Clinician Guide: Program Development and Best Practices for Treating Severe Behaviors in Autism

This guide is intended for clinical use by licensed professionals. 

Children and adults with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and other intellectual and developmental disabilities are at increased risk of engaging in severe and distressing behaviors such as self-injury, aggression and destructive behavior. These behaviors vary widely in their severity and responsiveness to therapies and can greatly impact quality of life for autistic people and their families. 

To improve systems of care for this population, Autism Speaks convened a group of multi-disciplinary experts to develop the Clinician Guide: Program Development and Best Practices for Treating Severe Behaviors in Autism. 

The goal of this guide is to help providers: 

  • Expand their understanding of intense challenging behaviors in autism 
  • Support individuals experiencing significant behavior challenges who may harm themselves or those around them 
  • Develop unique programs that can effectively serve those with this intensive level of need  

Providers will find resources on five topics: 

  • Overview of Challenging Behaviors 
  • Screening, Assessment and Measurement of Challenging Behavior in ASD 
  • Evidence-Based Practices in the Treatment of Challenging Behavior 
  • Outline of Considerations for Training Relative to a Model of Service for Challenging Behavior 
  • Developing a Severe Behavior Program: A Tool Kit 

Note: We acknowledge that there are different perspectives regarding the use of the term "challenging behaviors" in the autism community. Because the term continues to be used for clinical purposes, we have used it throughout this guide, which was developed for providers in clinical settings.  

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