here is ‘Sally’s mother discontinuing her visit to the mall’.

So how can this be managed?

In other to effectively manage this problem behaviour, it is important to consider what function it serves the child. Using an ABC chart, the attending adult is able to determine how best to manage the behaviour. In this instance, Sally could be overwhelmed by the crowd at the mall, which causes her to cry. This could be managed by;

  • Introducing her gradually to the environment by showing her a picture of the mall during activities at home or school or taking her there when it is less crowded.
  • Communicating clearly to her where she is about to go before being taken there.
  • Preparing her for change in routines, using visual warning clocks or by showing her a picture of where next she would be going.
  • Making use of social stories about the mall, what is being done there and how to behave at the mall.
  • Using reinforcement when she acts accordingly.

This strategy is specific to this problem behaviour and may not be applicable for another type of behaviour.

For further assistance on how to help your child, contact us at Little Beginnings Academy and you will be referred to the Cognitive and Behaviour Therapy department.

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