AutismHow to help with your child's behaviour

Common types of behaviour in autistic children

Some autistic children may behave in ways that put a lot of strain on you and your family.

You may hear health professionals call some behaviours "challenging".

These behaviours include:

  • stimming – a kind of repetitive behaviour
  • meltdowns – a complete loss of control over behaviour

Some autistic children can also be physically or verbally aggressive. Their behaviour can be harmful to themselves or other people.

But remember, all autistic children are different and not every day will be challenging or stressful.

Why these behaviours happen

Many autistic children have difficulties with communication, which can affect their behaviour.

Some things that can cause these behaviours include:

  • being oversensitive to things like bright lights or loud noises
  • being undersensitive to things like touch or pain
  • anxiety, especially when routines suddenly change
  • not being able to make sense of what's going on around them
  • being unwell or in pain

These behaviours are not your or your child's fault.

Stimming

Stimming stands for "self-stimulating behaviour". It's a kind of repetitive behaviour.

Common stimming behaviours include:

  • rocking, jumping, spinning, head-banging
  • hand-flapping, finger-flicking, flicking rubber bands
  • repeating words, phrases or sounds
  • staring at lights or spinning objects

Stimming is usually harmless. It may look odd to others, but there's no need to stop it if it's not causing any problems for you or your child.

Ambitious about Autism has more on stimming and repetitive behaviours.

Meltdowns

Meltdowns are a complete loss of control caused by being totally overwhelmed.

If your child has a meltdown, the most important thing is to try to stay calm and keep them safe.

If you're worried your child might hurt themselves, try to hold them to keep them safe.

It's not always possible to prevent meltdowns, but there are some things you can do that may help.

These include:

  • letting your child wear headphones to listen to calming music
  • turning down or removing bright lights
  • planning ahead for any change in routine, such as a different route to school

It may help to keep a diary for a few weeks to see if you can spot any meltdown triggers that you can do something about.

The National Autistic Society has more on meltdowns.

Speak to the autism assessment team or a GP if your child is:

  • stimming all the time or having lots of meltdowns
  • being bullied at school because of their behaviour
  • aggressive, harming themselves or harming other people

If you're struggling to cope, you may be referred to a professional who can help.

Advice from other parents

If you need emotional support, call the National Autistic Society's Parent to Parent phone line on 0808 800 4106.

You can also get advice and help from support groups and online forums.

Page last reviewed: 18/04/2019
Next review due: 18/04/2022