Parents Promoting the Well-Being of Their Autistic Children: Managing Challenging Behaviors

Because every child is unique, there is no universal guide to parenting, but according to Autism Speaks, managing challenging behaviors in autistic children often is,

and should be, approached differently than for neurotypical children.  Challenging behaviors from children with autism are handled differently by each parent, as they should be.  However, there are certain methods of discipline that are common and have been proven to promote positive behaviors in many children diagnosed with ASD.



It’s important to remember that children with ASD might behave in challenging ways because they are anxious, are having trouble understanding what’s happening around them, or do not have the tools to communicate their thoughts or feelings in more effective ways.  Behavior may also be in response to specific triggers (i.e. transitions, sensory overload or sensitivities, etc.)

Parents often think of their child’s behavior as an ABC sandwich:

Antecedents – the “trigger” for the behavior

Behavior – child’s response to the trigger

Consequences or rewards – what the child gets out of behaving.


So, there are a few common strategies that parents use to manage and correct their child’s challenging behavior:


A consequence is something that happens as a result to a behavior that a child does. Consequences can be both positive and negative and they are useful because they support rules.  Consistency  is an overarching theme in discipline  – especially for autistic children because they respond very well to structure and routine.

Another example of positive reinforcement is a sticker chart!

Often parents will plan out consequences so that they consistent and immediate.  For example, immediately after a child buckles his seatbelt, he gets a high-five and an M&M.  Positive consequences, like praise, are typically more effective than negative for autistic children. This is when a parent explains what they like about their child’s behavior to encourage and reinforce similar behaviors. Kids with ASD typically enjoy praise and want to repeat behavior to be praised again.  An example of this is, “Thank you for remaining calm and being kind when you did not win the game”.


Rules are positive statements that let children know behavioral expectations and limits in the family. For example, if the rule is that the child can’t play in the morning until they are ready for school they may say “First get ready, then have playtime”.


Time-outs are useful if a child hurts someone else or destroys something because it gives them a chance to calm down. It involves taking the child away from activities of interest and attention for a short amount of time. However, this technique does not work as well for children who are withdrawn or have a lot of self-stimulatory behaviors because it could end up being more of a reward.  In these instances, positive consequences may be more effective.


Before attempting to manage and correct, parents also must consider whether the child has been taught a better way to deal with the situation.

Discipline rarely means punishment, which is defined as a negative consequence in response to a child breaking a rule or misbehaving. For example, if a child uses a toy in a dangerous way, the punishment might be to take away the toy for a set amount of time.  Then show them the timer with the amount of time until the punishment is over.  Physical punishment should be avoided. Children with autism have heightened senses which may make the punishment to feel exaggerated and cause them extreme pain and discomfort.  Nonetheless, punishment is a strategy that has been proven ineffective in the long-term because it can increase aggressive behaviors and put strain on the relationship.

Each parent of an autistic child has their own style and technique for managing challenging behaviors, but many of the effective approaches are similar.




  1. I really like the topic of your blog post since this is an important issue facing many parents of neurodiverse children. Teaching kids the right behaviors and rewarding them for them at an early age is the best way for anyone to learn. I like the several different strategies you talk about and which one’s are more effective than others. The ABC strategy of identifying a trigger and dealing with it accordingly seems like a very effective strategy for parents that helps the children learn the best behavior in certain situations. I also like how you say how much better positive consequences are then negative ones, how neurodiverse kids like the praise for the correct behavior and want to do it again. This seems like a great way to teach kids in a healthy and beneficial way. Overall, I liked the different ways that parents can choose to help their neurodiverse kids with challenging behaviors.

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