5 Ways to Overcome Challenging Behaviours in Autistic Children

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Strategies from Positive Behaviour Support Practitioners

Challenging behaviours are a common aspect of autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and can present significant difficulties for children and their families. These behaviours may include meltdowns, aggression, self-injury, or repetitive actions. While challenging behaviours can be disruptive and stressful, it’s important to approach them with empathy, understanding, and proactive strategies. In this blog post, we will explore five effective ways to overcome challenging behaviours in autistic children, focusing on positive behaviour support and promoting their overall well-being.

Autistic girl with back to camera sitting with toy bear

Understanding the Function of Behaviour

Challenging behaviours often serve a specific purpose or function for the child. Understanding the underlying causes can help in developing effective strategies. Here are some common functions of behaviour:

a) Communication: Some children may engage in challenging behaviours to express their needs, wants, or discomfort. They may lack effective communication skills and resort to behaviours as a means of expression.

b) Sensory regulation: Challenging behaviours can be a response to sensory sensitivities or difficulties. Autistic children may engage in repetitive actions or self-stimulatory behaviours to regulate their sensory experiences.

c) Avoidance or escape: Some behaviours may occur when a child is trying to avoid or escape a challenging or overwhelming situation. They may resort to behaviours that allow them to remove themselves from an uncomfortable or demanding environment.

mother teaching autistic son how to draw

Positive Behaviour Support

Positive behaviour support practitioners focus on understanding the underlying reasons behind challenging behaviours and implementing strategies to address them in a positive and proactive manner.

Here are some key elements of positive behaviour support:

a) Functional behaviour assessment: Conduct a functional behaviour assessment to identify the triggers, antecedents, and consequences associated with challenging behaviours. This assessment can provide valuable insights into the function of behaviour and guide intervention strategies.

b) Reinforcement of alternative behaviours: Instead of solely focusing on eliminating challenging behaviours, reinforce and teach alternative, more appropriate behaviours. Positive reinforcement, such as praise, rewards, or preferred activities, can motivate children to engage in desirable behaviours.

c) Visual supports and schedules: Utilize visual supports, such as visual schedules, social stories, or visual cues, to provide structure and predictability. These supports can help autistic children understand expectations, transitions, and reduce anxiety associated with uncertain situations.

Positive Behaviour Support

Communication and Social Skills

Enhancing communication and social skills can significantly impact challenging behaviours in autistic children. By focusing on these areas, you can provide alternative means for expressing needs and emotions. Consider the following strategies:

a) Augmentative and alternative communication (AAC): Introduce AAC systems, such as picture symbols, communication apps, or sign language, to support expressive and receptive communication. These tools can provide children with alternative ways to express themselves effectively.

b) Social skills training: Offer social skills training programs or therapies tailored to the specific needs of autistic children. These programs can teach skills such as perspective-taking, emotion recognition, and appropriate social behaviours.

c. Visual supports for emotions: Utilize visual supports, such as emotion charts or facial expression flashcards, to help children recognize and understand their emotions. This can aid in promoting self-regulation and effective communication of feelings.

Sensory Strategies

Sensory sensitivities and difficulties can contribute to challenging behaviours in autistic children. Implementing sensory strategies can help regulate their sensory experiences and reduce the likelihood of disruptive behaviours. Consider the following approaches:

a) Sensory breaks: Provide scheduled breaks or designated spaces where children can engage in calming sensory activities or self-regulation exercises. These breaks allow them to manage sensory overload and prevent challenging behaviours.

b) Sensory diet: Develop a sensory diet plan that incorporates sensory activities throughout the day. This plan can include activities that provide sensory input, such as swinging, deep pressure, or tactile play, to promote sensory regulation.

c) Environmental modifications: Make adjustments to the environment to minimize sensory triggers. This may involve reducing excessive noise, using soft lighting, or providing access to sensory tools like fidget toys or weighted blankets.

Sensory Strategies

Collaboration and Professional Support

Collaboration with positive behaviour support practitioners is crucial in overcoming challenging behaviours in autistic children. Consider the following steps:

a) Seek professional guidance: Consult with a positive behaviour support practitioner you can trust that are experienced in working with autism and challenging behaviours. They can provide valuable insights, assessment tools, and evidence-based interventions tailored to your child’s specific needs.

b) Collaborate with educators and other therapists: Establish open lines of communication with your child’s teachers, therapists such as behavioural therapists and support staff. Share information about your child’s behaviours, triggers, and successful strategies. Collaborate to develop consistent approaches and interventions across settings.

c) Access support networks: Seek support from local autism support groups, online communities, or parent networks. Connecting with other families facing similar challenges can provide emotional support, practical advice, and shared experiences.

Overcoming challenging behaviours in autistic children requires a compassionate and proactive approach. By understanding the functions of behaviour, implementing positive behaviour support and working with an experienced positive behaviour support practitioner combined with focusing on communication and social skills, utilizing sensory strategies, and collaborating with your support networks such as parents and caregivers, can empower children to develop alternative behaviours and navigate the world more effectively.

Each child is unique, and strategies should be tailored to their specific needs and preferences. With patience, persistence, and a strengths-based approach, positive change can be achieved, promoting the well-being and overall development of autistic children.


Transform Life is an Australian owned provider specialising in evidence based therapeutic support including Positive Behaviour Support, Occupational Therapy, Psychology, Speech Therapy and Behavioural Interventions helping transform lives and families across Australia.

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