Background: There is a lack of empirical research investigating challenging behaviour in children with autism with severe speech impairments in naturalistic settings. The aim of the present study was to investigate challenging behaviour among Australian and Taiwanese children with autism who are non-verbal or have limited speech (i.e. less than five functional words) in school settings and to address the following questions: (1) What are the communicative characteristics (e.g. communicative functions, partners, activities and partner's responses) of challenging behaviour? (2) Do sample characteristics (e.g. age, severity of autism, adaptive behaviour level, the use of graphic symbols, the use of non-symbolic acts, the use of speech) associate with the amount of challenging behaviour? (3) Do cultural differences exist in communicative variables of challenging behaviour? Method: Naturalistic observations were used to investigate challenging behaviour in children with autism. A total of 32 (17 Australian and 15 Taiwanese) children with autism who were non-verbal or had limited speech participated in the current study and each participant was videotaped for 2h during his/her everyday school routines. Results: Sixteen out of 32 children had challenging behaviour. Challenging behaviour was used for requesting and rejecting communicative functions. A paired-samples t-test revealed that no significant differences existed in the frequency of occurrence between request and reject. Challenging behaviour was directed to adults and peers. A paired-samples t-test revealed that challenging behaviour was directed to adults significantly more frequently than to peers. Communicative partners showed different responses (e.g. deny, no response, delivered, removed, acknowledge) to challenging behaviour. A repeated-measures analysis of variance (ANOVA) revealed a main effect for partner response. Deny was the most common response. Challenging behaviour occurred across a variety of classroom activities (e.g. academic activities, morning circle, morning tea, lunch, free time). A repeated-measures ANOVA revealed a main effect for activity. Challenging behaviour occurred most often during academic activities. A set of correlation analyses indicated a significant correlation existed between the use of graphic symbols and the amount of challenging behaviour. A series of Mann-Whitney U-tests revealed significant differences between Australian and Taiwanese children on the amount of challenging behaviour, communicative functions and partners. A Chi-squared test revealed that there were significantly more Australian children with autism who displayed challenging behaviour than Taiwanese children. Conclusions: The current study shows that a high proportion of children with autism with severe speech impairments used challenging behaviour as a form of expressive communication in their school environments. The findings from the present study may have implications for practitioners who work with children with autism.
- Challenging behaviour
- Expressive communication