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When you hear about autistic children, hearing about their behavior is never too far behind.

Whether it’s someone recommending a behavioral therapy like ABA… or asking about how to discipline an autistic child… or the school creating a written autism behavior plan…

It feels like everyone has some sort of plan for managing an autistic child’s behavior.

But autism behavior plans are almost always missing this one specific thing… And this thing is the key to creating an autism behavior plan that actually helps the autistic child get involved and “improve” their behavior.

So today I’m sharing the missing piece in autism behavior plans. And let me tell you friends… Once you figure this out it’s a game-changer!

Woman holds crying child. Teal and coral text reads: The Missing Piece in Most Autism Behavior Plans. Teal and coral Autistic Mama infinity logo in the top right corner.

The Missing Piece in Autism Behavior Plans

But before I dive into what’s missing in most autism behavior plans, I should probably share what typically is included…

  • Detailed tracking of the behavior
  • What behavior you want to increase or decrease.
  • A reward that will be given or withheld depending on the child’s behaviors.
  • Plans to practice the desired behavior (or practice avoiding the negative behavior) and get rewards.
  • More tracking.

And so on.

See, the entire focus is on the autistic child’s behavior and how we can get that behavior to change

But these behavior plans are missing the most important piece…

Autism Behavior Plans Miss The Reason for Behavior

Simply put, all behavior is communication.

So if a child is being aggressive? They’re communicating something.

If a child is refusing to do their homework? They’re communicating something.

If a child has a meltdown at the grocery store? They’re communicating something.

There is a reason for every single behavior, and most autism behavior plans ignore the reasons in favor of simply training the behavior away.

But the real power comes when we realize that as parents, our job is to decode our autistic child’s behavioral communication and find out what they’re trying to tell us.

When we do that, we can start to change the cause of your child’s behaviors instead of changing behaviors at a surface level.

So All Behavior Plans Are Bad?

Not necessarily. See, sometimes autistic children (like all children) have behaviors we need to change.

Maybe they self-harm. Maybe they hurt others. Maybe they elope in dangerous situations.

Parents need a plan so that they can address those behaviors.

(PS: Read this post before you address your autistic child’s behaviors… It’s vital!)

Where conventional behavior plans go wrong is that they focus entirely on the change in behavior.

Imagine a behavior plan that’s aiming to help an autistic child stop hitting.

After some tracking, it’s decided that the child’s favorite toy will only be given to them when they don’t hit, and it will be quickly taken from them every time they do hit.

The child learns that hitting is losing them their favorite toy, and they’re able to change their behavior by using every ounce of energy and every spoon they have.

If a child stops hitting, the behavior plan was a ‘success’.

Even if that child is now having explosive meltdowns later because holding it together was so stressful and downright painful.

But That Isn’t True Success

So what should parents and therapists do? How do you teach an autistic child to change their behavior without an elaborate reward system?

You focus on the reason for the behavior.

If your child has a meltdown every time they go to the grocery store, it’s likely because of the sensory overwhelm at the grocery store.

So the solution isn’t to use rewards to force them to ‘cope’ while at the grocery store.

It’s to deal with the sensory overwhelm at the grocery store!

Maybe this looks like bringing sensory tools like noise-canceling headphones.

Maybe it looks like not bringing this child to the grocery store.

Maybe it looks like asking your grocery store to make some changes to be more accessible.

Whatever it may be, when you focus on solving the reason for a behavior, you see true lasting change in your autistic child’s behavior.

And you can do it without punishments, rewards, or intense therapies.

You are your autistic child’s parent for a reason, and you can find out what’s causing your child’s behaviors and meet your child’s needs.

You can do this.

If you loved this post, you should check out:

Click here to download the meltdown strategy guide. Arrow pointing to cover of How to Handle Meltdowns. In the Moment Strategies That Work.

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