Children with autism often bite because of increased aggression.

Stopping Biting in Children With Autism

by Brandy Burgess

Parents of children with autism fully understand how frustrating it can be manage aggression and self-injurious behaviors such as biting. Children with autism spectrum disorder often manifest their emotions in the form of biting as a way to act out their aggressions, to gain attention or get something that they want, or to get out of something that they do not want to do. Because behavioral problems such as biting can interfere with your child’s daily life, identify the problem and have your child’s doctor assess the aggressive behavior. While you might just want to put a pillow over your head and scream, don’t give up. Your child’s biting can be managed.

1. Ruling Out Medical Causes

Some children with autism bite in response to stimuli such as physical pain. Common medical problems in children such as toothaches can cause aggression, especially in autistic children with limited communication. Self-injurious behavior such as biting oneself can also be a method used by autistic children to reduce pain, including pain associated with middle ear infections, migraine headaches and gastrointestinal problems. To rule out medical or dental causes for your child’s biting, see your child’s doctor or dentist.

2. Anger Management and Training

Many children with autism can benefit from anger management and relaxation training. Parents can receive training from their child’s doctors, therapists, and other health workers who specialize in intervention methods for autistic children. These strategies, known as applied behavioral analysis, are used to calm aggressive children and introduce more appropriate activities. For example, parents might take their child on a walk, ask them to take deep breaths, or turn on some music to redirect the child when they notice rising aggression.

3. Positive Reinforcement

Children with autism need positive reinforcement and parents need to curb negative behaviors quickly by recognizing the warning signs that precede their child’s biting. Parents can use rewards, extra attention or verbal praise as a way to reinforce appropriate behavior. For example, give your child his favorite toy or snack as you clearly state the behavior for which you are rewarding him. Say, “Thank you for sharing your toy with your brother.”

4. Improving Communication

Children with autism often have trouble communicating effectively, resulting in aggressive behavior such as biting. Help your child learn new ways to communicate their wants, needs, feelings and physical state. The National Autistic Society recommends visual strategies to give children with autism a way to communicate their emotions and physical pain. The next time your child throws a temper tantrum, you can show him a visual aid and save yourself the frustration.

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