A lack of behavioural flexibility; that is an insistence on sameness or resistance to change, is one of the key features of autism. A lack of behavioural flexibility is often associated with problem behaviour. Disruption or minor changes in the environment may produce frustration, causing the child to act out. Although this type of behaviour is commonly observed in typically developing children, it has usually abated by around five years of age. In individuals with autism however, the behaviour may remain well into the adult years.
Although the concept of behavioural flexibility has emerged as an important topic in autism research, there is still a great deal of work to be done in order to understand its purpose for the child for intervention planning, and also in terms of diagnosis and to establish a cohort for treatment. The study aimed to empirically explore theories of motivation and adaptive functioning in order to establish a better understanding of the phenomenology of problem behaviour associated with behavioural inflexibility.
Forty three parents of 2 to 10 year old children with an Autism Spectrum Disorder and typically developing controls were recruited from Victoria and Tasmania through a number of schools and child care centres, Autism Tasmania and the Autism Victoria ‘Get Involved’ database. Parents completed eight assessments of motivation and behaviour. Data for adaptive behaviour function is currently being collected via interview.
Data will be presented on a number of indicators of problem behaviour associated with a lack of behavioural flexibility in children with ASD and typically developing children. Associations between diagnosis, adaptive functioning, characteristics, behaviour and motivation will be explored.
The findings of this research provide important information pertaining to the functional aspects of sameness behaviour for children with autism that may be used to guide future intervention, particularly in replacing maladaptive behaviour with more adaptive and appropriate behaviours that serve the same function.
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