Disruptive Behavior Disorder in Autistic Children

By Melody Causewell
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Disruptive behavior disorders -- including oppositional defiance and conduct disorder -- can be difficult to deal with. Oppositional defiant disorder is marked by disobedience and hostility towards authority figures and may present as tantrums, aggression or low self-esteem according to the MayoClinic. Conduct disorder often begins with similar symptoms, and may escalate to more severe behaviors that include running away, vandalism or early sexual encounters according to WebMD. By understanding how disruptive behaviors may present themselves and what steps can be taken to intervene, parents can effectively reduce these behaviors in their autistic children.

Gender May Change Presentation

The sex of the child may alter the way behaviors manifest according to University of Kansas research published in the "Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders" in 2005. In this study, authors Reese, Richman, Belmont and Morse report that disruptive behaviors generally showed up when boys or girls were trying to avoid demands, gain attention or acquire desired items. However, only boys with autism seemed to use the disruptive behavior to escape from unwanted stimulation -- such as household noises -- to get an item used in repetitive routines or to escape demands surrounding repetitive behavior. Understanding that male children may show more disruptive behaviors in the presence of these factors may help parents to anticipate and diffuse the situation accordingly.

Anxiety May Change Disruptive Behaviors

Anxiety may heighten behavioral disturbances according to University of South Florida research published in "Child Psychiatry and Human Development" in 2012. In this study, researchers found that children and adolescents who had autism spectrum disorders along with clinical anxiety had higher levels of disruptive behavioral issues and familial impairment, were prescribed higher levels of medication and had higher levels of anxiety when compared to their counterparts with clinical anxiety but without autism. Researchers concluded that those with autism and anxiety have a greater risk for disruptive behavior, possibly due to the increased prescription of antipsychotic medication. Parents should discuss all medication concerns with their child's psychiatrist when treating any combination of these issues.

Social Stories to Decrease Disruptive Behaviors

Storytelling may help decrease disruptive behaviors in autistic children according to University of Mississippi Medical Center research published in the "Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders" in 2002. This study found that properly constructed social stories told at home in the child's natural environment decreased disruptive behaviors in each child studied. While more research in this area is needed, positive stories which discuss appropriate conduct on your child's level may help to improve behavioral issues.

Intervention May Decrease Behavioral Symptoms

Higher functioning autistic children may benefit from improved familial functioning and cognitive behavioral therapies according to research published in the "Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders" in 2010. Researchers found that higher functioning autistic children observed in a community mental health setting had similar outcomes to non-autistic children. In both groups, cognitive behavioral therapy, or using positive self-talk to decrease unwanted behaviors, and improving family environment, such as decreasing conflict among members, served to decrease disruptive behaviors. Parents of autistic children may benefit from intervention not only to improve behavior in their children, but for overall familial stability.

About the Author

Melody Causewell has been a writer in the mental health field since 2001. She written training manuals and clinical programs for mental health organizations. She has published feature articles "Leaven" magazine and has been published in "Natural Awakenings." She has a degree in psychology, a Masters degree in social work and is a La Leche League leader.