Do all of your child’s behaviors make sense? Most likely they do not, especially if your child has an Autism Spectrum Disorder. The neural pathways in the brain of a child with Autism are wired differently causing him or her to respond in ways that may be very foreign to us. Does that make it bad or just different?

If you judge the behavior of a child with ASD using neuro-typical standards it may very well be seen as a negative. You must remember that every behavior is a communication, a nonverbal way of saying something that is not or cannot be put into words.  Your child is sending you a message when she twirls around incessantly and flaps her hands in space, pay attention to what she is saying.

“How do I do this?” you ask. This is when you actually get to play detective instead of just reading books or watching shows about your favorite sleuth. Be it Nancy Drew, The Hardy Boys, Columbo, Sherlock Holmes or CSI, this is your opportunity to delve deep into unraveling the mystery of what makes your child get stuck and what makes her blossom.

To be a successful detective you need to stop looking at your child’s behaviors through a neuro-typical lens and do what the best sleuths do - put yourself in the shoes of the suspect. When you shift the way you look at the actions and mannerisms your child engages in you will notice things you never did before. Suddenly you will see clues that steer you to a better understanding. Once you comprehend the ‘what and why’ of these behaviors a new way of relating to your child will unfold. These insights into your child’s behavior will also inform you as to what will work best for your child.

Exactly how do you gather evidence to unravel these mysteries and discover what works best for your child? . . .

You write it down.

Recording data is the best way to remember anything. A great and inexpensive tool that will help you track behaviors is a simple pad of paper and a pencil. You can also use your computer or other devices to help you record data such as AutismTrack by Handhold Adaptive, an app for your iPad/iPhone. It doesn’t matter what you choose to use as long as you document the behavior and the context it is happening in.

Let’s use the example of a child that is constantly lining up items.  The goal is to identify the conditions he does this in by paying close attention to what those objects are, what happened just prior to the activity, what time of day it is, etc and then record this data for a few weeks.  

When you really take the time to carefully observe, record and analyze the circumstances around a child’s bizarre behavior you will eventually begin to see a pattern evolve. The important thing is to remain objective and suspend all judgment.

The focus is to solve the mystery as to what the trigger is that leads her to line up her stuffed animals. In this case the information you have gathered might reveal that this behavior typically occurs after a sudden change in routine.

Therefore, what might this repetitive lining up of items be telling you about your child?

-       Could it be a need to create structure and predictability in his environment?

-       Maybe it is an attempt to feel secure by controlling something within her power?

-       Or it could be a simple activity that soothes him?

-       Or . . .  ?

Once you have gathered the data surrounding a particular behavior, you can use the information to make adjustments to your environment in order to shift, minimize or eradicate the habit. The late psychologist Dr. Edward G. Carr, who developed the useful tools - ‘Functional Behavior Assessment’ and ‘Positive Behavior Support’ - always said, “fix contexts, not behaviors”.

Let’s use the example above of a child constantly lining items up in a row. If your data confirmed that this behavior is most likely to occur in response to a sudden change in routine then ‘fixing the context’ might involve the creation of an atmosphere that meets your child’s need for predictability. A visual schedule or a family calendar and a conscious attempt to adhere to it would most likely resolve this behavior.

So why not play detective? I know; I hear you saying that it sounds like just one more thing to do in an already busy life and maybe it is. It does take valuable time and effort to be a good detective and document the evidence as a scientist would but the information you gather in the process is priceless.

I ask you to take a moment to contemplate the many benefits that playing detective will bring. It will help you:

- understand your child’s behavior better

- eliminate triggers that cause the behaviors

- implement what works best for your child

- improve the way you relate to your child

- gently guide your child towards behaviors you want to see

BUT the most important outcome will be your ability to notice the hidden treasures within your child once these behavior roadblocks are removed. You and your child will no longer be distracted by the static these behaviors cause and your focus can shift to uncovering your child’s greatest potential and helping it soar.

Now isn’t that worth the upfront investment of time? And don’t forget, if you need a sidekick to keep you focused, cheer you on and get the job done faster, I am always available to coach you through this and get the amazing results you want for your child.

Author's Bio: 

Connie Hammer, MSW, parent educator, consultant and coach, guides parents of young children recently diagnosed with an autism spectrum disorder to uncover abilities and change possibilities. Visit her website to get your FREE resources - a parenting e-course, Parenting a Child with Autism - 3 Secrets to Thrive and a weekly parenting tip newsletter, The Spectrum.