many of his or her behaviors, and engagement in restrictive and repetitive behaviors and interests that may limit the child’s ability to learn and to fit in with peers. From a teacher’s or parent’s perspective, problem behaviors include lack of compliance with or disruption of classroom routines, tantrums, destruction of property, and aggression against self or others.

The research evidence reviewed suggests that educational interventions that do not address the development of positive and prosocial behaviors (the potential for problems from the child’s perspective) will be unsuccessful in the long-term elimination of problem behaviors from others’ perspectives. Chapters 5 through 9 discuss the essential elements (communication, social interaction, cognitive features, adaptive behaviors, and sensorimotor skills) needed for effective, appropriate educational programs for children with autistic spectrum disorders to address core problem behaviors. These elements are discussed in this chapter only as they are directly relevant, but they are essential in any consideration of problem behaviors.

Different literatures provide the empirical base for interventions for problem behaviors in young children with autistic spectrum disorders: data from comprehensive programs; single-subject design studies that address specific problem behaviors; psychopharmacological studies that assess the safety and efficacy of pharmacological interventions on both global and specific problem behaviors; the growing literature on the neurobiology of autism; and legal reviews of the 1997 IDEA provisions related to autism (Turnbull et al., 1999) and findings in due process and court cases involving children with autism (Mandlawitz, 1999).

Many studies evaluated were not designed specifically for this committee’s interest in children with autistic spectrum disorders from birth to age 8. Some degree of latitude was taken in generalizing from findings in studies of older children and children with autistic spectrum disorders if the behaviors of interest and the behavioral principles involved would be expected to apply to children with autistic spectrum disorders in the birth to eight-year-old age group. The focus of this chapter is on the most commonly reported problem behaviors of young children with autistic spectrum disorders. As reported by Horner and colleagues (2000), this focus represents only a selected subset of a large literature that primarily involves treatment of severe, dangerous, chronic cases of behavior problems, mostly in older children. An extensive review of medical studies is beyond the charge of the committee, but selected results are included here as relevant.


Most behavior problems displayed by young children with autistic spectrum disorders are “normal” behaviors in that they may be observed,

The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine
500 Fifth St. N.W. | Washington, D.C. 20001

Copyright © National Academy of Sciences. All rights reserved.
Terms of Use and Privacy Statement