Posted in Autism, Behavior/ ABA, Dual Diagnosis Down syndrome and autism

Blog #191~Challenging Behaviors: Why is My Child Acting This Way?

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:

Functional Behavior Assessment

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

*Injurious Behaviors

In the case of self-stimulatory or repetitive behaviors, a child may:

  1. Need more stimulation
  2. Be trying to masking sensory overload
  3. 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:

Nick tappers AID

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…

Nick vacumme thanksgiving

In the case of injurious behaviors a child may:

  1. Bang head, bite, slap themselves, attack others or destroy property
  2. Be frustrated, angry, experiencing discomfort, pain or sensory overload
  3. 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….

task strip mall

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:

  1. Recognizing distress signals and re-direct your child.
  2. Lowering or pulling away the demands that have been placed and causing your child to feel overwhelmed.
  3. Providing visual supports with task strips so they know the sequence of events.
  4. 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”:Break Icon
  5. 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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Posted in Autism, Behavior/ ABA, Speech and Occupational Therapy

Blog #29~Curious Stims

Blog #29~Curious Stims

Stimming is awesome, admit it we all really enjoy it!

Now that I have your attention I thought I would share a little bit about Nick’s world and what turns him on.

So just what is stimming? When you see someone like Nick who might be rocking and bobbing, tapping and making odd noises you probably look over and think “What the…?”  I dedicate this week’s blog to the need to stim! Here is a good explanation from www. spectrum disorders:

What Is Stimming and Why Is It Common In Autistic People? 

Answer: The term “stimming” is short for self-stimulatory behavior, sometimes also called “stereotypic” behavior. In a person with autism, stimming usually refers to specific behaviors such as flapping, rocking, spinning, or repetition of words and phrases.

Stimming is almost always a symptom of autism, but it’s important to note that stimming is also a part of most people’s behavior patterns. If you’ve ever tapped your pencil, bitten your nails, twirled your hair, or paced, you’ve engaged in stimming.

The biggest differences between autistic and typical stimming are the choice of stim and the quantity of stim. While it’s at least moderately acceptable to bite one’s nails, for example, it’s considered unacceptable to wander around flapping one’s hands. There’s really no good reason why flapping should be less acceptable than nail biting (it’s certainly more hygienic!). But in our world, the hand flappers receive negative attention while the nail biters are tolerated.

Like anyone else, people with autism stim to help them to manage anxiety, fear, anger, and other negative emotions. Like many people, people with autism may stim to help themselves handle overwhelming sensory input (too much noise, light, heat, etc.).

Unlike most people, though, individuals with autism may also self-stimulate constantly, and stimming may stand between them and their ability to interact with others, take part in ordinary activities, or even be included in typical classrooms. A child who regularly needs to pace the floor or slap himself in the head is certain to be a distraction for typical students.

It’s not completely clear why stimming almost always goes with autism, though it’s often called a tool for “self regulation.” As such, it may well be an outgrowth of the sensory processing dysfunction that often goes along with autism. At times, stimming can be a useful accommodation, making it possible for the autistic person to manage challenging situations. When it becomes a distraction or causes physical harm to self or others, though, it must be modified.

Lessening or modifying stims can be tricky, but several approaches may be helpful. Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) may help individuals to eliminate or modify some of their stimming. Occupational therapy is another useful tool.

In some cases, stimming can be reduced with medications that address underlying issues of anxiety. Finally, some people with autism can learn through practice and coaching to either change their stims (squeeze a stress ball rather than flap, for example) or engage in excessive stimming only in the privacy of their own homes.

We try to limit the stim activities to home.  But we respect Nick’s need to manage the excess sensory input that comes into his world.  He will always grab up a few things for a car ride but knows that they need to stay in the car once we reach our destination.

Here are some of Nick’s “tappers” that he raps against his mouth.  The foam pieces are much quieter.

The Bloody hand is joining Nick for dinner 🙂

Here Nick enjoys a small music toy that lights up.  Notice the basket filled with more stim toys and guess who that is on the floor in front of Nick’s feet?

That’s right Yukon Cornelius….. “Sil-ver!”

Nothing beats a good time for Nick than a doorbell…..ding dong, ding dong, ding dong…..ha, ha ha!  🙂

At school he is given down time after his work sessions.  Here are some of Nick’s favorite stims at school. The first one is a small baby toy that is totally not age appropriate. But toys such as these are like that stuffed animal or woobie blanket we hold onto for some reason. Nick likes the music and dances with it.  It also serves for tapping.

Here’s another one he enjoys.  The frog sings “Celebrate” and there’s a party going on right here for Nick…….

This is a new acquisition.  The rat wheels across the table and floor when you pull his tail/string.  Nick loves this and enjoys pulling the string and listening to his ear…….

And of course the good ole stand by that has stood the generations of time……

Who doesn’t love a good Whoopee cushion?  🙂 I buy them anytime I see them at Walgreens and now they make them self-inflating!

Last but not least, his favorite go to stim is a can of tennis balls, tap, tap, tap and he is a happy guy 🙂

The need to stim is part of our nature.  A classic example is my brother.  Tom’s legs would rock back and forth while his hand was on the helm during a sailboat race.  The tighter the race, the faster those legs banged together.  My Mom never forgot the Carefree bubblegum otherwise he would chew the inside of his cheeks raw.  Those were his coping mechanisms to stay calm under pressure. What is your stim of choice, whether it is to keep you calm or to rev you up?

I hope this gives you some insight into the sensory world that is complex and fascinating.  Perhaps when you see a person with autism exhibiting these behaviors it will make more sense to you.  That’s what is in my noggin this week. And remember there is nothing wrong with a stim or woobie blanket to help us cope in a world that can be chaotic!  Just ask Nick………

This is how he tunes out the barrage of political ads……

Linus has it figured out too……


******News flash for those of you keeping score at home.  The fire alarm count is now at 26 pulls! Nick decided to put the “trick” in trick or treat on Halloween.  Yes, it’s Nick’s world, the rest of us are just trying to keep up!