Text for of a series of six podcasts about behaviour

No 1: All Behaviour Is Communication

Parents frequently ask about behaviour problems – these problems are common and distressing for children and parents. In this series of six podcasts, I have shared my understanding of achieving a stable solution for these problems.

All behaviour is communication.


So, let us begin with the first one;

All behaviour is communication.

When we communicate, we send a message, to others, about what we need or how we feel. And yes, we mainly communicate by speaking or sending text messages, but we also communicate using behaviour; in fact, most of the time, most of us are communicating through our behaviour.  We smile or frown, look happy or upset, walk gently or thump the floor, wave as we leave or slam the door; we always convey some message through our behaviour.  And so are the children with special needs. But, they are often relying on you to figure out what the message is. One thing you don’t want to say is that your child can not communicate. Given a suitable method and a receptive listener, all children can communicate. We might not always understand their message, but that needs some effort.

When the behaviour is challenging, when your child screams, when they hurt others, we often thinkthat the child is deliberately misbehaving, but rushing to punish the child does not help us to understand why the child does this or what they are communicating. It can take time and effort to work out what message their behaviour is telling us,

And if you understand the message behind their behaviour, you might do what needs to be done. It will help the child, and it will help you. And once you the parent, who knows the child best, starts reading these messages, you can make your child a happy and better-behaved child.

Now, let’s look at some of the examples of behaviours and the messages they might convey.

Behaviour Messages

Hurting themselves  or others

Running away



Repeatedly asking to go to the toilet

I don’t know what words to use

I need that thing now,

I am hungry or thirsty

I need attention, and I feel lonely

I am worried and scared

I can’t stand the noise

I don’t know what to do next

I don’t know how to do this

I want to get out of this place

It hurts, my tummy/head hurts, do something about it.

Yes, you’re right; it’s not easy to work out which one of these messages the child is trying to convey through the behaviour. So I suggest you do two things:

First, pay attention to the child.  To become a receptive listener, you need to listen to the language of behaviour with more than your ears, and you need to use your eyes, heart, and relationship. Notice the child and and have some faith in knowing your child, their expressions and reactions and you will hear what they are saying. When you do this, you calm their anxiety and help them. When you have a loving relationship with your child, you understand their needs and difficulties – hold on to this, and never let this thought leave you even in the most challenging moments.

The second thing you can do is to make it easier for the child to communicate their message:

If your child can use words and gestures but still struggles in conveying their message, then first reduce distractions when communicating with them, encourage them by facing them, look at them when they talk, be patient, give time and listen. Some children just need longer to process what they want to say. Praise them even for trying. If what they say is not clear, then say it back to them using the right words, gestures and expressions, and model, but don’t correct them – correcting every time they say something will reduce their motivation and desire to communicate.

If your child has a problem in using words to communicate, there are some ways you can use to make it easier for them. Start with using some common gestures – body language – and some pictures. Begin with about five words that are relevant to your child, which they need to use a lot and which help them get what they want, for example, no, yes, more, food, drinks or a daily activity. First, you choose the right gestures, drawings or pictures for that word and then model using those gestures, drawings or pictures, and then encourage the child to imitate, and reward them even for trying. Then  use them consistently – get the whole family to use them. You can use them to help the child make a choice or ask for what they want. And slowly expand the range. If possible, ask a speech therapist for more information.

Helping your child communicate how they feel

Learning to know their feelings can be hard for many children with special needs, and if they don’t know how they feel, then all they feel is stress, which causes more anxiety and more challenging behaviour.


Try making some drawings or using pictures of an angry face or a scared face or simply cards of different colours, such as a red card, which they can show to others to convey that they feel stressed.  It needs a bit of practice. It has to be used repeatedly before the child will get used to the idea and will start using it to convey their stress to you.  And then you can do something about it before it all boils over into a big uncontrollable crisis. So, work on this one; it will be a great help.

Now, all children are different, and some respond to pictures or drawings, and others to gestures and signs. It is usually a lot easier for many children to use pictures or signs than use words. And using them does not stop children from talking – it calms them and helps them learn to talk.

Finally, communication is a two-way street. So you may also need to change how you communicate with your child. Briefly, get the child’s attention before you say anything, keep your language simple, loud, and clear, give one message at a time and use a lot of expressions. That will help your child understand your messages.

By listening attentively and affectionately to their behaviour and helping them communicate by using some simple alternative means such as gestures and pictures, you can become a much better listener of your child’s behaviour.

I hope these ideas will help you and your child. In the next podcast, All Behaviour Has A Reason, we will look at doing some detective work to discover the triggers that may be causing and maintaining the difficult behaviour. The whole series of podcasts, with their text, is at the website www.enablenet.info.

Take care, stay healthy. My best wishes are with you, and thanks for listening.

No 2: This is the second episode in the six-part series of podcasts about managing behaviour difficulties in children with special needs. 

All behaviour has a reason.

On the one hand, it sounds an obvious statement, but on the other hand, children are often described as bad or deliberately misbehaving.  Once you work out the reason behind the behaviour, you can do something about it. So, in this podcast, we will do some detective work to look for the reasons behind the behaviour.  

First, make sure that there isn’t any underlying health reason. I say this because the health of children with special needs is sometimes overlooked. Many doctors don’t even properly examine them – they think that everything to do with the child is part of their special needs – totally wrong. But you, as the parent, keep an eye on it. Pay extra attention to it if the behaviour has suddenly changed. For example, the child may have constipation, a toothache or an earache. Is it possible that they’re not sleeping well for some reason, and that’s making them irritable? A girl may be in discomfort and pain because of her menstrual period. Is the child wetting or soiling, which may be causing the discomfort? Has the child started on some new medicine that may be causing irritability? If the answer is yes to any of these questions, then take advice from a doctor, and when you see a doctor, share your concerns and insist that the child is examined and given the proper treatment.

Second step: Look for any change that may be affecting the child emotionally. Children are more sensitive to change than you may think. They are often affected by a change in the classroom or the teacher or a change at home. And if you feel that there has been a change, then make sure you explain it to the child. Use drawings, symbols or photos. Make a timeline, and reassure, comfort and support them.

Step three: Look out for slow and fast triggers or reasons behind the behaviour. Slow triggers are the ones that are going on in the background for some time. They make it more likely that bad behaviour will happen because they make the child anxious, upset and edgy. Noticing these slow triggers can help you understand that the child is finding some situations more challenging to cope with and are trying to say this through their behaviour. Some examples of conditions that act as slow triggers are: being tired or not sleeping well, not getting enough attention and being disengaged or bored, being hungry, or having sensory discomforts such as being in a crowded or noisy environment. Try minimising these slow trigger situations as much as you can. And by doing so, you would have considerably reduced the chances of challenging behaviour happening.


Fast triggers lighten the fuse and start the behaviour. Some examples of fast triggers are, being told to do something they don’t want to do or find it hard to do, being told ‘No’ to something they want to do, or something unexpected, such as a change of plan.

Slow and fast triggers combine to cause challenging behaviour. Children who are already stressed are more likely to react to a fast trigger than those who are not stressed. So, thinking about slow triggers and making a stress-reduction plan is a big step towards reducing challenging behaviour. And changing the way you give a direction or an explanation, timing it when the child is not stressed, and using an affectionate and supportive manner can usually take the sting out of the fast triggers.

Fourth step: Look for what seems to maintain the behaviour or makes it better or worse. Also, what does the child seem to get out of the behaviour?  For example, someone’s attention or something tangible – food or a toy- or an escape from doing something?  It will take some effort, but observing to work this out will be immensely helpful.

Keep a note or a diary. Write down any slow trigger, any fast trigger, the actual behaviour, what maintains the behaviour, and what the child seems to get out of it. Soon you will see a pattern and the reason. And you may also get a clue about what seems to make the behaviour better or worse. 

Finally, the fifth step: Now that you have the information, you can make a plan.

I suggest you think along these lines:

  • Can you make situations less stressful for them? Think about reducing sensory stresses, making transitions – changes from one to another situation – easier to manage by using visual timetables and improving communication.
  • You may not be able to remove a trigger, but can you lessen its impact by giving the child the right kind of attention and comfort? You don’t have to give in to their wrong demand, but you can still say, “I know you are upset. I love you very much”. If the child doesn’t like doing something, you can help them cope by first making it clear how long a situation will last and what will follow it. You can use some ‘Now and Then’ cards to convey that. You can also help the child relax. Remember, you can’t just expect the child to relax when you ask them to relax; you need to teach your child some relaxation methods such as deep breathing, taking some time out to listen to music or lie down and relax the body. You cannot teach relaxation in the middle of challenging behaviour; it will only work if the child has done some practice earlier.  
  • Can you help them achieve their purpose differently, for example, by breaking down any work they find challenging in smaller chunks and giving them breaks? Or by giving them an alternative activity to do that they like? You can make it easier for the child to stop doing what they don’t like. For example, you can help them learn a sign or a word or photo card to say “Finish”. Again, practice any such method when the child is calm; only then your child can use it when things are difficult. If you help them do what they need to do, then many behaviour problems will go away.

Finally, think positively. Think of your child as a good child facing the slow triggers winding them up and then the fast triggers that make the whole behaviour boil out of control. Think about how you can become a better listener, understand the reasons behind the behaviour, adjust the environment to make it less stressful, help them communicate better and provide them with alternative activities that engage them and make them happy.

I hope these ideas will help you and your child. In the next podcast, we will talk about teaching your child some ‘good behaviour’. The more good behaviour there is, the less bad behaviour will happen. The full text of this podcast is on the website enablenet.info.

Stay healthy and take care. My best wishes are with you, and thank you for listening. 


No 3: How to help your child learn good behaviour?


This is the third in the series of podcasts about improving your child’s behaviour.  This podcast series is available on Google and apple podcasts and on the website that I’ll mention at the end of this podcast. 

More good behaviour means less bad behaviour. 

Parents often get so overwhelmed by their child’s challenging behaviour that when I ask, “is there any good behaviour that the child does?” they find it hard to remember and almost grudgingly say, “sometimes, yes, (he/she) does some good things”. Do you see what is happening here? We like children when they behave well, but we mostly notice them when they misbehave. So we pay attention to their bad behaviour, and we talk about their bad behaviour, and guess what happens? It increases their bad behaviour. 

And when parents have remembered some good behaviour of the child, I remind them that this is the key, this means that your child can behave well and learn good behaviour. It means that you can increase their good behaviour,  and then, the more the child will behave well, the less there will be a need or even an opportunity for the problem behaviour to show up. The more the child will get noticed as behaving well, the more others will praise them, which will build up their self-confidence, and they will be motivated to behave better, and you would have started a cycle of continuing good behaviour.

There are a few simple things you could do to achieve this.

First, spend a day or two paying close attention to all the ‘good’ behaviour your child does: asks you for something, gives you something, sits with you, eats food or drinks independently, shows affection, plays with another child, looks at books, tries to do something else that is not bad. There are lots of such things that all children do. What you have to do is start noticing them, giving attention to them when they do it, and praising them for it—talking about it in front of the child. That will make the child do the right thing again and again.

Next, let’s first look at how to choose which good behaviour to teach. Start with thinking of behaviours that will help the child most in getting through the day or getting along with others, or making it easier for them to do what they want to do. 

Sharing things with others, responding when called, asking and getting other’s attention nicely, giving things to others, waiting, tidying up after playtime are just some examples that come to mind, but you know your child and your situation, you can easily think of many others. So before you choose, remember, there are some golden rules for choosing:

  • Choose one behaviour at a time. Be realistic, and it will work.
  • Let everyone in the family know about the behaviour you are working on, how you will do it, and let others work on the same behaviour. 

Now, how to help the child learn the behaviour:

  • Make that behaviour part of an activity; for example, tidying up toys is part of playing with toys.
  • Make sure the child clearly understands what you want them to do. Use symbols and pictures to explain. If the task has two or three steps, then make a visual timeline for each step, for example, getting the box, playing with toys, putting toys in the box and putting the box away.
  • Model the behaviour – do it yourself to show to the child. Talk about it as you do it  “I am putting the toys in the box – tidying up time”.
  • Help the child with prompting – even physically helping them put the toy in the box. Reduce the prompt as the child learns.
  • Praise and reward: paying immediate attention to what they have done is a very rich reward, talking about it and making it visible – take a picture and show it to others in front of the child.
  • Practice, practice and practice. And your child would have learnt good behaviour. 

Now, let’s look at another example – learning to get other’s attention nicely. Choose this if the child tries to get your attention by hitting or screaming:

  • Choose some situations when the child needs your attention. Anticipate the moment and model a sign, a sound, or holding the child’s hand and gently tapping your hand/arm with it. And then encourage the child to imitate.
  • As soon as the child imitates, with or without prompting, give your full attention with a smile and praise!
  • Make sure you notice when the child tries to get your attention appropriately and respond as soon as you can.
  • If the child goes on to hit you, use a phrase such as “Hands down” (you may have to hold the child’s hands down as you say it) and prompt them to use what you have taught them earlier. 
  • Interact with the child regularly, give them plenty of opportunities to get positive attention.
  • Where possible, ignore the hitting – but do not ignore the child.

Learning to cope with transitions

Moving from one activity to another is what we call transition.  It is difficult for children for several reasons: they may have very rigid thinking and cannot accept that things change. In addition, they may be just finding it hard to understand directions particularly if the direction is made of several steps. 

Using Visual timetables, ‘’now and then or ‘if and then’ cards are extremely useful, but their success relies on using and practising them. Keep your language simple and your sentences short.

Give a warning of what is to come next – practice using counting when one activity finishes and the next one begins, for example, counting up to 5 or clapping 3 times or 5 times. It helps children process and helps them get ready for the next activity and the change. And the problem behaviour caused by transitions will reduce.

And as for anything else, give them praise when they learn to cope with transitions.

Finally, I want to say something that is most important in helping your child learn good behaviour: whatever you do with the child, it must happen in a loving and caring relationship – there is no room for anger or blame here.  Children behave and learn better when others give them love and care. You know that your child has to deal with all their difficulties and all the sensory and other stresses they face. You are the model for them, and they learn from you how to be loving and caring. 

 I hope these ideas will help you and your child. In the next podcast, we will talk about ‘What To Do When There Is A Crisis’. And if you haven’t yet reached there, go to the website www.enablenet.info, where you will find the full series and its text

Stay healthy and take care; my best wishes are with you, and thanks for listening.

No. 4: What to do when a child’s behaviour is difficult?

First, do not react inappropriately:

If parents or carers show a wrong reaction (laughing, getting angry or saying something loudly or showing too many emotions/expressions) to some unwanted behaviour or give in to the child’s demand or let the child get away from doing a task that the child is required to do, then the wrong reaction works as a reward for the child and they learn to behave in that way.

Learn these golden rules of what not to do:

  • Don’t become angry or shout at your child – that will only increase the bad behaviour
  • Don’t laugh at your child’s unwanted behaviour or make fun of your child
  • Don’t be harsh or force your child
  • Don’t argue with your child
  • Don’t give in to your child’s demands just because of his/her difficult behaviour
  • Don’t be inconsistent: sometimes agreeing to your child demands and at other times refusing
  • Don’t try to bribe your child – by giving rewards before the child has shown the right behaviour – rewards only work when they follow the right behaviour
  • Don’t try to teach the right behaviour when your child is in the middle of showing bad behaviour
  • Don’t criticise your child in front of others
  • Never hit or hurt your child

The right way of responding to unwanted behaviour

You will need to think and plan your actions. You will also need to include the whole family in this plan; otherwise, different responses from family members will only make the situation worse.

Step 1:

  1. Choose one unwanted behaviour; you cannot work on all the wrong behaviours at the same time. Choose a behaviour that is harmful to the child or others, such as hitting or biting, or which bothers the child most.
  2. Have you tried to do something about correcting or reducing the reasons for this behaviour?
  3. Have you tried adapting the situation to suit the child or reducing the child’s stress?
  4. What would have been the right behaviour for your child to do in that situation? For example, instead of crying and getting angry, your child could have communicated needs or desires by using words, signs, or symbols, taking rest if tired or communicating about being stressed.
  5. Have you tried teaching your child some of these right behaviours? Remember, you can only do that when the child is calm; practise them repeatedly so that the child can use them when needed.

Step 2: If you pick up early that your child is starting the unwanted behaviour:  interrupt and redirect

  1. Try interrupting by redirecting your child to an activity of his interest (for example, a sensory activity) or to the desired action that you have been practising. You can only do this if the child has practised doing the right behaviour earlier; you cannot teach the correct behaviour when the child is upset.
  2. Keep ignoring the unwanted behaviour and help the child by giving prompts to show the desired behaviour
  3. Give praise and rewards if the child tries to show the desired behaviour

Step 3: If the unwanted behaviour occurs: convey disapproval

  1. Convey your disapproval, without showing any anger
  1. Get the child’s attention
  2. Say “No, don’t do that” or “stop” in a firm and calm voice and with facial expressions of displeasure
  1. Give about 10 seconds for the child to respond, stay calm
  2. If the child persists with unwanted behaviour, repeat displeasure. If the child continues with the unwanted behaviour, go to the next step.

Step 4: if the unwanted behaviour continues

  1. Remove your attention from the child (ignore the behaviour). You will need to ignore the child’s crying and all the expressions that go with it,  not because you don’t love your child but because you want the behaviour to improve.
  2. Make sure the child is safe.
  3. While ignoring, you will need to involve yourself in doing some other activity
  4. Do not argue with your child or criticise the child. You are trying to remove your attention from the child and give a message that she/he does not get attention by doing the wrong behaviour.
  5. As soon as the child calms down, you will need to give your full attention to the child –  you need to ignore the behaviour, not the child.
  6. Do not criticise this behaviour afterwards.  Praise every good behaviour.
  7. Teach any right behaviour when the child is calm.

Step 5:

If the child becomes too upset:

  • Try to calm the child without giving too much attention. Acknowledge the feelings without giving in to the child’s behaviour “ I know you are very upset but first calm down”,
  • minimise your emotional response; don’t show much emotional expression
  • don’t give in to the child’s demand
  • don’t bribe or negotiate at this point

remain aware of the child’s and others’ safety, and act promptly if anyone is at risk of getting hurt

By applying this method, children’s behaviour can deteriorate for a few days before it starts improving.  Be patient, hold your nerve and get help from others, but stick to the right methods, and you will have helped your child.

No. 5: Managing a behavioural crisis

Three main types of behavioural crisis in children with autism:

1. Severe and prolonged tantrums

Tantrums occur either when the child’s wish is denied. Typically developing children also do it, but in autism, it is prolonged and severe.  A tantrum is often a learnt behaviour – they watch others and try to get others’ attention – and giving in to it is never a good idea as it only reinforces the tantrum behaviour. Sometimes, the situation gets out of the child’s control because of their poor emotional regulation, and even they do not know how to turn off the tantrum!

Managing tantrums

  • Stay calm. Your panic will only make the situation worse. Don’t cry or yell and keep your voice firm and steady; children are reassured by firmness.
  • Catch it early: read early signals and try distracting the child to something of the child’s interest and which is calming for the child, for example, their choice of music or game.
  • Show that you are aware that the child is upset by saying in a calm voice: “I know you are upset.”
  • Remove attention, unless doing so would put the child at risk
  • DO NOT give in or bribe the child
  • DO NOT reason or argue
  • Do NOT try to teach good behaviour at this time.
  • Remain aware of the child’s and others’ safety, act promptly if anyone is at risk of getting hurt.
  • Praise the child when the tantrum settles and practise the right behaviour. Do not criticise the child.


2. Meltdown

Meltdowns happen when the build-up of anxiety and stress crosses the limit of what the child’s system can put up with, and their pent-up stress boils over, causing prolonged crying and aggression. There is no particular purpose to this behaviour apart from releasing stress.

Unlike a tantrum, the child does not show any awareness of others’ reactions.


Managing a meltdown

  • Stay calm. Your panic will only make the situation worse. Don’t cry or yell and keep your voice firm and steady; children are reassured by firmness.
  • Catch it early: read early signals and try distracting the child to something of the child’s interest and which is calming for the child, for example, their choice of music or game.
  • Show that you are aware that the child is upset by saying in a calm voice: “I know you are upset.”
  • Help the child by removing demands from the child and reducing any sensory overload such as noise, such as moving to a calmer place.
  • Use some practised calming method, such as a sensory toy or listening to music.
  • Use a soothing method that you know works on your child, for example, hugging, touching, holding or singing.
  • Some children may need to be left alone, removing stimulation and demands, in a safe and calm place, to calm down, but do not create prolonged isolation for the child.
  • DO NOT criticise the child. DO NOT reason or argue. Do NOT try to teach good behaviour at this time.
  • Talk about the incident after the child has settled, and only about how the child calmed down and settled, what would be unacceptable (hitting others or breaking things) and what she/he could do better in the future. Build a reward programme (giving stickers) for the child showing good behaviour in future. Don’t criticise the child.
  • Remain aware of the child’s and others’ safety, act promptly if anyone is at risk of getting hurt

Taking the child to a hospital in such a situation may only make things worse; children with autism don’t react well to hospital environments. Medicines have almost no role in managing such situations. Trying to medicate children with autism by giving sedatives often makes them irritable and aggressive. If you have tried the above plan, worked on the behavioural improvement plan and still have serious issues with your child’s challenging behaviour, then take advice from a counsellor and a child psychiatrist.

Remember, preventing is the best way of dealing with both these behaviours. Work on:

❏    Improving communication using symbols if required

❏    Practising alternative behaviours or favourite activities that could be used as replacements of demands, such as a sensory toy, music, reducing noise with headphones. Using a predictable plan will help the child too.

❏    Reducing stressful situations such as noise or crowd and creating frequent breaks or relaxing times.

❏    Teaching, practising and rewarding positive behaviours, such as asking, giving, showing, sharing


You need to think through the above and individualise it for your child. Plan and share it with others and have it ready to use in the event of a crisis.


3. Shutdown (mental and physical inactivity)

Some children slow down in all their activities, such as talking to others, speaking, doing daily chores, and even eating food. Their body movements also decrease, and they often appear relaxed. It may also happen that at one time it seems that the child is in shut down and at other times he feels fine. This situation may worsen if the help is not provided.


Helping the child during the shutdown phase

  • Is there a reason in the environment that is causing mental stress to the child?
  • First, reduce such stress.
  • Is the child under pressure due to any other reason, such as any change in school or expectations from him to work beyond his capacity?
  • Reduce these reasons by meeting with the school
  • Is any other child or elder taunting or bullying the child?
  • Intervene to change this state.
  • Is there a lack of a regular schedule in the child’s routine at home or at school?
  • Create a routine for the child with the help of visual timetables.
  • Help the child follow his routine.
  • Is the child not getting enough mental encouragement?
  • Play games with the child or do things that he is interested in, he can easily complete and for which he gets praise on completion.
  • Do not allow the child to sit and watch TV or video throughout the day, encourage the child by making a routine of doing such tasks before and after more active work.
  • Start the child’s routine with his or her favourite work.
  • Make a routine of walking or playing outdoors with the child every day.
  • Motivate the child to work, but at this stage reduce the decision-making burden on the child.
  • Is the child able to get the support he needs?
  • In this stage, the child needs 1–1 help; The child should have a good and sensitive relationship with such helpers.
  • Is the child taking any medicine?
  • Shutdown-like conditions often occur due to the ill effects of some medicines. Check the medicine by taking the help of a doctor, and if necessary, stop or change the medicine.
  • Does the child know how to relax and reduce stress?
  • Help the child to learn a plan to relax and reduce mental stress.

No. 6: Self-injurious (hitting/biting self) and self-stimulatory behaviours

Such behaviour is extremely distressing for parents and makes it very hard to look after the child. Unfortunately, parents and teachers often react wrongly to such behaviour, which makes the situation worse.


Managing self-injurious behaviour


  1. Does the child often choose such behaviour when frustrated or distressed?

If yes,

  1. Modifying the environment to make it less stressful for the child
  1. Does your child have difficulty in communicating, understanding others, or expressing themselves?

If yes,

  1. Improve the child’s communication. This is the most common reason underlying such behaviour – make it a priority for you and the child.
  1. Does your child seem to be using such behaviour to get what they want or to reduce their boredom or to escape from a task that they don’t want to do?

If yes,

  1. Teach the child ways to convey their needs and desires
  2. Practise these ways when the child is calm,
  3. Encourage by rewarding whenever the child uses the right way of conveying needs or desires
  1. Does your child seem to do the self-injurious behaviours to generate certain sensations?

If yes,

  1. Consider giving the child other sensation generating toys and activities such as chewing, touching, stroking and sound/music.
  2. Create opportunities for the child to play with such material – the child may need help and encouragement in using sensory material.
  1. Does your child seem to do such behaviour for seeking attention from others?

If yes,

  1. Stop giving attention to such behaviour
  2. Instead,  give the child a lot of attention and praise for any other alternative behaviour such as playing with a toy or a sensory activity.


Finally, increasing children’s existing good behaviours and teaching them alternative behaviour, through rewards and reinforcement, should decrease opportunities for indulging in self-injurious behaviours.


Self-stimulatory behaviour (stimming)

Some children with autism show repetitive behaviours such as flapping their hands, moving their hands or fingers, covering their ears, rocking their body, pacing up and down, biting or chewing objects or toys and sometimes even their fingers or hands and at times pinching their skin or pulling their hair. These behaviours are known as self-stimulatory behaviours or stimming.

What causes these behaviours?

There are several reasons for such behaviours to appear, and one or more of them could apply to your child:

  1. becoming either over-excited and using these behaviours to calm down or feeling bored and trying to create some excitement
  2. feeling anxious, angry, upset or distressed because of sensory or emotional overload, and expressing these emotions through these behaviours or using these behaviours to soothe themselves
  3. being in pain because of some physical problem such as a toothache or ear infection
  4. and finally, the behaviour may have started for any of the above reasons but then became a habit for the child even though the original reason no longer exists.

How can you reduce these behaviours?

Such behaviours cannot be removed entirely. However, they change with time and using the tips below, you can make them less disruptive and more acceptable for the child and others.

First, consider whether there may be a physical cause that needs to be treated.

Next, make observations, as you have learnt to do earlier and reduce the conditions or situations that may trigger, maintain, or worsen your child’s behaviour.

Practical tips worth trying:

  • Regular daily vigorous exercises often reduce such behaviours
  • Do not let these behaviours put you off from doing joint fun activities with your child, rather do more of them if possible, without worrying about trying to stop stimming.
  • Instead of showing negative emotions towards stimming, show positive and engaging emotions towards your child and keep building your relationship with the child.
  • Whenever your child does such repetitive behaviour, start an activity of your child’s choice, which has been practised earlier. Praise and reward your child for starting that activity.
  • For stimming, which may be socially inappropriate use pictures or words (depending on the child’s understanding) to convey to your child that he/she can do stimming in his/her room or later. That will improve your child’s self-control.
  • Regularly praise and reward your child for not stimming. Do not shout at the child or use physical punishment for doing these behaviours.