Therapy room at Lighthouse Autism Center with toys on a table with blue chairs and book shelves above

Causes of Behavioral Change in Autistic Children 

Understanding and managing changes in behavior is essential for caregivers of autistic children. By identifying triggers and implementing effective strategies, such as ABA therapy and positive reinforcement, you can help autistic children learn to identify their triggers, self-regulate, and thrive.

What Are Some Causes of Behavioral Change in Autistic Children? 

Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) is a neurological and developmental condition that affects how autistic individuals communicate, interact with others, perceive themselves and interpret the world around them. Autistic adults and children often experience heightened sensory sensitivities, process information differently and approach social interactions more cognitively than intuitively. 

For children with ASD, sudden changes in behavior can be triggered by sensory overload, changes in their daily routine as well as certain medical conditions. By understanding what the potential triggers are, caregivers can effectively implement strategies to manage behavior and support their autistic child through challenging moments. 

What triggers behavioral changes in autistic children?

The behavior of autistic children can vary widely, as each child’s experience exists on the broad behavioral spectrum of autism. However, there are certain factors that can commonly trigger changes in behavior. 

1. Sensory Issues

Sensory processing issues are common among most autistic children. They may be highly sensitive (hypersensitive) or under-responsive (hyposensitive) to light, sound, taste, touch and smell. 

For example, a child can become overwhelmed in a crowded, bright and noisy environment — resulting in a meltdown or shutdown. Or, they may seek intense sensory experiences, like spinning or rocking, in order to self-regulate. These sensory differences can significantly affect their emotional state and how they behave.  

2. Changes in routine

Autistic children often thrive on predictability and routine. This means that they do best when they know what to expect day to day. Any changes, sometimes even minor ones, to their daily schedules or environment can be distressing and lead to behavioral changes. 

3. Medical Conditions

Some autistic children may have specific underlying medical conditions that contribute to behavioral changes. For instance, gastrointestinal issues, allergies or sleep disorders may cause discomfort and impact their behavior negatively. 

4. Communication difficulties

Communication difficulties can also be a great challenge for some autistic children. They may have difficulty understanding or using language. They could even struggle to focus and communicate effectively due to the sensory issues discussed above. Understandably, not being able to communicate can lead to frustration and result in challenging behaviors such as self-injury, tantrums and aggression. 

5. Social Challenges

Social challenges can also be a source of stress and the cause of behavioral issues for autistic children since they may have difficulty understanding subtle social cues, micro-expressions and emotions, as well as any form of nonverbal communication. These challenges can be incredibly frustrating and isolating for the child.  

In social settings, autistic children may engage in repetitive or self-stimulatory behaviors as a coping mechanism. They may also withdraw from social interaction altogether to avoid the complex and uncomfortable dance of human interaction. 

Recognizing triggers

Recognizing triggers is the key to effectively managing the behavioral health of autistic children. Caregivers should pay close attention and take note of any specific circumstances or events that precede unhealthy, inappropriate or challenging behaviors.  

Once the potential triggers have been identified, caregivers and parents can work on creating tailored strategies to minimize or avoid those behaviors and responses altogether, as well as teach new skills to support their child 

Effective strategies for managing behavioral changes 

Dealing with sudden behavioral changes in autistic children calls for a holistic approach, one that considers the context, unique needs and challenges of that particular child.  

As caregivers face inappropriate or challenging behaviors, having the right strategies becomes crucial when supporting the child’s development and well-being. 

Positive Behavior Support

Positive Behavior Support, or PBS, is a systematic approach to managing behavior that focuses on reinforcing positive behaviors and teaching new skills. PBS can be highly effective in reducing challenging behaviors and improving the child’s ability to function effectively. 

Visual schedules

Visual schedules can help to ground children in predictability by creating structure. This helps to reduce anxiety and prevents potential meltdowns. Creating a visual schedule can be as simple as a picture chart that shows the child what activities they will be doing throughout the day; or they can be more complex, such as a digital schedule that shows the child the time and location of each activity. 

Sensory breaks

Sensory breaks can provide autistic children with a healthy way to self-regulate and calm themselves down when they’re feeling overwhelmed and overstimulated. Sensory breaks can include activities such as listening to music, doing breathing exercises or simply sitting in a peaceful place. Sensory supports are often recommended following the evaluation of an Occupational Therapist.  

Applied Behavior Analysis 

Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) therapy is a highly effective intervention for addressing skills deficits and socially impactful behaviors of people, including children with autism. It focuses on reinforcing positive behaviors and teaching new skills. ABA programs also incorporate aspects of PBS and parent training.   

Caregiver and parent training

Training autistic children’s caregivers and parents can be a critical part of the process of managing behavioral changes and issues in autistic children because it can teach caregivers how to use the appropriate strategies in order to manage their child’s behavior. Importantly, it also provides much-needed support and resources to help guardians and caregivers cope with the complexities of raising an autistic child in a neurotypical world. 

Managing autism and sudden behavior changes with the Lighthouse Autism Center

For parents and caregivers, sudden behavior changes in their autistic children can be distressing. But by learning how to deal with challenging autistic behaviors effectively, they can profoundly affect the well-being of their autistic child. 

LAC’s innovative Lighthouse Fusion ABA Therapy, along with its extensive archive, offers valuable autism resources for parents and caregivers of autistic children. Armed with knowledge and tailored strategies, caregivers can create a nurturing and supportive environment that fosters growth and empowers their autistic child to thrive. 

Together, we can unlock your child’s potential

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