A photo of a child dealing with autism and impulse control.

Impulse control can be one of the more challenging tasks for many people on the autism spectrum. Feelings of frustration or anger that a neurotypical person might be able to manage without much difficulty can be overwhelming for someone with autism. The reason behind autism and impulse control problems is related to the aspect of the brain responsible for executive functioning. The purpose of executive function within our brains is to manage tasks such as planning, organization, reasoning, multitasking, problem solving and behavior inhibition. People with autism, (as well as those with ADHD and other disruptive impulse-control and conduct disorders) often struggle with executive dysfunction. When there is a compromise in the executive functioning of the brain, as is the case for people with autism and other conditions, it can result in impulse control issues. Because of the disruption that impulsive behaviors can cause, treating impulsivity in autism is often a major priority.

What Does an Impulse Control Problem Look Like?

People who have difficulty with impulse control may experience this challenge in a variety of ways. Some of the more obvious signs of impulse control problems are tantrum behaviors, aggression and extreme reactions to minor issues. Sometimes impulsivity shows up in less drastic ways that can impact day to day social functioning. Interrupting others during conversation, challenges with focus and being easily distracted, problems following directions and difficulty taking turns can also indicate impulse control issues. All of us have moments when our impulse control skills falter, but for people on the autism spectrum, this can be a daily event that causes a lot of emotional pain and embarrassment. It is important to help kids with autism learn skills to manage impulse control problems. Learning these skills can help avoid unnecessary shame and avoidance of others that can stem from such challenges.

Strategies for Managing Impulse Control Issues

Kids struggling with autism and impulse control may feel as if they are at the mercy of their emotions and the challenges of daily life. This can have devastating effects on self-esteem and can impact relationships with peers and others. Parents of kids on the spectrum often feel at a loss as to how to help with impulse control. The good news is that there are treatment options available that can help build those skills. When children and parents begin to notice the changes, it is empowering and offers hope for a better future.

  • Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) offers a consistent, concrete and thorough plan of action while treating impulsivity in autism.  Through the assessment of the antecedent, behavior and consequence of impulsivity, ABA explores ways to either alter the antecedent or shift the consequence in a way that helps kids on the spectrum to learn self-control. Functional behavior assessments help ABA practitioners understand the scope of the behavior and this helps formulate the plan of action. 
  • Exploring triggers for increased impulsivity can be a useful strategy. Paying attention to the possible influence of certain foods, additives, caffeine intake and interactions within the environment can provide useful information. Understanding triggers for impulsivity can help families plan accordingly and build a plan around tolerating these situations and building greater impulse control skills. 
  • Stimming behaviors can indicate a need for self-soothing that may provide useful information about an impulsivity trigger in a given setting. Stimming (short for self-stimulatory) is a type of behavior that helps people feel grounded and calm. Stimming can present in a wide range of behaviors from hand flapping to covering one’s ears, engaging in repetitive movement or even staring at objects or “zoning out.” People generally use stimming without realizing why they are engaging in the behaviors. The underlying reasons that stimming works so well is that it meets an innate need for calming and regulating physical and emotional experiences. When we look at stimming as a clue to impulse challenges, it can provide helpful information about triggers that can factor into a supportive plan of action. 

Learn More About ABA Therapy Outcomes

How Pingree Can Help

Carmen B. Pingree Autism Center of Learning recognizes the challenges and gifts of autism and is committed to working with children and families who are impacted by the disorder. The dedicated staff at our center are trained in helping kids with autism and impulse control issues learn how to better manage their tendencies. Through the use of assessment, planning and practical interventions, Carmen B. Pingree Autism Center of Learning helps people with autism grow and succeed. 

The low student-teacher ratio helps kids in the program to get the individualized treatment that is needed to practice skills in real-time. Group work and guided interventions helps students attain their social, emotional and intellectual needs in a safe, enriched setting. Because our staff are well trained and dedicated to student outcomes, children with autism thrive in this dynamic setting. Families who work with our facility notice fast improvements in impulsive behaviors. This translates into a better educational experience, improved social interactions and a greater sense of self-control and wellness for kids on the spectrum.

Carmen B. Pingree Autism Center of Learning supports not only students enrolled in the program, but the parents and caregivers who also need support and guidance. We honor the idea that treating autism is a team effort. The professionals at Carmen B. Pingree Autism Center of Learning have the resources and knowledge needed to help reduce impulsive behaviors in people with autism. They work alongside parents to provide the best unified plan for the treatment of these needs. The results our families see speak for themselves; improved daily living skills, reduced impulsivity and a greater sense of wellbeing.

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