Society has developed into a difficult place for many individuals with autism. Socialization and communication are fundamental, and these skills can be a hurdle.
Dr. Megan Boyle, associate professor of special education at Missouri State University, is a board-certified behavior analyst. She runs a clinic for children with autism spectrum disorders and prepares the next generation of educators for behavior issues in the classroom.
She says that severe behaviors – like running or aggression – are not uncommon in children with autism as they are learning to operate in the world.
Boyle shares about the assessments and analyses she uses to understand the ‘why’ behind the behaviors and explains how she incorporates this knowledge into treatment for the behaviors.
When these children come to Boyle’s clinic, they are between the ages of 3 and 8. Even so, the severe behaviors have become part of the life and learning history for the child and family.
Caregivers have at least some knowledge of what the child wants or needs when the child engages in the behavior, which means it is a communication method for the child. So, when the family seeks treatment for the severe behaviors, Boyle warns families that it won’t change overnight.
Boyle notes that encouraging functional communication with positive reinforcement followed by schedule thinning will eventually make a child more tolerant of waiting. They will grow to trust that the reinforcement or stimulus they want will come.
Boyle says that this leads to the child being more content and caregivers and teachers being more empowered.
Once caregivers see headway in suppressing severe behaviors, Boyle points out that new environments – or ones where the skills haven’t been practiced – may still bring out the actions.