People on the autism spectrum may display behaviours that challenge. These behaviours may sometimes seem to come out of nowhere but it is often ways of communicating that something is wrong. It could be caused by hunger, thirst, temperature too hot or too cold, pain or discomfort, boredom or over-stimulation. By considering this fact and trying to figure out what causes upset, it is possible to minimise the occurrence of behaviours that challenge. Please see our ‘Strategies’ section for more information.

Behaviours that challenge can include:

  • Aggression and violence towards others
  • Self-harm
  • Shouting
  • Inappropriate touching
  • Smearing
  • Eating non-edible items

Keeping a behaviour diary can be very helpful as it allows you to look back over an extended period of time and identify patterns. If you find that there is a common time or activity during which their behaviour becomes more challenging, consider what is happening that might be making them upset or uncomfortable and from there you can try to find a way to take away that trigger. Keep the diary going when you are trying new strategies as this will help you identify positive changes or things that didn’t work. Remember to be patient and realistic with your goals, it won’t happen overnight, and try to just focus on improving one or two behaviours that challenge at a time to avoid overwhelming them with lots of new things.

For many people on the autism spectrum, routine is very important to their well-being and any sudden change to that routine can be very upsetting and stressful. This not only relates to what they do during each day, but also their environment. For example, if they arrive home one day to find that the living room furniture has been re-arranged, this could be very upsetting for them and it may be that the only way they can communicate that feeling is through behaviours that challenge. Often, people on the autism spectrum don’t find it easy to adapt to change, and a good way to overcome a potential problem if something in their lives is going to change is to prepare them in advance. Everyone is different, as are their needs, so think about how long they might need to process the information and inform them of the change with enough time. If you think it is necessary, you could also remind them each day up until the point when the change takes place.

This comfort that many people with ASC find in repetition often results in repetitive behaviour, such as rocking, hand flapping, jumping or twirling. This is sometimes known as ‘stimming’. Although this isn’t behaviour that challenges, it can be helpful to understand the reasons for it. For some people, it is a way of increasing sensory stimulation. By flapping their hand in front of their face they are providing visual stimulation, or they may like the sensation of the impact on their body when they jump up and down. On the other hand, it could be a way of reducing sensory stimulation. If they are in a busy or noisy environment, by focusing on this repetitive action they may be able to cope with the sensory overload. It could also be their way of dealing with stress or anxiety and may sometimes be the first indication that something is wrong. For many people, it is simply a way to pass the time and a source of enjoyment!