Reducing Maladaptive Behavior in Kids with Autism

a handwritten slogan on autism on blue poster

Children with autism can struggle to interact with the world in the same way we do. This leads to maladaptive learned behaviors which they develop to help themselves communicate. Here is how you can help your child reduce these behaviors in a positive way.

Autism is a difficult condition to wrap your head around. On one hand, your autistic child is no different from your other children. On the other hand, they are prone to outbursts, have habits that everyone in the household must follow, and can throw a tantrum better than any other child. You just have more work to do than other parents might. Reducing maladaptive behavior in children with autism is one way to make your life a little less hectic. 

This article seeks to explore the ways that you can reduce maladaptive behaviors. Let’s start by defining common behaviors and then tackle how to deal with them.

What is Maladaptive Behavior?

Psychiatry has long since recognized the existence of three ego states within the human brain: the parent, the adult, and the child. The parent is both nurturing and hyper-critical. The child is both adaptive and free. The adult state is the only state humans can communicate in without expressing manipulation – but that’s another story. The child state has the freedom of expression but also the adaptive learning associated with a child who changes to fit their environment. 

Maladaptive behaviors develop in childhood to help us cope with situations which are uncomfortable. For example, if you need attention as a baby, you cry. As a child, you then cry to make sure you have your parents’ attention. As an adult, when you feel under pressure, you want to cry. This is a learned maladaptive behavior that takes you out of the adult ego state.

How to Treat it in Children with Autism?

When children with autism develop maladaptive behaviors, they do it because they don’t understand how to communicate their needs. Unlearning these behaviors through therapy can help. 

Try ABA Therapy

According to the experts at Action Behavior, routine ABA (Applied Behavior Analysis) therapy can boost everything from your child’s social awareness to their academic ability. This type of therapy uses positive reinforcement teamed with consequences for their actions, to teach autistic children a better awareness of others. This can reduce maladaptive behavior by 90%+ after a year or two of treatment.

The Early Start Denver Model

The Early Start Denver Model is a process of therapy whereby you interrupt the growth stages before schooling. Papers report that 68% of children showed significant reductions in maladaptive behaviors after 12 weeks of treatment, and 79% showed them after 11 months. This technique is play-based and works on social interaction. Evidence suggests that increasing social skills in children with ASD produces a reduction in adaptive learned behaviors. This is presumably because the children are better able to communicate their needs.

Further Support for Kids with ASD

If you would like to show support for children with ASD, you can join in the puzzle on behalf of Autism Speaks. 

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