Autism/behavior change

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Question
Hello I have a 7 year old son who has been diagnosed with autism. He is in a main stream classroom and has been in one since preschool. He is high functioning and is and excellent reader he still has slight problems with expressing himself but we work on it. recently I was informed by three of his teachers (art, resource, and regular classroom) that he is acting out. He no longer follows direction, laughs when you talk to him, won't stay in his seat, and has been touching the other students. (at home he constantly holds my hand or leg or even foot but it's never been a problem at school) I notice he is starting to not follow directions at home lately as well. Is there a way to find out what caused the change? Asking him wh questions is hard because his answers tend to make no sense. and is there anything we can do to get his behavior back to what it was?

Answer
When you're the parent of a child with autism, you have to be a detective, don't you?

Nice to hear of your son's skills in reading and that his oral expression has improved. But, you do sound worried about the latest changes.

Just reading what you've written, the first thing I would wonder is about his hearing. Some kids have low grade ear infections that they don't let us know about. An ear infection, especially if it's prolonged, can adversely affect hearing. If a child no longer hears as well as he did, he would find it difficult to hear directions, let alone follow them. He may not respond appropriately to others if he can't hear the questions or the jokes.

Kids with autism have difficulty with the concept of Theory of Mind. When most kids are toddlers, they believe the world revolves around them. They are the center of the universe. What they want or need is of paramount importance. Even when they can't tell you what they want, they expect the adult to still get it for them. As kids mature, they realize that other people can't necessarily guess at what is in their minds and that other people have thoughts and feelings that might differ from their own. Kids with autism spectrum disorders are far slower to develop adequate Theory of Mind. A child who does not hear may think that what he's experiencing is normal and shared by everyone. He may not know someone is trying to get his attention until they touch him. In turn, he may touch others to get their attention.

It's hard for most children to be introspective, but this is even more so with kids who have autism. While typical kids are sometimes slow to tell their parents that their ear hurts, kids with autism may be even less able to do that.

Based on what you have said, the first thing I'd suggest is that you ask you doctor to check his ears. There are other physical things that can account for a change in a child's behavior, such as a bladder infection. Or allergies. I would start with the physical things first and rule out any such causes for the changed behavior.

If that all checks out fine, then I'd look at what might be different in his life. Has he moved homes, have people in his life entered or left? Does he have a new teacher, new students, a new seat in the classroom etc.? Many of these things are simply part of life and we all need to get used to changes, but they can temporarily throw a child who has autism, especially if efforts were not taken to help prepare him for the change.

Many kids on the autism spectrum have sensory sensitivities. Some of their body senses may be over or under reactive. The tricky thing about this is that the degree of sensitivity and which sensitivity is soothing or bothersome can and does change. Do you have access to an Occupational Therapist? They can be very helpful at weeding out sensory issues that might be behind behaviors and suggesting approaches and activities that might help.

Have the people at school observed him, noting when and where his behaviors are most pronounced? And, when they occur the least?

Kids with autism fall into patterns. These patterns and habits last for years. That's why it's important to think hard about any habit to see how socially appropriate that activity might be in a couple years.

Children are naturally physically affectionate with their parents at home. In school, as kids age, they become less touchy with their teachers and with each other as part of a normal maturation process. Kids with autism are not good at watching their peers and gleaning from observation what is accepted behavior or "cool". At age 10 or 12, it might be fine for your son to hold your hand, but far less "cool" to do that at school in front of his classmates. If he's in the habit of holding you at home, he might think that touching or holding someone is the normal thing to do. He may not read the body language or looks other kids give him when they don't welcome his touch. Think about what his touching you might be like when he's 10 or 12 and begin now to shape his affectionate touches into something that will be appropriate for an older child.

You might need to make it clear to your son that there are some people you hug, like your family, but outside this circle of people, do not hug. You could create a poster with photos of people it's all right to hug. With people outside that circle, a high five or a handshake might be appropriate, depending on the age and situation.

Perhaps your little boy is not touching you just out of affection. Does he focus better when he fidgets with something in his hand? Some kids do. If that might be the case, move your foot or leg or hand out of his grasp and place something else in his hand. You could try a stress ball. If that's too large for his hand, buy a balloon (a helium quality one lasts longer), fill it with flour or corn starch and tie the knot tightly. Make it full enough to fit nicely in the palm of his hand. Dollar stores often have little squeeze toys, some stretchy rubber ones, etc. Some kids like the feel of four inches of satiny ribbon or velvet ribbon. Experiment and see what he likes. I talk more about some of these sensory strategies for behavior in the novel <>Autism Goes to School</i>. You can download a free sample at http://www.amazon.com/School-Daze-Autism-Goes-ebook/dp/B0085HN9HQ/ref=sr_1_1?ie=.  

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Dr. Sharon A. Mitchell

Expertise

Sharon can help with parenting and educational concerns. She has worked in teaching, special education, counseling and consulting for over thirty years and gives workshops to educators and parents on working with kids with autism spectrum disorders. Sharon speaks from both the education and parent points of view, having an adult son with Asperger's.

Experience

Sharon has spent decades as a special education consultant with a school district and autism consult for the province's Department of Education, giving workshops and individual consults. Currently she works as regional autism consultant for a health district in between teaching university classes. She is an Amazon bestselling author or a series of novels, each depicting a child who has an autism spectrum disorder. Sharon's Master's thesis looked at the long-term outlook for persons with high functioning autism and Asperger's. Her Doctorate focused on strategies to help those with autism spectrum disorders.

Organizations
Website at http://www.drsharonmitchell.org and sits on Autism Today's Panel of Experts (www.autismtoday.com)

Publications
Author of "Autism Goes to School" - a novel about autism that that became an Amazon bestseller. Get this Amazon bestseller free at http://www.drsharonmitchell.org. In the next book, Autism Runs Away, Ethan is only in grade one and already has been kicked out of one school due to his tantrums and pattern of running away when in a panic. Now in a new school his mom remains glued to her phone, waiting for the call to tell her that they don’t know what to do with a child who has autism. Sara is about to learn if this new school is up to the challenge. (https://www.amazon.ca/Autism-Runs-Away-Book-School-ebook/dp/B01FCYQ7DC). Autism Belongs is the 3rd book. Manny's life has shrank to the confines of their house. His parents are desperate not to rock his world because the aggression has gotten to much worse. Where will this lead? Is there a chance that Manny could actually belong out in the world? You bet! Get a free sample at https://www.amazon.com/Autism-Belongs-School-Daze-Book-ebook/dp/B0184ZQMI6. Book four, Autism Talks and Talks, is about a 12 year old girl who has Asperger's. She's bright, inquisitive, highly verbal, but lacks social skills. Try a free sample at https://www.amazon.ca/Autism-Talks-Book-School-Daze-ebook/dp/B01IIUZH3S Book five, Autism Grows Up features Suzie, a bright, twenty-one year old whose life collapsed after she finished high school. Now, she lives in her mother's basement, spending nights on her computer, afraid to broach the world outside their door. Autism Grows Up is found at https://www.amazon.com/Autism-Grows-School-Daze-Book-ebook/dp/B01JB8QW3U. Prefer a boxed set? Get the first 3 books bundled together at https://www.amazon.com/Autism-Box-Set-School-Books-ebook/dp/B01KBEHJ08. Co-author of Amazon.com bestseller, The Official Autism 101 Manual (http://autism101manual.com/).

Education/Credentials
B.A. in Psychology, B.Ed. in Special Education, M.A. in Educational Leadership PhD. in Psychology Management, specializing in autism.

Awards and Honors
B.R.A.G. Medallion for the novel Autism Goes to School - Book 1 in the School Daze Series. (http://www.bragmedallion.com/medallion-honorees/2013/school-daze-autism-goes-to-school). Like Autism Goes to School, the third book in the series, Autism Belongs, also ranked #1 on Amazon (http://www.amazon.com/Autism-Belongs-School-Daze-Book-ebook/dp/B0184ZQMI6). Manny is not like other children. He doesn’t talk. He doesn’t leave the house. His parents desperately try to arrange their world so that Manny does not get upset. Because, when he does, well, the aggression was getting worse. At ten, Manny was becoming difficult to handle.

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