(Inside: There’s a lot of focus on changing your autistic child’s behavior, but you must take these 3 vital steps before you address your autistic child’s behavior or you won’t see any true progress!)
When it comes to autistic children, there is a massive emphasis put on changing their behavior.
If you search on Amazon I’m sure you can find dozens of books all promising to change your autistic child’s behaviors, and on Pinterest, you’ll find hundreds of blog posts.
But here’s the truth… If you start out trying to change your autistic child’s behavior, you aren’t really going to get anywhere.
See, there are 3 vital steps to take BEFORE addressing your autistic child’s behavior, and if you skip these steps you just won’t see the type of positive change you’re looking for.
(Image description: A young girl in a pink dress sitting on a small chair pointed toward a white wall with a clock on it. She is turned around in the chair looking at the camera. At the bottom, pink and teal text on a white background reads: “do this before addressing your autistic child’s behaviors”. White Autistic Mama infinity logo in the top left corner.)
3 Vital Steps To Take BEFORE Addressing Your Autistic Child’s Behaviors
See, when we focus on changing an autistic child’s behaviors as the first and main goal, there is a LOT that gets missed.
We tend to jump to behavioral modification techniques that the experts say “work”, but at what cost?
Do we really need to use punishments, rewards, and manipulative techniques with our kids?
No! We totally don’t.
But if you want to see a real change in your autistic child’s behaviors WITHOUT using techniques that make you feel guilty and uncomfortable, you’ve got to take these three vital steps first.
#1 Make Sure Your Autistic Child Feels Safe
Before you even begin trying to change your autistic child’s behaviors, you have to make sure your child feels safe.
“But Kaylene, of course my child is safe!” you might be thinking…
Well, autistic people tend to struggle with anxiety.
Meaning that even if you logically know that your autistic child is perfectly safe, their brain may not feel safe.
So before jumping into your child’s behaviors, take some time to evaluate their environment.
Is your autistic child regularly eating and sleeping? Are their sensory needs being met regularly?
Do they have a way to communicate needs with you, even if that’s literally pointing at things or a specific cry that means a specific need?
Do they feel some sense of control over their world, whether that be through routines or allowing them to make choices about what happens in their day?
Taking some of these steps will help your autistic child manage their anxiety, and without that, any attempt to change their behavior is pretty much pointless.
#2 Understand Why You Want to Change Their Behavior
Okay, so you’ve made some changes to help your autistic child feel safe and made sure they feel like they have some control in their life.
Now, time to address your autistic child’s behavior, right??
See, now we need to do some heart work.
I want you to take some time understanding exactly why you want to change this specific behavior.
Let’s take a look at two specific behaviors that parents may want to change.
First, we’ll say that your autistic child is constantly spinning in circles, and you’d like them to stop.
I want you to take some time and think about why you want your child to stop spinning.
Does their spinning hurt themselves or others?
Does their spinning negatively impact their life?
Or is it just that their spinning is distracting to you? Or maybe that it makes other people stare when you’re in public?
In most cases, I’d actually encourage you to leave this behavior alone.
There isn’t anything inherently wrong with your child spinning, and it actually likely serves a very real purpose for them.
For now, let’s take another example behavior, and say that your autistic child is hitting their sibling.
Let’s go through that same process and think about why you want your child to stop hitting their sibling.
Does their hitting hurt themselves or others? Yes!
So now you know this is a behavior that makes sense to try to change.
But we still aren’t quite ready to address your autistic child’s behavior.
There’s one more step that is absolutely vital!
#3 Know the Reason for The Behavior
Now I know by this point you might be so ready to start addressing your autistic child’s behavior, but I’ll tell you that the parents who take time on this step see much more progress than those who don’t!
It all comes down to this basic truth: All Behavior Is Communication.
And while that’s true of all behaviors and all kids, it is especially true when it comes to autistic children, and even more so with autistic children who struggle with communication.
So if you want to change your autistic child’s behavior, you have got to figure out what that behavior is communicating.
It’s our job as parents to discover the reason for our child’s behaviors.
So many behavioral techniques and therapies skip this step and focus solely on eliminating the end behaviors.
And while you may be able to train away the outward behavior, you won’t make true progress with your child unless you take care of the reason for the behavior that’s lurking under the surface.
Not to mention, when you find the reason for your autistic child’s behavior and help them manage the reason, you are building trust.
You are teaching your autistic child that you want to truly help them, not just make them behave the way you want.
This is seriously powerful stuff!
So I encourage you to take some time discovering what could be going on below the surface to cause your child’s behavior.
Spend some time tracking when your child does the behavior and start paying attention to the things happening before the behavior to look for some clues.
Try to include your child when you can, and you might be surprised at the insights they have to share.
I’ll also give you one word of caution: Go into this with an open mind.
If you start this process thinking “my autistic child is just doing this for attention” or “my child does this because they didn’t get their way”, you’re likely going to miss the true cause of your child’s behavior.
So keep a totally open mind, leave your assumptions behind, and look for what the clues are telling you!
And once you find your best guess of what’s causing the behavior, that is when you can finally start addressing your autistic child’s behaviors.
But really, instead of simply trying to train or manipulate them so they stop doing the behavior, you’ll be able to address the root cause before the behavior even begins!
You will be amazed at the progress you can make with your autistic child’s behaviors if you take the time to go through these three absolutely vital steps before you jump in.
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