My Child is Out of Control at Home and School, Are there Replacement Behaviors? A Glance at Impulsive Behavior

Impulsivity, what does it look like for a child with autism? Quickly grabbing items from others, opening and closing cupboard doors, getting desired things, items, and objects from others and storage areas without asking, running out the door to move through the hallway – run, jump, or bounce down the hallway. Taking things for an activity before it is the designated time to do so. These children are often very active, in motion, and moving very quickly. They seem not to be able to control their behavior. If they want it, they take it.

Often teachers and parents find this behavior annoying and disrupting to instruction, however, this behavior leaves the opportunities to develop communication wide open. It provides opportunity to teach the child to request access to items he wants or desires, opportunity to teach time management and self regulation, for example teaching the concept of wait…I am busy I will be with you in a minute.

Unfortunately, this often involves placing locks on otherwise free opening storage cupboards, child proof handles on doorknobs, and creating an inventory of communication photos, pictures, and or words to support the child in requesting items they want. This involves identifying and creating pictures of desired and undesired items that are in the cupboard and placing them on a choice board or choice page. This also might involved labeling the cupboard for the child to know what is in the cupboard and what items he or she can have access to.

Labeling the cupboard could look like  a broad category label system, color coding system, a number coding system  and combinations of labels and codes. This is the green cupboard all items in the green cupboard are related to classroom materials needed for academic activities. The communication pictures used to develop the skill of requesting the item and slowing the child down can be set up on a choice board that is kept in close proximity of each cupboard within the nearby area of the room.

An example of beginning to create opportunities for the child to request at home might be with foods in the kitchen. Picture cards are secured to the refrigerator with velcro  or attached with a small magnetic strip. The child is required to pull of the picture of the item that he wants, find an adult to request the item e.g. giving the picture to and waiting for the response, the adult can either affirm or deny the request. If the child has the ability to independently retrieve the desired food item after requesting, using communication,  he is encouraged to do so, or the adult can accompany the child to the refrigerator to retrieve the food item.

Many people view independent behavior as the ability for others to do for themselves. For a person with autism this can lead down a path of undesired routine and behavior. Retrieving items of desire, independently,  may not be accepted in all environments and can create  power struggles with others. Impulsivity over time can be replaced through teaching and using appropriate communication consistently and teaching self-regulation to put off immediate gratification.

About Mary

Hi! I have been providing services for children and young adults with Autism Spectrum Disorders, ages 3 through age 27, for twenty years. I also teach teachers and other professionals strategies and interventions to improve and develop communication skills, social understanding skills, and replacement of stereotypical behaviors. I try to create an awareness and empathic response with professionals working with families and caregivers living with the unique differences and challenges of ASD. My other goals include educating the public about ASD. ASD is a label that provides a common ground for discussing treatment, strategies, and other interventions to help the child or person. The label is not the child and vice-versa. Over the years I have observed many children develop communication skills, experience social success, and decrease and change stereotypical behavior into productivity. The children I work with are unique and wonderous. Like you and I they have specific interests and strengths that are valuable assets to their Quality of Life.
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