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How to help with your autistic child's behaviour

Common types of behaviour in autistic children

Some autistic children may behave in ways that put a lot of strain on you and your family.

Some common autistic behaviours are:

  • stimming (short for 'self-stimulating behaviour'), a kind of repetitive behaviour
  • meltdowns, a complete loss of control over behaviour

You may hear health professionals call some behaviours "challenging".

Some autistic children can also be physically or verbally aggressive. Their behaviour can be harmful to themselves or other people.

But remember, all autistic children are different and not every day will be challenging or stressful.

Ambitious about Autism has more information about behaviours that challenge

Why these behaviours happen

Many autistic children use a set of behaviours to help them manage their emotions and make sense of their environment. Sometimes they're done for enjoyment.

Some things that can be linked to these behaviours include:

  • being over- or under-sensitive to things like bright lights, noises, touch or pain
  • anxiety, especially when routines suddenly change
  • not being able to make sense of what's going on around them
  • being unwell or in pain

These behaviours are not your or your child's fault.


Stimming is a kind of repetitive behaviour.

Common stimming behaviours include:

  • rocking, jumping, spinning, head-banging
  • hand-flapping, finger-flicking, flicking rubber bands
  • repeating words, phrases or sounds
  • staring at lights or spinning objects

Stimming is usually harmless. It may look odd to others, but you should not try to stop it if it's not causing any harm to you or your child.

Ambitious about Autism has more on repetitive behaviours and stimming


Meltdowns are a complete loss of control caused by being totally overwhelmed.

If your child has a meltdown, the most important thing is to try to stay calm and keep them safe.

If you're worried your child might hurt themselves or others, try to hold them to keep them safe.

It's not always possible to prevent meltdowns, but there are some things you can do that may help at an early stage.

These include:

  • letting your child wear headphones to listen to calming music
  • turning down or removing bright lights
  • distraction techniques, such as fiddle toys
  • planning ahead for any change in routine, such as a different route to school

It may help to keep a diary for a few weeks to see if you can spot any meltdown triggers that you can do something about.

The National Autistic Society has more on meltdowns

Non-urgent advice: Speak to the autism care team or a GP if your child is:

  • stimming all the time or having lots of meltdowns
  • being bullied at school because of their behaviour
  • aggressive, harming themselves or harming other people

If you're struggling to cope, your child may be referred for professional support.

Page last reviewed: 10 October 2022
Next review due: 10 October 2025