Understanding Autism Behavior

When it comes to understanding autism, behavior challenges are a significant aspect that parents of children diagnosed with autism may encounter. Autism is a complex neurodevelopmental disorder that affects individuals in various ways, and behavior problems can present unique challenges to both the child and their caregivers.

Overview of Behavior Challenges

Children with autism may exhibit a range of behavioral characteristics that can lead to problem behaviors at home, in the classroom, or in the community. These behaviors can be frustrating for both the child and the adults caring for them. Some common behavior challenges in children with autism include:

  • Communication difficulties: Children with autism may struggle with verbal and non-verbal communication skills, which can lead to frustration and behavioral outbursts as they try to express their needs and emotions.
  • Sensory sensitivities: Many children with autism have sensory sensitivities, meaning they may have heightened or diminished responses to sensory stimuli such as sounds, lights, textures, or smells. These sensitivities can result in meltdowns or avoidance behaviors.
  • Social interactions: Children with autism may have difficulty understanding social cues, initiating or maintaining social interactions, and interpreting the emotions of others. This can lead to challenges in forming and maintaining relationships with peers and adults.
  • Executive functioning: Executive functioning refers to a set of cognitive processes that help individuals plan, organize, and regulate their behavior. Children with autism may struggle with executive functioning skills, such as impulse control, flexible thinking, and problem-solving, which can contribute to behavioral challenges.

To effectively address behavior challenges in children with autism, it is important to develop individualized strategies that are tailored to their specific needs and challenges. These strategies aim to reduce anxiety and reactivity that may lead to aggression or other challenging behaviors. By implementing these strategies, children can develop a sense of pride, accomplishment, personal responsibility, and understanding of expectations. For more information on helpful strategies to promote positive behavior, you can refer to Autism Speaks.

In addition to individualized strategies, it is important for adults working with children with autism to adapt their own behaviors or change the environment to meet the needs of the child. This may involve setting clear expectations, being consistent, and following through on rewards and consequences. Creating a structured and predictable environment can help children with autism feel more secure and reduce disruptive behaviors. Providing choices within limits can also be beneficial, as it gives children a sense of control and can help prevent problematic behaviors. Visual cues or pictures can aid in understanding and decision-making. Engaging children with autism in structured hands-on or visual activities can also help keep them focused and encourage calm behavior. Examples of such activities include playing computer games, sorting objects, completing puzzles, or engaging in other interactive tasks. For more behavior strategies, you can refer to IBCCES.

By understanding the behavior challenges associated with autism and implementing positive approaches to behavior management, parents and caregivers can provide the necessary support and guidance to help children with autism thrive and reach their full potential.

Factors Influencing Behavior

Several factors can influence the behavior of individuals with autism. Understanding these factors can help parents and caregivers better support and manage the behavioral challenges associated with autism.

Gender Differences

Problem behaviors often manifest differently among boys and girls with autism. According to Healthline, boys with autism may exhibit behaviors such as fighting, stealing, or defacing property, while girls may be more likely to engage in behaviors such as lying or running away from home. Both boys and girls with autism are at a greater risk for drug and alcohol abuse.

Genetic Links

Genetics play a role in the development of problem behaviors in individuals with autism. Some problem behaviors have a genetic link, where parents with certain problem behaviors are more likely to have children with problem behavior concerns. It's important to note that genetic predisposition does not determine behavior outcomes, but it can influence the risk of certain behaviors [1].

Medical Conditions

Autism is often associated with various medical conditions that can impact behavior. Understanding these conditions is crucial for managing the behavioral challenges in individuals with autism.

  • Gastrointestinal (GI) disorders: GI disorders are nearly eight times more common among children with autism compared to other children. These conditions can cause discomfort and pain, which may contribute to disruptive behaviors.
  • Epilepsy: Epilepsy, or seizure disorder, is more prevalent among individuals with autism compared to the general population. It affects up to a third of people with autism, while only 1 to 2 percent of the general population experiences epilepsy [2].
  • Feeding and eating issues: Many individuals with autism experience difficulties with feeding and eating, which can lead to behavioral challenges. These issues can include selective eating, food aversions, and sensory sensitivities related to taste, texture, or smell.
  • Sleep problems: Sleep disturbances are common in individuals with autism and can significantly impact behavior and daily functioning. Difficulties with falling asleep, staying asleep, or having irregular sleep patterns can contribute to increased irritability and challenging behaviors.
  • Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD): ADHD commonly co-occurs with autism. It affects an estimated 30 to 60 percent of people with autism, compared to 6 to 7 percent of the general population. ADHD symptoms, such as impulsivity and hyperactivity, can exacerbate behavioral challenges in individuals with autism.

Understanding the factors that influence behavior in individuals with autism is essential for tailoring interventions and providing appropriate support. By addressing these factors and their impact on behavior, parents and caregivers can develop effective strategies to manage and promote positive behaviors in individuals with autism.

Health Conditions Associated with Autism

Children diagnosed with autism often experience various health conditions that are associated with their diagnosis. Understanding these conditions can help parents navigate the challenges and provide appropriate support. Here are some of the common health conditions associated with autism:

Gastrointestinal Disorders

Gastrointestinal (GI) disorders are nearly eight times more common among children with autism than other children [2]. These disorders can manifest as issues such as constipation, diarrhea, abdominal pain, and gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD). It is crucial for parents to work closely with healthcare professionals to manage and address these gastrointestinal challenges.


Epilepsy, a seizure disorder, is more prevalent in individuals with autism compared to the general population. Up to a third of people with autism may experience epilepsy, whereas only 1 to 2 percent of the general population is affected by this condition [2]. It is important for parents to be aware of the signs and symptoms of epilepsy and consult with healthcare professionals for appropriate diagnosis and treatment.

Feeding and Eating Issues

Feeding and eating issues are common among children with autism, affecting approximately 7 out of 10 individuals. These challenges may include extremely restricted food habits, aversions to certain tastes and textures, and difficulties with swallowing or chewing. It is important for parents to work with healthcare professionals and possibly seek guidance from specialists, such as occupational therapists or dieticians, to address these feeding and eating difficulties.

Sleep Problems

Sleep problems are prevalent among individuals with autism. Over half of children with autism, and possibly as many as four in five, experience chronic sleep problems. These may include difficulties falling asleep, staying asleep, or having irregular sleep patterns. Establishing a consistent bedtime routine, creating a calm sleep environment, and consulting with healthcare professionals can help address these sleep challenges.


Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is another condition commonly associated with autism. It affects an estimated 30 to 60 percent of individuals with autism, compared to 6 to 7 percent of the general population [2]. ADHD can further impact attention span, impulse control, and hyperactivity. Collaborating with healthcare professionals experienced in both autism and ADHD can help in developing appropriate strategies and interventions.

Understanding the health conditions associated with autism is crucial for parents to provide comprehensive support to their children. By seeking professional guidance and implementing tailored interventions, parents can help manage these conditions and improve the overall well-being of their child.

Behavior Challenges in Adults with Autism

As individuals with autism grow into adulthood, they may continue to face unique challenges related to their behavior. Understanding and addressing these challenges is crucial for providing appropriate support and enhancing their quality of life. In this section, we will explore three key behavior challenges commonly observed in adults with autism: sensory sensitivities, social interactions, and executive functioning.

Sensory Sensitivities

Autistic adults often experience heightened sensory sensitivities, making everyday environments overwhelming. They may be more sensitive to sounds, lights, textures, and smells, which can lead to discomfort, anxiety, and sensory overload.

Sensory sensitivities can significantly impact an individual's daily life, as they may struggle to filter out irrelevant sensory information and focus on important tasks. This can affect their ability to concentrate, engage in social interactions, and navigate various environments. Providing a supportive and sensory-friendly environment can help minimize distress and promote a sense of calmness for individuals with autism.

Social Interactions

Social interactions can be challenging for adults with autism due to difficulties in understanding social cues, nonverbal communication, and social expectations. This can lead to feelings of isolation and social anxiety.

It is important to recognize that individuals with autism may have different social needs and preferences. Encouraging inclusive and understanding environments can foster meaningful connections and support their social well-being. Strategies such as social skills training, peer mentoring, and participation in social groups tailored to their interests can help individuals with autism navigate social situations more effectively.

Executive Functioning

Many adults with autism face difficulties in executive functioning, which refers to the cognitive processes involved in planning, organizing, and regulating behavior. Challenges in executive functioning can impact various aspects of daily life, including time management, decision-making, and problem-solving.

Supporting individuals with autism in developing strategies to enhance executive functioning skills can be highly beneficial. This may involve providing visual schedules, breaking tasks into smaller steps, and utilizing organizational tools. By recognizing and addressing the specific executive functioning challenges faced by individuals with autism, we can help them navigate daily tasks more effectively.

While living with autism as an adult presents unique challenges, it is important to remember that individuals with autism also possess strengths and abilities. These may include attention to detail, honesty, and loyalty, which can be valuable assets in various aspects of life. By understanding and supporting their behavior challenges, we can create a more inclusive and supportive environment for adults with autism.

Positive Approaches to Behavior Management

When it comes to managing behavior in individuals with autism, positive approaches can make a significant difference in promoting positive behaviors, reducing challenging behaviors, and improving overall well-being. Here are some effective strategies that can be implemented:

Individualized Strategies

Developing individualized strategies is crucial to increasing positive behaviors in children with autism. These strategies should be tailored to their specific needs and challenges, aiming to reduce anxiety, reactivity, and behaviors that may pose a challenge. By understanding and addressing the unique characteristics and triggers of each individual, personalized strategies can be implemented to promote positive behavior.

According to Autism Speaks, individualized strategies can help build a sense of pride, accomplishment, personal responsibility, and understanding of expectations. It is essential to involve the individual with autism in the development of these strategies, ensuring their active participation and engagement.

Providing Choices

Giving children with autism a sense of control and autonomy can help prevent problematic behaviors. Offering choices within structured limits allows them to feel empowered and reduces the likelihood of frustration or resistance. It is recommended to limit choices to two to four options and use visual cues or pictures for better understanding.

By providing choices, children with autism can feel more involved in decision-making processes, which in turn can lead to a sense of ownership and cooperation. This approach can also help improve communication and reduce anxieties related to transitions or unexpected changes. For more information on managing behavior problems in the classroom, refer to our article on autism behavior problems classroom.

Structured Activities

Structured activities play a significant role in managing behavior in individuals with autism. These activities provide a clear framework and routine, which can help keep individuals focused, engaged, and calm. Structured activities can include hands-on or visual tasks such as playing computer games, sorting objects, completing puzzles, or engaging in other interactive tasks.

According to IBCCES, structured activities can promote positive behavior by providing individuals with predictability and a sense of accomplishment. By incorporating structured activities into daily routines, individuals with autism can experience improved attention spans, decreased anxiety, and increased overall engagement.

By implementing individualized strategies, offering choices, and incorporating structured activities, parents, caregivers, and educators can effectively manage behavior in individuals with autism. It is important to remember that every individual is unique, so finding the right combination of strategies may require some trial and error. With patience, consistency, and a person-centered approach, positive behavior management can lead to better outcomes and improved quality of life for individuals with autism.

Early Intervention for Autism

Early intervention plays a crucial role in supporting children diagnosed with autism and addressing their behavior problems. By identifying autism at an early stage, children can receive timely intervention, develop essential skills, manage sensory experiences, and behaviors, leading to improved quality of life now and in the future. Let's explore the importance of early diagnosis, the benefits of early intervention, and effective treatment approaches.

Importance of Early Diagnosis

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) affects 1 in 36 children. Early diagnosis of autism is vital as it allows children to access necessary interventions and support services at a critical developmental stage. Research shows that early intervention for autism is more likely to result in positive outcomes compared to starting intervention later in childhood or adulthood [4].

Early diagnosis enables families to understand and navigate their child's unique needs while providing them with appropriate resources and support. It allows for early implementation of strategies and interventions tailored to the child's specific challenges, leading to better long-term outcomes.

Benefits of Early Intervention

Early intervention can have a significant impact on a child's development and future. Studies have shown that early intervention can improve a child's IQ by an average of 17 points. It also helps children with autism develop coping skills and strategies to better manage their symptoms, leading to improved socialization and better relationships with family and peers.

Research has found that children who receive early intervention are more likely to attend regular education classes and have higher rates of employment in adulthood. They are also less likely to require support services later in life. Early intervention sets the foundation for the child's long-term success and overall well-being.

Effective Treatment Approaches

Several evidence-based treatment approaches have shown effectiveness in early intervention for young children with autism. For instance, the Early Start Denver Model (ESDM), which combines Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) and developmental psychology, has shown positive outcomes for children under two-and-a-half years old. The program utilizes play-based activities to help children learn new skills and improve their development.

Other effective treatment approaches for early intervention include speech therapy, occupational therapy, and social skills training. These interventions are tailored to address the specific needs of children with autism, focusing on areas such as communication, social interactions, sensory sensitivities, and executive functioning.

It is important for parents and caregivers to work closely with professionals experienced in early intervention for autism to develop and implement an individualized treatment plan that addresses the unique needs of their child. By taking early action and accessing appropriate interventions, children with autism can have improved outcomes and thrive in their development.

Remember, early intervention for autism is a journey that requires ongoing support, patience, and collaboration between families, professionals, and the community.


[1]: https://www.healthline.com/health/problem-behavior

[2]: https://www.autismspeaks.org/medical-conditions-associated-autism

[3]: https://www.adinaaba.com/post/how-autism-affects-daily-life-adults

[4]: https://behavioral-innovations.com/blog/critical-early-intervention-children-autism-spectrum-disorder/