Blog #191~Challenging Behaviors: Why is My Child Acting This Way?
Parents raising a child with a dual diagnosis of Down syndrome and autism experience challenging behaviors from their children. A long holiday weekend can heighten these behaviors with changes in routine and family gatherings. A child may feel lost in the mix and in need of attention. They may also experience sensory overload. These can be shown in a variety of ways, such as increased self-stimulatory/ repetitive behaviors (hand flapping, tapping, turning on water faucets, pushing buttons, shutting or slamming doors), self-injury (head banging, biting, slapping self), attacking others and property destruction to name a few. This week I want to focus on WHY a child may be acting out. When you understand why this might be happening, you can put a better plan in place, in order to support your child.
The first step is to determine what the behavior means. All behavior is communicating something. This is where you have to do some detective work.
Keeping a log of behaviors is a great tool to determine what purpose this is serving your child. It’s helpful to use a Functional Behavior Assessment Form, such as this to gather data:
Data collection will assist you at home and the school IEP team on the who, what, where, when and why’s of the behavior. What is this behavior trying to communicate? What need is being expressed through these behaviors? Is there a pattern of when these behaviors are occurring and what is triggering them?
Ultimately the Functional Behavior Assessment, (also known as a FBA) will reveal what the purpose this behavior serves for the child.
Let’s put this to use with two behaviors often associated with a dual diagnosis of Down syndrome and autism:
*Self-stimulatory or Repetitive Behaviors
In the case of self-stimulatory or repetitive behaviors, a child may:
- Need more stimulation
- Be trying to masking sensory overload
- Be upset, anxious or not busy enough
Observe your child, and maybe even try the behavior yourself in order to get an idea of why they are attracted to it. Repetitive behaviors are often sensory based. They help to calm and organize the nervous system by releasing stress chemicals. This in turn can help to reduce anxiety.
My son, Nick is 23 years old and has a dual diagnosis of Down syndrome and autism. He often uses tappers to help regulate his sensory needs. Here he is at his adult day program:
Bottom line, it’s important to respect these sensory needs and allow your child to have this time during the day. Find a balance in building in these sensory breaks without letting them take over completely. Self-stimulatory and repetitive behaviors should not get in the way of learning, or in work jobs. Keep in mind, especially around the holidays as you get busy with wrapping presents, cooking and cleaning the house that your child may be bored and feeling ignored. It is necessary to provide some structured activities to reduce these behaviors. I like to give my son jobs so he feels helpful, and rewarded for his appropriate behavior with lots of praise. While I was getting the house ready for Thanksgiving, I had Nick vacuum for me, a job he enjoys doing. It provides him with good sensory input using heavy work, which can be calming…
In the case of injurious behaviors a child may:
- Bang head, bite, slap themselves, attack others or destroy property
- Be frustrated, angry, experiencing discomfort, pain or sensory overload
- Communicate escaping and avoiding an unwanted task or event
Again, the Functional Behavior Assessment chart can help to determine if there is a certain activity, event or time of day which causes these behaviors to escalate. As the detective, you want to uncover these triggers. When you figure out these triggers, you can put supports in place to in essence, cut it off at the pass before your child goes into a full-blown meltdown.
Example- Family trip to the shopping mall:
The stimulus overload, especially around the holidays with added crowds, more kiosks, noises, lights, and may be too much for a child with autism. You many need to keep the trip short and provide visuals supports to help your child understand the sequence of events that will happen.
Task Strip for shopping mall trip….
Along with a visual schedule, you want to keep your eye open to any distress signals the child may exhibit in their body language. My son will tend to pinch his cheeks when he is upset or stomp and say, “I’m mad”. These signs are a cue to back off and lower the demands you are placing on your child.
In summation, you can support your child and prevent these injurious behaviors by:
- Recognizing distress signals and re-direct your child.
- Lowering or pulling away the demands that have been placed and causing your child to feel overwhelmed.
- Providing visual supports with task strips so they know the sequence of events.
- Teaching alternative ways to escape and unwanted situation by using visual supports with icons such as, “Stop” “Help” “All Done” and “I Need A Break”:
- Practice teaching appropriate ways to protest separately in mild stress situations. Use the icons above either with visuals or on a communication device using lots of praise.
Understanding the function of your child’s behavior and creating an environment to support them will lead to success in both home, school and in the community. If your child has challenging behaviors, seek the help of a trained autism behavior specialist. You should request that a Functional Behavior Analysis (FBA) be done. Once this data is collected, a Behavior Support Plan (also known as a BSP) can be created and put in the IEP. You and the school IEP team can brainstorm on what supports to put in place to help your child better succeed and express themselves more appropriately.
That’s what is in my noggin this week 🙂
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