Understanding Causes of Challenging Behavior

Autism Sep 29, 2021

Human behavior can be unpredictable, and it can be even more difficult to pinpoint what is causing these behaviors for individuals with autism. In today’s blog, we are going to dive into this topic by listing some examples of challenging behaviors, and providing some insight as to why they may be happening.

A few examples of these challenging behaviors can include crying, elopement, aggression towards others, and self-injurious behavior. These behaviors often take place when someone is unable to appropriately communicate their wants and needs to others, so they look for other ways to make those needs known. The 3 main things someone may be trying to communicate to you through these behaviors are as follows:

1. They might be trying to get someone else’s attention.

2. They might be trying to gain access to something that may or may not be available to them.

3. They might be trying to communicate that they do not want to do something.

The first reason someone might be engaging in challenging behaviors is to gain someone’s attention. When thinking about attention, it’s important to first recognize that it can come in a variety of forms. Attention can be positive, such as verbal praise, high fives, and hugs, or negative, like reprimands and threats. As an example, if an individual were to get picked up and held every time they scream, they may start engaging in screaming more often in order to receive that attention because they don’t know how else to ask for it. On other occasions, someone may engage in challenging behaviors trying to get yelled at because it’s funny to them.

An individual may also engage in challenging behaviors to gain access to something they want. This can happen if they don’t know how to effectively ask for a particular item or activity, if they have already been told ‘no’ or ‘wait’, or if they know that the item is unavailable to them. Often, individuals with autism lack the necessary communication skills to appropriately ask for an item, to ask to have something back, or to ask for an alternative, which can result in them engaging in these challenging behaviors. As a parent, it can be overwhelming when your child begins screaming and crying, especially in public. In situations like this, it’s understandable that a parent may decide to give the child what they want in order to stop those behaviors. This is why challenging behaviors can be so effective for children to gain access to things they want.

The third reason someone may engage in challenging behaviors is when they are presented with a task or activity that they don’t want to do. By engaging in these behaviors, many individuals can successfully avoid completing the undesired task. A few examples of activities that could cause a child to engage in challenging behaviors include: structured activities at school like reading, writing, and completing worksheets; household chores like cleaning up toys, eating unfavorable foods, and completing hygiene routines. Often, more difficult tasks or tasks that take more time to complete will lead to challenging behaviors, especially if the individual is unsure about how to ask for help, or has been unsuccessful getting help in the past.

It’s important to note that challenging behaviors may not be caused by just one of these factors, but can also be caused by a combination of these reasons. Once we understand why these behaviors are occurring, we can begin to address them by making accommodations to their environment to help increase communication skills and lower the likelihood of these behaviors from occurring in the future.

Thank you for reading! Be sure to follow Golden State on social media to stay up-to-date on what’s new, and be on the lookout for our next blog, where we’ll discuss strategies to help reduce these challenging behaviors. Have a great day!