Tips and Tricks

There are two parts to this section.  First are specific suggestions for techniques to change challenging behaviours.  After that is a list of ways to save some money.  If you have suggestions which don't appear here, please share via comments.

Changing behaviour:

Here’s a list of specific strategies for changing difficult behaviours.  They aren't in any particular order so it's a good idea to scan the whole list for ideas.

Remove the trigger:

If a particular event, food or item seems to trigger tantrums or behaviours, get rid of it.  Even if it doesn’t seem fair to deprive your child, it’s even less fair to lessen their chances of success even further.  On the other side the coin, if you discover your child needs something to be successful in a difficult situation (such as a snack, walk or small fidget toy), then give it to them.

Incompatible and replacement behaviours:

If you want to use a new behaviour to replace an old one, then it’s important to make sure the new behaviour isn’t more complicated than the old one.  If your child screams when upset, getting him or her to say “I’m angry” is going to be too much work.  But getting them to touch a card with an angry face might be easier.  An incompatible behaviour is where you prevent a problem by making it impossible to do.  If your child flaps his or her hands when excited, teach him or her to clap instead. 

Reward good behaviour:

If your child gets an appropriate reward for doing things properly, it will encourage him or her to use the new techniques.  Don’t worry about other concerns when rewarding.  If you’re trying to teach your child to ask with words instead of whining and he or she asks for a cookie two minutes before dinner, give them the cookie to reward using words.  Rewards can help to bridge the gap in building a new way to behave.


Remove your child from the situation until he or she calms down.  You have to be careful not to give the child extra attention for acting out but you also usually have to make sure your child stays safe.  We’ve used cameras to monitor situations from a discreet distance.

Walk throughs:

Practice appropriate behaviours over and over again with your child.  Sometimes it’s hard for a child to remember what he or she is supposed to do.  Practice asking for a toy instead of snatching it.  If a typical child would have to practice ten times to remember a situation, then you’ll likely have to practice a hundred times with your child with autism.

Find the same reward:

Sensory rewards are hard to break.  If you can find something appropriate which gives the same reward, it can be a good technique.  A child who is constantly sitting on the edge of his or her chair might like the heightened sense of pressure from the edge.  A ridged seat cover might help them to settle in a chair.

Break cards:

Small cards or tokens which the child can exchange in order to get a break from a task.  You can limit the number of breaks by limiting tokens, although they should be unlimited when you’re trying to teach your child to use them.  Breaks should be short, we’ve found one minute is an effective length.

Visual schedule:

A set of pictures showing the order of activities for the day.  Sometimes children with autism don’t realize the next task will be fun as well, they only see they’re leaving something they enjoy.  It can also help them to realize fun will return after a non-preferred activity.  I used a Play-Toilet-Play schedule while toilet training to show my son that the bathroom was only a brief interruption to his playtime.

First ___, Then ____ board:

A piece of paper or board with an activity and reward or a non-preferred and a favourite activity.  You can use it to show your child the reward for an action.  Example: First: schoolwork, Then: television.

Gradually increasing intervals:

Children with autism often have a particularly hard time waiting for what they want.  To teach them patience, you can use gradually increasing intervals.  Once they’ve waited patiently, they get a reward.  Start with three seconds and when the child is waiting that long without problems, you can make it longer.  Always start with an interval you know your child can handle most of the time.  You have to build a pattern of success.

Control desired items or activities:

If your child really likes something, you can use it as a reward but only if you control when your child gets it.  Watching TV won’t work as a reward if your child is allowed to watch TV all day and knows how to turn it on by himself.

Pennysaving techniques:

Autism is expensive.  Any experienced parent will tell you that.  Finding ways to keep your costs down can be a lifesaver.

Cheap lamination: clear packing tape.

You’ll end up laminating a lot of cards and pictures for schedules and other uses.  Small cards and pictures can be easily “laminated” by wrapping both sides with clear packing tape.  It’s not quite as durable and waterproof but much easier and cheaper to do at home.

Making social stories: use a photo album.

The simple, cheap albums with plastic sleeves to hold 4x6 photos make great holders for social stories.  Just print up your individual pages, attach pictures (or draw them in the blanks) and you have something relatively durable and easy to use.

Train help at home: student labour.

Hiring high school and university students to help you out can be a good way to keep costs down but you have to be prepared to train them how to deal with your child.  A student should not be expected to do therapy with your child (unless they are training in the required technique) but they can be an extra hand to do chores or simply to give your child attention when you need a break.

Shop around: compare prices and look for bargains.

This one may be obvious but you'd be surprised what you can apply it to.  Therapy, medications, supplies, anything you spend money on.  But beware, cheaper isn't always better.  Know what it is you're getting.  On the same note, sometimes you can get particular items like flashcards, etc, from local stores rather than ordering them from an expensive "special education" place.

Take advantage of opportunities: training yourself.

Ask your therapist if they offer parent training.  Check your local autism support groups or networks.  There are often workshops available where you can learn techniques from professionals to help your child.

Apply for grants and charities: big or small, apply for them all.

There are lots of charities which provide grants (sometimes loans) to help families whose children have special needs.  One year, I found a charity which was offering $50 to families who have had to alter their homes to accomodate their child.  It wasn't a lot, but it was still money I could get back in my pocket.  Scour the Internet, ask other parents, ask the therapists to find out what's available.

Free travel:

Air Canada, WestJet, OC Transpo and Via all offer discounted travel for medically necessary companions.  The good news, a parent can be a medically necessary companion.  Lots of companies are starting to offer this service, so it's worth bringing up if you're planning a trip.

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Page Descriptions

Dealing with Diagnosis: Parents talks about the emotional impact of diagnosis. This is a major life-changing event which can leave people feeling isolated, angry and hopeless. You’re not alone in this.

Dealing with Diagnosis: Friends and Family offers suggestions to the extended family and friends of newly diagnosed families. We all want to help and make things better but sometimes the best-intentioned gestures can end up hurting.

Dealing with Other People's Reactions warns of some of the less than positive responses you can expect and talks about the stigma of accepting the "special needs" label.

The Autism World is an explanation of how people with autism experience the world around them. The ability to guess what your child is experiencing is one of the best tools you can have in helping and teaching them.

Tips and Tricks is a collection of suggestions and ideas contributed by parents. I’m always looking for more suggestions to share. Contact me with your ideas.

Choosing Therapies and Treatment isn’t about specific types of treatment. Instead it’s about what you should be looking for in a therapist or treatment expert. Every child with autism is unique and there’s no universal treatment.

Changing Challenging Behaviours is a basic overview of the Applied Behaviour Analysis system. While I recognize that not every child works best with the intense behaviour treatment based on ABA, the system of figuring out what is behind challenging behaviours is an effective way to understand what your child is trying to tell you. Understanding is the first step to trying to change the problem.

Communication offers ideas on how you can help your child with autism to communicate. Without an ability to tell you what he or she wants, frustration quickly leads to behaviour problems.

Referrals for Families are options for families with special needs to enjoy some of the ordinary experiences in life. It lists examples of non-therapy professionals and businesses who are willing and able to adapt to autistic children.

Finding Help: There are three sections, pre-diagnosis, getting a diagnosis and post-diagnosis. It's my attempt to give you a checklist of options.

Helpful Books: A list of books that I've found to be useful, in the order I discovered them.

My Blog is where I share new information, what's working (and not) for our family. Posted daily (mostly).