How We Handle 4 Challenging Autism Behaviors

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Care.com wrote an article (available here) about 4 of the most challenging Autism Behaviors.  I agree these behaviors are very challenging, and have written how we handle them in the Coupe Family.

SLEEP

A true challenge!  For an entire year I kept a written calendar log of Declan’s sleep.  And I tried super hard to conquer the sleepless nights by monitoring different aspects of Declan’s sleep/wake schedule to decide the cause.  If I know why something is happening, then I can counter it, right?  So every day I wrote down the time he woke up, did he nap, did he have any dairy or gluten, did he spend time OUTSIDE, what kind of activity did he do that day?   Yet, there were always days that I felt I did everything right, just to be woken up for the day at 2AM.

A good sleep concoction for us involves the following.  A wake up time of 7:00AM.  I give Declan a multivitamin including Vitamin D.  We spend a lot of time outside in the SUN.  With the Dr.’s approval, I give Declan Melatonin at night.  Declan stopped napping early – probably around 2, so we do not nap during the day.  For about a week I tried Probiotic supplements as I read they may help (here is an example of the information on the subject).  Declan has gastro issues, so I thought it may help his tummy and lead to a full night sleep.  I found no benefit to sleep, but he was VERY regular.  Even after I stopped the probiotic he was going frequently for weeks.  Many times throughout the day.  And since he is still in diapers, this was not fun.

In general, if we follow our “rules for a good night of sleep” we get a good night of sleep.  Yet, there are still some days we follow all the rules and Declan still wakes up soaring at 2AM, ready for the day.

FOOD SENSITIVITY

Yes, we have a picky eater.  Alas, we have a house of picky eaters!  As a child I was a human garbage disposal.  “Don’t throw that out!  I will eat it!”  That was my motto.  So, I was completely shocked to meet and MARRY a person who was such a picky eater.  Then I had kids who developed their father’s pickiness when it came to food.  But even more so!  And I try – I have fruits and vegetables on the table all the time (I have become a vegetarian stay-at-home mom, so it works for me!).  We encourage the kids to try new food, to the point we made our eldest try spaghetti once.  When he threw it up all over the table, we stopped making our kids eat something they did not want to.  We do encourage healthy eating.  We keep more of the right kinds of foods available to them, and keep a lot of the processed food out of the house.  I make them get my vegetables for me at the market.  I try to get the kids to help me to cook their meals.  And believe it or not, my son with Autism is the second best eater in the house.  Not that he is going to become a chef and try world cuisine, but he eats more than pizza.  Just a couple of things more, but in my house, that’s A LOT.

MELTDOWNS

Alright, I’ll state the obvious: Meltdowns are TOUGH!  They can happen at a drop of a hat, over something, I feel, is very small.  They can be very violent.  I can be hurt trying to protect Declan.  For a long time, Declan would hurt himself by banging his head or biting himself.  And they can go on for a long, long time.  And when is it ever a GOOD time for a meltdown?  Never!  So, we do our best to proactive and a silent reactive.

First, we really try to watch each situation for Declan triggers.  If Declan is surrounded by strangers, if there is loud music, if someone approaches Declan that he is not familiar with, and tries to talk to him, any of these things may set Declan into a meltdown.  The more proactive we are in setting up Declan friendly surroundings, the more likely we will avoid a meltdown.  If something gets past us, and the meltdown is upon us, the best we can do for him is to keep him physically safe.  With a meltdown, we cannot reason with Declan.  He does not hear us during that time.  So, for us, silence is best.  If the meltdown happens in a public area, I am super focused on getting Declan to a safe place.  I do not have time or ability to spread the “this is an Autism Meltdown” word with my voice, but I have found these handy “Autism Behavior Cards” found here that one could pass out during this time.

Once Declan is safe, I usually cry.  There are times he head butts my face, and it is hard not to react to the pain.  So I save it all in, the pain he is experiencing, the pain I am experiencing, the thought of all the stares we just got, I keep him safe, and when the opportunity arises, I let my emotion out.  I cry.  I think it helps me move on.

AGGRESSION

Declan is pure emotion.  When he tells you he loves you, when he tells you about his favorite superhero, you are looking at his heart.  Declan is pure in his emotion.  When Declan is frustrated or mad, he can become aggressive.  You can see the pure emotion of anger.  We are working on this one.  It is okay to be angry, but it is not okay to be aggressive.

I know for the longest time Declan could not speak.  He knew what he wanted and had no way to communicate his wants or needs.  We tried sign language, pictures of everything and they definitely helped, but he still became frustrated.  Declan is able to use words now, but it is a slow process to get a full sentence out.  Sometimes a situation moves so fast he is unable to get the words out fast enough, and he resorts to hitting.  Hitting, or other forms of aggression are an automatic “Time Out” in this house.

We managed difficult behavior with “1, 2, 3 Magic” (find it here) for our other two children, and still follow the same general rules with Declan.  Aggression is an automatic 3, therefore, an automatic time out.  And again, we try to be proactive.  There are certain things that will trigger Declan to become frustrated, and if not corrected quickly, aggressive.  If one of my other kids tells Declan, “No you can’t (turn on your TV show)” he gets very MAD and will yell, “YES I CAN!” He will hit them in this process, too.  Another time out, and let’s not say those trigger words.  I think Declan learns some from the time outs.  I know that he doesn’t like them.  But his emotion is pure and he is impulsive.  He does not think about the repercussion of him hitting someone in the process.  But if I can get a “hitting is time out!” before he hits, I have a better chance of avoiding aggressive behavior.

Declan does become aggressive with his peers at school.  His teacher tells me she keeps the trigger children away from him.  There are times Declan becomes aggressive with children at playgrounds because he doesn’t understand or approve of what is happening.  Declan can simply be aggressive in his play as he is seeking sensory input.  To try to help with this I made stickers with the Autism Puzzle Piece emblem with the words “Please be patient with me.”  I hope these help bring more awareness that a lot of his behaviors are innocuous and he is learning, in a different way and at a different pace.  I hope these stickers will help Declan be more understood and accepted.

These are just a few things we do to help combat these challenging Autism Behaviors.  We are open to suggestions and ideas all the time.  What do you recommend?  Let us know!

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3 thoughts on “How We Handle 4 Challenging Autism Behaviors

  1. I never heard of Autism Behavior cards but I think it would be helpful for onlookers to have a better understanding of what is happening and may lessen the stress of a parent concerned about their child and at the same time trying to explain it.

    1. A fellow therapist told me about them after working with a family whose mother handed them out. I was intrigued and looked them up online. Really interesting concept!

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