How Does Behaviour Therapy Help Children With ADHD And Autism?




Globally, we are seeing more children than ever receiving ADHD and Autism diagnoses. The number has grown steadily over time with 1 in 150 children having autism in Singapore. ADHD has also risen in numbers amongst Singapore children with more being diagnosed with one of the three ADHD subtypes. This new focus is largely due to a pedagogical shift in how educators interpret contrary or distractable behaviour; a more holistic approach to the child's wellbeing reveals that there are significant neurological and social factors that contribute to a child’s behaviour, particularly in the area of ADHD or Autism.


Leading psychologists have innovated strategies to help children work through some of the challenges faced due to their ADHD or autism. One of these is behaviour therapy which we discuss in this article.


Behaviour Therapy Explained


Behaviour therapy seeks to help reinforce good behaviours and do away with bad ones. In practice, behaviour therapy teaches a child how to appropriately respond to stimuli by rewarding positive behaviours and punishing negative ones. There are other forms of therapy that can help children to develop better and more socially accepted behaviours.


Play therapy is an example of a behaviour therapy which provides children with a safe space where they can act out their natural responses and, where appropriate, learn to navigate them in a socially acceptable way. Because behavioural therapy involves positive and negative reinforcement, it is essential that there is a strong trust bond between the child and the therapist both for the ethics of the encounter and its effectiveness.


Cognitive behavioural therapy is another form of therapy that may help children with challenging behaviours. Children can learn to observe, what they might see as, an overwhelming issue, and break the problem down to make it smaller and more manageable. When it is introduced at a young age, it can act as an early intervention strategy to minimise the social and emotional strain the child may feel as they get older and begin to navigate more complex social and emotional landscapes.


Behavioural therapy has shown great promise in adjusting the thought and behavioural patterns of children with ADHD and Autism. Let’s look at those more deeply:


How Behaviour Therapy Helps Children With ADHD


ADHD, or Attention Deficit/Hyperactive Disorder, is a state of emotional dysregulation which causes children to be inattentive, hyperactive and/or impulsive. The American Psychological Association describes ADHD as “one of the most common mental disorders affecting children” and goes on to report that “ADHD is often first identified in school-aged children when it leads to disruption in the classroom or problems with schoolwork.” This can negatively affect the child’s social development and academic scores, leading to emotional isolation and poor self-esteem if continued. Behavioural therapy as an early intervention for ADHD provides educators and trainers with tools to work with and relate to a child with ADHD. There are a few key behavioural therapy strategies discussed by paediatricians in this field:


  • Positive reinforcement. Children are rewarded for good behaviour with complements, activities, treats etc.

  • Time out. Negative behaviours prevent children from accessing activities though time outs.

  • Response cost. As a result of poor behaviour, children lose access to privileges like early lunch time or extended computer time.

  • Token economy. Children receive tokens for good behaviour and lose tokens for poor behaviour. These tokens can be exchanged for a desirable good or activity at the end of a time period.


How Behaviour Therapy Helps Children With Autism


Although often grouped together, Autism and ADHD have quite different symptoms. The CDC points out that “people with [autism] often have problems with social, emotional, and communication skills” which can lead to significant “social, communication and behavioural challenges” that they carry into adulthood. Although there is no cure for autism, early intervention can help children with autism develop tools to live fulfilling lives. That’s where behaviour therapy comes in. Behaviour therapy for children with autism generally emphasises emotional awareness, communication skills and social interaction. There are many behavioural therapies to choose from, each with their own benefits. Some of the more common ones are:


  • Applied Behavioural Analysis (ABA). This well-researched method breaks down behaviours into smaller parts and uses repetition, reinforcement, and encouragement to help children learn them.

  • Verbal Behaviour Therapy (VBT). This technique teaches non-verbal children with autism how to communicate purposefully. It can also equip children with the language to describe their emotions which is often difficult for these children.

  • Relationship Development Intervention (RDI). This family-centred approach treats autism by focusing on emotional and social developments to enhance familial and social relationships.


These are by no means the only therapies available and it would be best for a psychologist to see a child for an initial consultation or assessment for them to better ascertain the type of therapy that would best suit the needs for a child with autism.


Get Your Child Started On Behaviour Therapy Now


The key draw of behaviour therapy for children with ADHD and autism is that educators and carers can tailor the approach to the child’s individual needs. Consequently, behaviour therapy can work for a diverse range of individuals and severities. Behavioural therapy is most effective when educators and carers work together to reinforce positive behaviours in the child. When selecting an educational institution, consider selecting somewhere like MindChamps Allied Care where a team of child psychologists, teachers and therapists are ready to guide and teach children with special needs to enhance their learning and social experience.


If you are the carer of a child with ADHD or autism, book an appointment and see for yourself how MindChamps’ facilities can help your child flourish.

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