Decreasing Problem Behaviors in Children with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD)


In the 1960s-70s, people often dealt with ASD-related problem behaviors by means of punishment. However, a shift occurred in the 1980s, when people started using data-based methods to treat behaviors; these new methods allowed them to respect the dignity of children with ASD, promote their capabilities, and expand their opportunities to reach meaningful outcomes.

What are some of the triggers for disruptive behaviors? Triggers can be grouped into two categories: social and biological.

Social triggers:

  • Requests to engage in non-preferred tasks
  • Demands made toward the child
  • Change of routines
  • Denied access to preferred items

Biological triggers:

  • Pain/illness
  • Medication

What motivates children to exhibit problem behaviors?

  • Attention seeking
  • Desired tangible items or activities
  • Escape or avoidance from non-preferred tasks


What should you do in a crisis situation?

  • Stay calm
  • Prioritize safety
  • Don’t worry about treatment during a crisis
  • Develop an intervention plan for crisis situations

Identify/teach replacement behaviors:

  • Identify appropriate positive behaviors to replace negative behaviors. This positive behavior must serve the same function as the negative behavior. Remember: most of the time, extinction bursts can occur, meaning that the behaviors may get worse before they get better.
  • Practice and reinforce the replacement behavior.
  • Start short with replacements: For example, rather than allowing the child to scream and cry (tangible- the child wants to go outside), practice having the child say “outside” and then allow him/her to go.

Incorporate interests to increase motivation:

  • Give the child options to choose from
  • Vary the tasks presented to the child
  • Intersperse easy and difficult tasks
  • Reward any attempts from the child

Develop meaningful activities:

  • Bus schedules
  • Catalogs when working on math problems
  • Scavenger hunts for reading
  • Cooking when teaching fractions
  • Incorporate other students’ names into the child’s homework problems. Search through the problems and replace names with the names of other students in the class.


  • Expose the child to academic materials or activities in advance. This will reduce avoidance and escape behaviors.


  • Use a visual schedule to make activities predictable (pictures or words)
  • If there is a change in routine, you can incorporate this into the schedule, so the child can have a clear visual of the change.


  • Give the child warnings about any upcoming transitions
  • Use a timer and give verbal warnings before the timer goes off

At Always Keep Progressing, we specialize in treating children with Autism Spectrum Disorder and managing problem behaviors.

For more information contact us at 845-321-5010.

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