Help with behavioural problems

Behavioural problems can be hard work for any parent, but for parents of children with special needs - particularly on the autistic spectrum - behavioural problems can be extremely complex to untangle and manage.

A behavioural crisis point that gets discussed regularly on Mumsnet is children's aggression - both towards others and towards themselves, for example in the form of head-banging or hurting themselves. Behavioural issues can be complicated and may need many different approaches. It's rarely a matter of 'being naughty'.

One mum explains: "Each problem behaviour will need an independent analysis - and then some sort of individual approach."

It can be very hard to work out what is attention seeking and what is something your child can't help doing.

Often, behavioural issues with SN children are down to communication problems, and improving communication is the key to improving behaviour.

As children get older, the challenge of inappropriate or aggressive behaviour can become even more complex and seem to take over family life. And, frustratingly, resolving these problems is rarely simple.

So how can you modify your child's behaviour?

Traditional behavioural-modification methods popular with parents who have children without special needs are often unhelpful. For example, using a 'naughty step' might be meaningless (or even rewarding) for a child who is protesting because of sensory overload.

Seeking help can be hard, particularly when people don't understand the complexities of living with special needs, and that can include health professionals. As this Mumsnetter put it: "The paediatrician said the usual 'I know it's hard for you, but...'. If she knew how hard it was she would bloody shut up. I am fed up of hearing that phrase!"

A common feeling among parents trying to cope with their child's behaviour problems is that they don't know what to do or what method to follow.

You're likely to need a variety of tools and you're going to be on the proverbial steep learning curve. It's worth seeking help from as many sources as you can.

If your child has behavioural issues, you may be referred to Child and Family Support services.

Provision varies from area to area: some areas have Child and Family Support centres run by their local social services; others have a service with a similar name run by local charities.

Behavioural problems in toddlers and young children

A child and family support worker will visit you at home or you may be asked to go to a local centre. Some parents find this advice helpful, others find it less than useful.

Although you may feel cynical, if this is the first step on the hamster-wheel of support services, it's sometimes better to just climb aboard and start jogging.

Behavioural problems in older children

For older, school-aged children, you may be referred to a Behavioural Support Unit or Pupil Support Unit.

To confuse you, these have different names for different parts of the country, but the gist is that they are run by the local authority and are part of a school's tools in tackling behavioural issues.

Generally, they will advise on strategies for dealing with behaviour. Sometimes behavioural support may also be given within the school setting itself.

Are there any useful courses I can do?

Some Mumsnetters find parenting courses to be extremely helpful. For starters, you're likely to get to know parents in similar situations to yourself, so doing a course can be a good place to network as well as to learn new information and skills.

Contact A Family holds courses all over the country. Find out what's available in your area.

The National Autistic Society provides courses particularly targeted at families with autistic children, which focus on practical help with issues such as anger management. 

Is there anyone else who can help?

You're probably sick of people asking, "Have you tried speaking to….?" So if you've been begging for help from everyone from your hairdresser to the school caretaker, here's a quick checklist of people who might be able to signpost you in the direction of something helpful:

  • SENCO - it's their job, after all
  • School inclusion officer
  • Educational psychologist
  • Health visitor/GP
  • Educational psychologist
  • Teacher
  • Headteacher
  • Local authority behavioural team / behavioural unit
  • Developmental paediatrician / paediatrician
  • Occupational therapist (can be helpful for sensory issues)
  • Hairdresser / school caretaker / woman in the newsagents / postman

Anything else I can explore?

  • Charities for families of children with special needs (see our Special needs webguide).
  • Charities for families who are managing behavioural problems, such as the Challenging Behaviour Foundation.
  • Different therapeutic approaches - for example, Applied Behavioural Analysis (ABA) and Functional Analysis, which aim to help with the management of autism, and sensory integration and vision therapies.
  • Books - books, lots of books. There are plenty of recommendations on the Mumsnet Talk forums, depending on your child's diagnosis and behaviour.
  • Picture cards to help your child communicate
  • PECS - communication methods, particularly helpful for children with autism or communication difficulties.
  • Visual timetables - useful for managing routine for some children.
  • Diet and gut issues - it's worth looking into yeast, gluten/casein intolerance and supplements, say many Mumsnetters.

What about medication?

Many parents get to the point where they wonder whether medication is the right choice for their child. The decision is always going to be a very difficult one, and not right for all families.

As one mum explains: "We lasted for years with difficult behaviour, but had always suspected that medication was on the cards at some point. You will probably know when that point comes, although you will still be filled with doubt, guilt, and resistance. As usual, we have to try to forget about how something makes US feel and try to be as objective as possible about whether it will help our child."

What Mumsnetters say

  • Most aggressive behaviour in special needs children is proven to be linked to communication. Davros
  • The best thing to start with is to find out why your child has problems with different things. For example, not wanting a seatbelt on could be a sensory problem if his body is very sensitive (not wanting to wear certain materials or clothes with labels in is often a sign). It might also be a question of coping with routine. In this case, visual timetables could be useful. coppertop
  • Child and family support seems to be the first service that you are referred to when there is a behaviour issue. My son and I went there when he was about three but generally they seemed to want to only speak to me. I went once every week, taking time off work unpaid. There were two people who asked many questions about my son's behaviour and my reaction to it etc. He had a major meltdown and went wild, trying to rip the door off its hinges. I stayed in my chair and watched their reaction and they shouted to me: 'Do something!' I said: 'No, that's your job - you tell me what to do!' Chocol8
  • Behaviour is our main concern, but the behaviour support unit plus a parenting course have helped enormously. Tclanger



Last updated: over 1 year ago