Behavioral Treatment of Autism

Treatments that have a behavioral therapy component are among the most successful modes of treatment for autism. Designed to reward appropriate behavior while ignoring or delivering a negative consequence for inappropriate behavior, these programs seem to have a high rate of success. This is particularly true when they are started when a child is still young many programs suggest beginning before the age of three.

Like the parents of children with other disorders that present with behavioral symptoms (notably AD/HD), parents of autistic children may find that their parenting skills are tested by the extremes of behavior that an autistic child can offer. Temper tantrums, self injurious behaviors, aggression and agitation can ‘train a parent into giving the autistic child what he wants- which is often to be left alone- rather than coaching the child to a more appropriate way of getting what he wants.

Establishing a coherent program of behavioral modification can work wonders in dealing with a lot of the behaviors associated with autism and will certainly help the child in developing in a more socially appropriate direction. The components of a behavioral program may include:

A structured daily routine

Because they dont deal with inconsistency or change well, autistic children respond the best when they are in a regular routine and know what to expect. Establish a daily routine and stick to it as much as possible.

Behavior control

In controlling tantrums and other behavioral issues, there are three priorities:
– Dangerous behaviors should be dealt with first. Any behavior that could be dangerous for the child or others around them has to be stopped immediately and firmly, without anger.
– Sitting skills are something that most children acquire naturally, but children with autistic disorders often need to be taught. The best way to teach sitting skills is to reward appropriate sitting and attending while ignoring or instituting a negative consequence for inappropriate behaviors.
– Bizarre, stereotypical or repetitive behaviors like hand flapping and rocking are among the most obvious and distracting symptoms of autism. They respond well to a firm ‘stop command and redirection to another activity.

Communication with a child who has autism should be simple and direct. Use short, clear sentences to speak to the child, and avoid going into explanations or using too many words. “Come here now” is easy to process and understand. “Come here so that I can fix your pants and tuck in your shirt because you need to look nice” may get completely lost in confusion to the child.

Applied Behavioral Analysis is a popular form of behavioral modification used with autistic children. It involves breaking down tasks into individual components and rewarding a child for successfully completing each step of the task. ABA is cited as being a ‘scientifically proven effective treatment that may allow an autistic child to reach ‘normal functioning. The actual reported success rate is close to 47%.

There is substantial controversy about the effectiveness of ABA. Theres no doubt that in some cases it works extremely well, however it is not the only behavioral approach to treating autism, and it is not a cure for autism. Like any other behavioral tool, it can be an effective means of training a person with autism to recognize and respond to social and behavioral cues more appropriately.