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Autism and Behaviour that challenges

There are times when Flora may display behaviours that are challenging and lead to outbursts either towards others or herself. Examples of behaviours that challenge:

  • Intense shouting and verbal abuse.

  • Self-destructive behaviours, e.g. hitting her head, biting herself, tearing her clothes.

  • Aggressive behaviour towards others, e.g. Hitting others, kicking, scratching, spitting, biting.

  • Not controlling her physical needs.

What can trigger this behaviour?

One of the main difficulties Flora is having is not being able to communicate her thoughts and feelings. But there are other reasons that can lead to outbursts of behaviour that challenge:

Environmental causes: Unexpected change of routine, busy environments, sensory overload ( loud sounds, light, smells)

Physical causes: Hunger, thirst, fatigue, insomnia, body pain.

Psychological causes: Anxiety, delayed reaction to previous stimulus.

Other causes: Interaction with peers or adults, not understanding activity.

During the outburst, there are several strategies we can useto help Flora and avoid any escalation. However, they take time, persistence and flexibility.

We always need to keep in mind that every student and every situation is different.

What can we do :

1. Safety

In all cases our priority is to keep everyone safe, students and adults. If there are other children in the room, we would recommend asking them to move somewhere else. It is also good to remove objects that could be dangerous.

2. Simple and clear sentences/use of symbols.

During the outburst, Flora is not able to listen to many complex instructions and sentences. It is important to minimize our verbal communication and use simple and clear sentences when needed. Many times, even the absence of speech is helpful. The use of symbols helps Flora to understand better what we want to tell her, e.g. To drink water.

3. Reassurance.

During the outburst, the main message we want to get across to Flora is that we are there to help her.

4. Change of room or person.

The change of room, combined with the walking that it requires, helps Flora to calm down. Sometimes, the outburst may be more intense and last longer, so swapping the adult who is helping her can contribute to the de-escalation of the episode.

5. Water/snacks.

As we saw in the causes, sometimes hunger, thirst or fatigue can contribute to the beginning of behaviour that challenges. It is important to have a glass of water and a small snack nearby.

6. Distraction.

When we see that Flora is starting to calm down, we try to distract her with her favourite activity. Flora likes to separate objects into colours, see here.

7. Restoration

After the episode and after Flora has calmed down, it is important to help her and us, the adults, to reflect on what happened. In this way Flora learns more appropriate ways to express her discomfort and we can avoid and prevent future outbursts.

For example, if the outburst has been caused by Flora's difficulty in completing the activity, we can use social stories and symbols to teach Flora to ask for help. Also, we need to take into account what it is that made it difficult for her and how we could change the activity.


We will share more tips and activities in the future, so keep visiting us.

We are looking forward to hearing your views and experiences.

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