In part 1 of this conversation about hitting and biting, we discussed a plan for protecting a youngster’s classmates, teachers, and family members from harmful hitting and biting. We also took a look at some of the catalyst’s of destructive or hurtful behaviors. In today’s post, we are brainstorming strategies to decrease the incidence of hitting, biting, scratching, pinching, and other dangerous behaviors.
Every individual and every situation has unique factors, so it is impossible to develop one fool-proof strategy for helping our hitting, biting friends with autism stop destructive behaviors. But, any effective strategy for changing behaviors includes these crucial steps.
1. Decrease opportunity. In the case of destructive, harmful behaviors, the first step in any strategy is to take away the opportunity, thereby protecting the well-being of the individual and those around him. Take a look at Part 1 of this conversation about hitting and biting for some ideas aimed at keeping likely targets out of reach of an individual with autism who has harmful behavior issues.
2. Pinpoint the behavior. Our ultimate goal is to eliminate hurtful behaviors. This goal can only be reached if we can pinpoint the behavior by defining it specifically and determining the frequency, timing, and specific catalysts for, in this case, hitting and biting. It is not enough to say, “He always hits,” or “she bites anyone who comes near.”
3. Extinguish the behavior. Basically, we need to replace the hurtful behavior with an incompatible, more appropriate behavior. So, for example, the harmful behaviors of individuals with sensory issues decrease when we provide objects for them to bite and to squeeze or hit. Because busy hands and minds tend to be less likely to strike out at others, it is wise to keep our hitting and biting friends occupied with interesting, appealing, hands-on activities. In some cases, the solution is as simple as systematically teaching our friends what we expect them to do with their hands. A youngster who keeps “hands on knees” or who learns to clap or grasp his hands when frustrated is not able to hit or pinch or scratch.
If we can pinpoint the cause of hurtful behavior, we can develop a more effective strategy for decreasing hitting and biting. So, for example, if a person strikes out at others because of frustration in inability to communicate, we need to develop some methods for this individual to express opinions, needs, and emotions. If a person is hitting and biting because of difficulty with transition, we need to develop a calendar system to help them know what is coming up and to systematically teach them how to deal with the challenges posed by change. If a person is striking out in an attempt to communicate with other people, we need to help them learn more appropriate ways to get our attention, and we need to make certain we give the student our undivided attention periodically. If a person’s hurtful behaviors are caused by loud sounds, crowds of people, certain smells or sights, or other sensory issues, we can initially keep them away from those triggers, then gradually introduce the catalyst so they can slowly gain tolerance. Although some caregivers may not choose this option, medications can be very helpful in some cases to help youngsters “chill out” when frustrated or angry.
These are just a few options for dealing with biting and hitting. Please feel free to share challenges you face as well as any strategies – whether they work or not. Just click on the comments button or send an e-mail to talk@FAQautism.com.
NOTE TO READERS AND LISTENERS: I am Cathy Knoll, a board certified music therapist and long-time friend of many folks with autism. At FAQautism.com we are committed to providing free, practical, everyday tips for making life better for people with autism. Feel free to send me an email with your thoughts or challenging situations or innovative solution. Send email to talk@FAQautism.com And don’t forget to check out our website for a wealth of ideas and a glimpse into the world of autism. http://FAQautism.com