Autistic Behavior

Reviewed by:
Hannah Andreasen
M.Ed BCBA

January 11, 2023

Autistic behaviors are those behaviors that are more common in individuals with autism. Autism is a developmental disorder that affects how people learn, communicate, and behave. Autism is also known as autism spectrum disorder (ASD) because individuals experience a wide range (or spectrum) of symptoms and severity.

Individuals with autism may have differences in their behavior compared to children who are neurotypical. Some of these behaviors can be labeled as problematic or challenging behaviors in children without autism. However, if you know how to recognize certain behaviors and you understand the cause, you can help your child cope in a healthy way.

Examples of Autistic Behavior

Some behaviors are common in people with autism. However, everyone is different—some people may participate in all of the following behaviors, and some people may not display any of them. 

The following does not include all autistic behaviors but some of the most common. 

Obsessive or Restrictive Behavior

One of the symptoms of autism is the presence of restricted or repetitive behaviors or interests. 

Examples of obsessive and restrictive behaviors include:

  • Intense, obsessive interest in a particular topic
  • Playing with toys the same way every time
  • Lining up objects in a particular way
  • Collecting items

Although some people may find obsessive interests unusual, these behaviors can give people with autism a sense of predictability and structure. These behaviors are often central to a person with autism’s well-being and they bring a sense of relaxation and happiness. 

Stimming

Stimming is a behavior involving repetitive body movements. You may also hear stimming referred to as self-stimulatory behavior or stereotyped behavior. 

Examples of stimming include:

  • Hand-flapping
  • Rocking 
  • Spinning
  • Jumping
  • Head banging
  • Repeating words (echolalia) 
  • Scratching
  • Licking or biting people or objects 

It is important to discover the reason why a person with autism is stimming. Stimming behavior is often done simply for enjoyment, but there may be other reasons behind it. Some reasons children with autism may stim include:

  • Enjoyment
  • Managing their sensory environment
  • Coping with anxiety or stress 
  • Expressing emotions 
  • Communicating a problem 

If stimming is dangerous or interferes with other activities, like learning, it might be necessary to modify this behavior. 

Meltdowns

A meltdown can occur when an individual with autism experiences an intense response to an overwhelming situation and temporarily loses control of their behavior. It is often a response to too much sensory information flooding the senses, also known as sensory overload.

During a meltdown, an individual may exhibit a range of behaviors, including:

  • Yelling
  • Screaming 
  • Crying
  • Hitting
  • Refusing to interact 

It is important to understand the reason a meltdown occurs. When you understand the reason for the meltdown, it is much easier to avoid or minimize triggers to prevent them. 

Distressed Behavior 

Distressed behavior refers to physically aggressive behavior, including:

  • Hitting
  • Slapping
  • Biting
  • Spitting
  • Hair pulling

These types of behaviors are often the result of not being able to communicate feelings appropriately. Feelings of anxiety, anger, or frustration may come from being tired, hungry, sensory overload, or feeling sick. 

Eating Issues 

Individuals with autism are more likely to experience food aversions and food sensitivities than those without autism. People with autism may be more sensitive to food based on texture, taste, smell, shape, or brand. This can result in deficiencies in several important vitamins and minerals. 

An autism food list may be helpful to make sure an individual with autism is getting proper nutrition. 

How Can You Support Children With Autistic Behavior?

The best way to support children with autistic behavior is to understand the reason behind a particular behavior. Individuals with autism may behave in challenging ways for a number of reasons, including:

  • Difficulty understanding what is happening around them
  • Difficulty communicating their needs
  • Anxiety 
  • Feeling overwhelmed

The ABC Model of Behavior

It is also important to pay attention to what triggers a particular behavior. The ABC model of behavior can help you to examine a behavior to uncover what causes it. When using this strategy, choose one behavior to observe at a time.

A stands for antecedent. This is what happens before the behavior. Common triggers for challenging behavior include:

  • Transitions
  • Deviation from a known routine
  • Sensory overload
  • Tiredness
  • Discomfort or pain

B stands for behavior. The behavior might be a verbal response, an action, or a lack of response.

C stands for consequence. This is what happens after a behavior that may be encouraging or discouraging it. 

Once you understand why a behavior occurs, it is possible to avoid triggers and learn healthy coping strategies. 

ABA Therapy

The ABC model of behavior is a common strategy used in applied behavior analysis (ABA). ABA therapy uses the science of learning and behavior to increase helpful behaviors and decrease harmful ones. It can be provided at home, school, or at autism treatment centers. 

ABA therapy is an evidence-based treatment for children with autism. This means that its efficacy is supported by scientific research. 

Conclusion

Autistic behavior should not be considered problematic or naughty behavior to be eliminated. It is important to uncover the reasons behind a particular behavior to find the best way to give support. Many autistic behaviors bring comfort and joy to the individual. Harmful behaviors can be modified once the reason it is occurring is revealed. ABA therapy is a proven treatment for modifying behavior in children with autism.

‍Songbird Therapy is a technology-enabled provider setting a higher standard for children’s autism care. With a deeply passionate team and innovative technology, we’re building a world where every child can access world-class care at home, uniquely tailored to them.

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