How to Analyze the Behavior of Autistic Children

By Damon Verial

Common sense, parenting books and even books on autistic children often fail in helping a parent explain her autistic child’s behaviors. In such a case, it becomes your prerogative to actively analyze your child’s behavior, looking for clues that could give insight into a problem behavior. Through looking for the cues and rituals that drive the actions of autistic children, you can begin to perceive the true causes behind a certain behavior, allowing you to better form a strategy to counter the behavior.

Determine the problem. Pinpoint the behavior that is causing a problem or becoming an annoyance. Be specific in your definition of the problem behavior. For example, defining the problem as “refuses to take off his shirt in before a bath” is more specific and addressable than “troublesome during bath time.”

Discover the situation and settings matching the behavior. Determine the set circumstances that match the action. Use the “three Ws” in your analysis: Who is around when he does this? When does he do this? Where does he do this? These situational aspects could be triggers for the behavior.

Evaluate your response. Recall how you typically respond to the behavior. Determine if your response is reinforcing the behavior. For example, if your child runs away from the sight of a spoon and you automatically comfort her by hugging her, you might be reinforcing the idea that running away is the correct action to encountering a spoon.

Establish whether or not your child’s action is part of a routine. Consider whether the individual action of your child is part of a larger fixed routine or ritual. According to the Texas Statewide Leadership for Autism Training, many problematic behaviors are part of a ritual: Autistic children need structure in their lives and often find it through developing strange or troublesome routines. Conclude whether your child is engaging in an independent behavior or a stream of actions that includes one or two problem behaviors.

Pick a method of addressing the behavior. Select a method that addresses one of the main aspects tied in with the action: situation, response or routine. Change the situation so that your child will not encounter the trigger that causes the problem; for example, if your child chews on non-edible things you leave on the dinner table, stop leaving non-edible objects on the dinner table. Alter your response to your child’s behavior; for example, instead of giving your child what he wants after a tantrum, send him to time out in response to the tantrum. Help your child rework his routine; for a child who only goes to the bathroom when you go, develop and present her a chart that displays the appropriate times to go to the bathroom. Consider combining these methods for a higher rate of success.

About the Author

Having obtained a Master of Science in psychology in East Asia, Damon Verial has been applying his knowledge to related topics since 2010. Having written professionally since 2001, he has been featured in financial publications such as SafeHaven and the McMillian Portfolio. He also runs a financial newsletter at Stock Barometer.