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Nurturing Better Behavior in Children With or Without ASD

Raising children comes with a kaleidoscope of challenges, some of which become strikingly pronounced when faced with the public eye. The dilemma of children exhibiting difficult behavior when out and about can leave parents feeling frazzled and self-conscious.

Take Lisa's predicament: her once manageable excursions to the supermarket turned into ordeals due to her sons' unruly behavior. With embarrassment nipping at her heels, she dreaded these trips and eventually resorted to late-night shopping escapades just to avoid a scene.

But why do children often save their worst behavior for when they are amidst strangers? Trips outside, whether for groceries, a meal, or even a doctor's visit, can test the patience of any guardian. It's not uncommon to witness a young child having a meltdown in aisle five over confectionery treats.


Family shopping groceries

This behavior amplification can be attributed to several factors. For instance, children may feel neglected when adults are too engrossed in their own activities, leading them to act out for attention. Furthermore, they quickly learn that misbehavior is a surefire way to elicit an immediate response from their parents.

Children thrive on attention, and if negative actions consistently garner more responses than positive ones, an unhealthy dynamic is established. Also, let's face it, activities like shopping can be tedious for young minds seeking stimulation.

When addressing such behaviors, it is particularly important to consider children with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), who might find public settings especially challenging. These children may struggle with sensory overload, communication difficulties, and an inability to express their needs or understand social cues, all of which can lead to behavior that others might deem inappropriate.


Strategies for Positive Change in Behaviour

How did Lisa transform her shopping nightmare into a dream? By redefining the experience with positivity and clear goals. She devised "dummy shopping trips" where the only objective was to purchase a handful of items. This created a low-pressure environment to practice new behaviors.

Key to this method was the introduction of a straightforward "token system." Before entering the store, Lisa set clear expectations with her sons and promised a small reward—a bag of chips—for compliance. With each step of good behavior, whether it was staying by her side or refraining from grabbing items off the shelves, she acknowledged their actions with praise and a tangible token.

Over time, these incremental learning experiences began to bear fruit. With each successful trip, the list grew longer and the boys' behavior improved notably.

For children with ASD, this approach can be tailored further by incorporating strategies that accommodate their unique needs:

  • Preparation: Before venturing out, explain the upcoming event with visual schedules or social stories to help them understand what to expect.

  • Sensory Tools: Provide items that can help manage sensory sensitivities, such as headphones or fidget toys.

  • Clear Communication: Use simple, direct language and visual aids to communicate expected behaviors and potential rewards.

  • Consistent Rewards: Follow through with rewards promptly to reinforce positive behavior.

  • Patience and Understanding: Recognize that progress may be gradual, and children with ASD may require additional support and reinforcement.

Remember, every child's journey toward understanding and adapting to social norms is unique—paved with patience, consistency, and kindness. By nurturing these tender shoots of behavioral change, we open doors to a world where both parent and child can navigate public spaces with confidence and ease.

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