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How to help with your autistic child's behaviour - Autism

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')
  • "meltdowns"

Some autistic children can 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.


Stimming is a kind of repetitive behaviour and coping mechanism they may use to manage anxiety or stress levels and create a sense of comfort.

Common stimming behaviours include:

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

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


Meltdowns are an example of what people also call “complex” or “challenging behaviours”. 

Meltdowns are often associated with:

  • being overwhelmed
  • experiencing sensory overload
  • not being able to communicate
  • frustration
  • unmet needs

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

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

These include:

  • talking to your child about situations where they experience meltdowns
  • helping your child prepare for a change of situation
  • giving your child headphones to listen to calming music
  • turning down or removing bright lights
  • distraction techniques, such as fidget 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 patterns that you can avoid or prepare for.

Non-urgent advice: Speak to a GP or your child's teacher 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 GP might refer you for professional support.

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. Other times they are to manage their stress, anxiety or sensory overload.

Some things that can be linked to these behaviours include:

  • being 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.

Content supplied by the NHS and adapted for Ireland by the HSE

Page last reviewed: 30 May 2023
Next review due: 30 May 2026