Autism, or autism spectrum disorder (ASD) presents as a combination of factors when a child is young. Difficulty with social skills and communication along with a unique set of strengths and differences characterizes the condition. While autistic children possess their own individual talents and skills, some of their behaviors can be challenging. Sleep disruptions, food behaviors, meltdowns, aggression, and self-stimulatory behaviors are all pieces to understanding the bigger picture and being able to deal accordingly.
Sleep is particularly finicky for kids with ASD. The smallest change to a daily routine can have sleep patterns out of alignment. Caffeine, differences in diet, or changes in activity are common culprits. Sensory tools like dark window treatments, white noise machines, and heavy blankets can help to soothe the child and keep them asleep longer. Blocking out light can help to prolong a sense of consistency, while white noise acts as a barrier for change as well. These tools make it more difficult to sense fluctuations in the outside environment, thus, act as comforts to the child and make it easier to stay relaxed and asleep. Weighted blankets provide a sense of security; they engage the parasympathetic nervous system and signal the child’s body that it is okay to relax in security. If a child keeps waking up around the same time at night, utilizing images of a clock and explaining that morning is at a specified time can help to regulate them.
Often, kids with ASD are picky about food because of increased attention to texture, color, and other stimulating factors. Positive praise can be utilized as the child tolerates the new food on the table, on their plate, and eventually as a part of their meal. This sense of control should be developed gradually for maximum benefit.
Meltdowns happen. Tantrums are a product of acting out in order to achieve some desired result. Conversely, meltdowns happen when a child is so worked up that they cannot de-escalate themselves via any coping mechanism. Comforting and keeping the child safe until they calm down enough to do the rest themselves is the best course of action. If this happens in public, cards with autism information and resources might help to educate and divert unnecessary attention or commentary.
Aggressive behavior is usually a product of a child being frustrated that they cannot express themselves clearly or the way that they want to. Let the child know with a stern tone of voice that the behavior is not safe, and therefore, not okay. Behavioral therapy for autism can help to anticipate aggressive behaviors and figure out a logical progression of responses.
Self-stimulatory behavior like rocking and humming is often used by kids with ASD as a way to drown out extra external stimuli due to over-stimulation. It’s a way to shrink the world into a more manageable environment when there’s just too much happening at once. Identifying these behaviors as coping mechanisms can help to understand that they are natural and completely normal.
Autism comes with its own set of distinct challenges. Certain behaviors are atypical of kids without ASD, and thus labeled as difficult. Understanding the rationale behind each behavior is the first step to knowing how to respond and deal with it accordingly. Paying attention to stimulation is always critical when caring for a child with autism. Whether sound, texture, image, or taste, stimuli are magnified and input to the brain is loud, figuratively. Helping your child with ASD learn how to cope with difficult behaviors is just as important to them as it is for you.