How To Stop Inappropriate Laughter in Autism?

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Quick Answer

When we put on our ABA hats the first thing that comes to mind is that inappropriate laughter is a behaviour that has a function, in other words, a purpose. Once we find out this purpose, we will know exactly what to do about it. Do we need to stop this completely? or do we find a different way to communicate this purpose more appropriately?

Our goal is to find a solution long term so we would need to spend some time understanding what the individual is trying to do first. If we stop inappropriate laughter right now, it might come back in other ways in the future or have unwanted side effects to the individual.

Understanding Inappropriate Laughter in Autism from an Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) Perspective

A behaviour refers to any observable response from an individual. It encompasses a wide range of actions, including verbal and non-verbal behaviours, such as speaking, listening, following instructions, making eye contact, engaging in play, or engaging in challenging behaviors like aggression or self-injury. You reading this article, is a behaviour itself as well.

In this case, laughter is a behaviour. When you tell a joke, the other person would laugh. The laughter is a response from the other person. Inappropriate laughter refers to the context and that involves observations and analyzing different factors in that particular situation. For example, laughing loudly at the park is appropriate. However, laughing at someone crying is inappropriate. A simple behaviour can become ‘appropriate’ or ‘inappropriate’ based on the context.

Functional Behaviour Assessment: Identifying the Causes and Triggers of Inappropriate Laughter

Functional Behavior Assessment (FBA) is a crucial process within ABA that aims to identify the causes and triggers of a behaviour, such as inappropriate laughter or any other challenging behaviour. Through observations and note taking, an FBA looks into what happens before, during, and after the behaviour. Then, we will have more information to determine the function or purpose the behaviour serves to the individual.

In Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA), behaviours are analyzed based on their function, which refers to the purpose or reason why the behaviour happens. The four common types of functions are:

  1. Escape/Avoidance: The behavior serves the function of escaping or avoiding a demand, task, situation, or interaction that the individual finds challenging, uncomfortable, or overwhelming. For example, a child may engage in a tantrum to avoid completing homework.
  2. Attention: The behaviour is driven by the desire to gain attention or a reaction from others. Individuals may engage in behaviours such as tantrums, disruptive actions, or inappropriate laughter to get someone’s attention.
  3. Tangible/Access: The behaviour is motivated by the individual’s desire to obtain to get something (e.g., cookie, toy, game, snack). For instance, a child may cry endlessly to gain access to a desired toy or snack.
  4. Sensory/Stimulation: The behaviour serves the purpose of self-stimulation or sensory satisfaction. In other words, it ‘feels good’ to the individual. It may involve repetitive movements, vocalizations, or actions that provide sensory input or a particular sensation that the individual finds reinforcing or comforting.

In the case of inappropriate laughter, an FBA helps identify if it serves as a means of self-stimulation, attention-seeking, escape or avoidance, or another function. Once we know the purpose, ABA professionals can develop targeted intervention strategies to address the specific triggers and work towards promoting more appropriate and adaptive behaviuors in individuals with autism.

Behavior Intervention Plans: Addressing Inappropriate Laughter

Intervention plans are a comprehensive and individualized plan that outlines specific strategies and interventions to modify behaviour that is desired yet also makes sense to the individual. It is important to understand what we want to change or modify ultimately needs to be for the benefit of the individual, not others who support them.

When targeting inappropriate laughter, potential strategies may involve various techniques such as changing up the environment, teaching alternative communication skills, implementing reinforcement systems, and providing social skills training. The plan is tailored to the unique needs and goals of the individual, focusing on reducing the ‘inappropriate behaviour’ and replacing it with more appropriate and socially acceptable responses. By implementing a well-designed intervention plan, ABA professionals can effectively address and manage behaviours such as inappropriate laughter, improving the overall quality of life and social interactions for individuals with autism.

It is important to have an ABA professional such as a board certified behaviour analyst (BCBA) assess, observe and analyze behaviours that warrant changes to ensure they are evidence-based strategies, ethical to the client, and correctly implemented. Below are some intervention strategies that may help decrease behaviours such as inappropriate laughter:

Positive reinforcement and Replacement Behaviours: Promoting Appropriate Laughter in Autism

Positive reinforcement and replacement behaviors play a vital role in promoting behaviours such as appropriate laughter in individuals with autism. Reinforcement is when we provide positive consequences that overall keeps the behaviour coming in the future. In the case of promoting appropriate laughter, positive reinforcement can be used to reward instances of appropriate laughter with praise, social attention, or access to preferred activities.

Additionally, replacement behaviours aim to teach individuals other ways to express their emotions and interact socially, ensuring that their laughter is appropriate and well-received by others. This may involve teaching social cues, appropriate humour, or appropriate times and contexts for laughter. By reinforcing and promoting replacement behaviours, individuals with autism can develop more socially appropriate laughter skills, enhancing their communication and social interactions.

Functional Communication Training: Teaching Alternative Ways to Express Emotions

Functional Communication Training (FCT) is a key component of intervention strategies in ABA that focuses on teaching individuals alternative ways to express their emotions and communicate their needs effectively. Again, we want to make sure the communication training makes sense for them rather easier for others to understand them.

For individuals who may engage in inappropriate laughter as a means of communication or self-expression, FCT aims to replace this behavior with more appropriate and functional communication skills. For example, if a child laughs inappropriately when seeing a peer cry, it could be because they are uncomfortable and don’t know how to express or communicate this. Therefore, inappropriately laughter could be their way to say “are you okay?”. Once we understand this, we can teach the child other ways to communicate this in order to build and maintain more positive social relationships.

This involves identifying the specific function or purpose behind the inappropriate laughter and teaching alternative, socially acceptable ways to express emotions, such as using words, gestures, or symbols. By equipping individuals with effective communication skills, FCT helps reduce the occurrence of some behaviours such as inappropriate laughter and enables them to express their emotions in a manner that is better understood by others, promoting positive social interactions and overall well-being.

Collaborating with Families and Caregivers: A Team Approach in ABA-based Intervention for Inappropriate Laughter in Autism

Effective collaboration with families, professionals, and caregivers is essential in implementing an effective ABA-based intervention. A team approach ensures that intervention strategies are consistent across different environments, in other words, is happening everywhere and with anyone.

ABA professionals work closely with families and caregivers to understand the function of a behaviour, gather valuable information, and develop a comprehensive plan tailored to the individual’s needs. A behaviour like inappropriate laughter may seem small but can require a lot of assessing, observation and analyzing to make sure we are doing whats right for the client. Therefore, ABA professionals play a very important role in behaviour modification to an individual.

Family members, professionals, and caregivers are actively involved in the intervention process, learning and implementing strategies to reinforce appropriate behaviours and support the individual’s progress. Through open communication, regular communication, and shared decision-making, the collaborative effort between ABA professionals, families, and caregivers maximizes the effectiveness of intervention, enhances the individual’s learning and development, and fosters a supportive and enriching environment for the individual with autism.


Does autism cause inappropriate laughter?

Autism itself does not directly cause inappropriate laughter. However, individuals with autism may exhibit inappropriate laughter as a result of various factors, such as difficulty understanding social cues, challenges with communication, sensory processing differences, or as a response to anxiety or emotional regulation. It is important to have an ABA professional assess and analyze potential reasons.

Why does my autistic child keep laughing?

There can be several reasons why an autistic child may engage in frequent or inappropriate laughter. Thorough assessment taken by an ABA professional will help understand more about this behaviour.

How do you stop autism overstimulation?

To help manage autism overstimulation, it is important to first understand what is making an individual overstimulate. Then, we can implement coping strategies such as creating a calm and predictable environment for the individual or provide a quiet space for relaxation, reducing sensory triggers, and using visual schedules to help manage overstimulation.

Why do some people with autism talk funny?

Some individuals with autism may exhibit differences in their speech patterns or use atypical language expressions due to challenges or skill deficits in social communication and pragmatic language skills.