BEHAVIORAlthough challenging behavior is often a “presenting problem” for students with ASD, it is the focus of this section to use tools and Behavior_Award.jpgstrategies to prevent challenging behaviors (proactive) rather than to address behavioral interventions (reactive). Because of the unique features and characteristics of ASD, challenging behaviors can occur. For example, individuals with ASD frequently have such difficulty understanding oral language that behavior appears to be non-compliance, when it is simply a lack of understanding of the request or command (Fouse & Wheeler, 1997).
In developing proactive, positive behavior supports, be sure to address the unique needs and characteristics of autism in addition to looking for the functions of specific behaviors. Students with autism may engage in challenging behaviors for very different reasons than neurotypical students do. Because these functions may be unclear or confusing, the educational team may want to consider a formal or informal Functional Behavior Assessment to be sure interventions and supports address the true cause of the behavior. See your school psychologist or director of special education for more information on your district’s policy regarding functional behavioral assessments.

The companion wikispace R4ATandAutism has much more information on challenging behaviors and the instructional strategies and low-tech AT tools that can be used individuals with ASD.


No Tech Tools and Strategies

  • Understanding ASD - All staff should have the understanding that the student with ASD has a developmental disability that causes him to respond and behave in a way that is different from other students. Most importantly, the behaviors exhibited by the student should not be misinterpreted as purposeful and manipulative behaviors. Anxiety and confusion are often major factors in behavior problems in students with ASD.
  • Behavior or Sensory Need - As discussed in the Sensory section, sensory needs are sometimes mistaken for challenging behaviors. Discussion with those who work and live with the individual with ASD and trial of a variety of sensory input methods (with the consultation from an occupational therapist) may provide information in this area.

Light Tech Tools and Strategies

Many people who work and live with individuals with ASD are challenged with determining strategies for dealing with inappropriate or even aggressive behavior. Determination of the cause for the behavior can often result in a suggestion for prevention or reduction of that behavior. When experimenting with a variety of strategies (e.g., removal from the situation, redirection, prevention by not placing the individual in that situation), it may be helpful to determine if challenging behavior has also increased in the other environments in which this individual lives and works.
  • Visual Supports - The wide variety of schedules and other visual supports discussed previously have often been useful in helping the individual to better understand the expectations upon him or her. Review receptive and expressive communication for specific ideas to help the student understand and/or communicate about the events and activities that are occurring. For example, the use of the universal “no” symbol reminds the student to stop what he is doing.
  • Rules/Alternative Behaviors -Displaying rules in a visual form allows the student to more readily understand exactly what the expectations are for specific activities, tasks, and situations. These rules also help to identify, in a concrete way, exactly what actions or alternatives are acceptable, which typically results in more consistent behavior (Hodgdon, 1995). In addition, visual representation of rules and alternative behaviors allows for the student to improve his or her own self-regulation and self-management skills by removing the support often given by an adult in the environment and placing the focus on the visual support strategy.
    • Class rules or individualized personal rules taped to desk -These rules should again be represented via a visual representation system that the student can understand (written words, line drawings, etc.). If the student is engaging in an inappropriate behavior, he or she can be directed to look at a specific rule (e.g., “Read rule number 3.”)
    • “Good Choices That I Can Make” list - This visual support strategy assists the individual in understanding and making appropriate choices. This strategy is especially useful when the student has “broken” rules or engaged in inappropriate behaviors. The list should be within easy visual access to the student and should initially be referenced by a staff person to teach the student how to utilize it. For example, if a student is making inappropriate noises at the beginning of a math assignment, with math typically being a difficult subject for the student, an adult can first direct the student to the appropriate rule visually represented on their desk. This can be done by either pointing to the rule or stating “Look at rule number ___,” which states, Sit quietly and do my work. The staff person should then reference the individual to his or her “Good Choices That I Can Make” list. If the student appears to be experiencing difficulty with the assignment and needs to request assistance, the staff member may even initially point out which specific choice the student should make in that circumstance. This strategy will greatly assist the student with ASD in developing behavioral self-management skills. Good Choices I Make.bm2 is an example list (you must have Boardmaker v.6 to open this file.)
    • Individual rule/behavior cards - These visual representation cards can be kept on a metal ring and used when needed either singly or in succession. Use of the universal “no” symbol should be drawn or superimposed in red on top of the PCS or photo when appropriate to clearly indicate that a specific behavior should not occur. An example might be PCS laminated on large index cards to communicate the following. “Look at Mrs. Jones”; “Sit on chair”; “Shh, be quiet”; “Don’t hit”. indiv_rule_cards.jpg
    • Specific Location or Situation rule cards - This strategy may be used to help the student understand where he or she is going and what is expected in this environment. An example of this is if the group is going to McDonald's. A photograph of McDonald's is laminated to an index card. On the back of the card, specific “rules” for McDonald's are visually represented.
    • If something is bothering me I can... - This support strategy visually assists the individual in choosing appropriate alternative behaviors when he or she is experiencing anxiety or stress. This card can again be taped to the desk with the above heading and the following examples, or placed in a small photo album which contains other visual support strategies such as “morning routine”, “homework checklist”, or others:
      • raise my hand for help
      • close my eyes and count to 10
      • take 5 big breaths
      • ask for a break
    • Self Regulation Scale.bm2 and Self_Regulation_Scale.jpg - Number scales, thermometers, or other concrete visual representations (volcanoes, car engines) ofSelf_Regulation_Scale.jpgchanging arousal/anxiety/vocal levels can help students understand their levels and teach them proactive strategies to get back to more comfortable and productive levels (Dunn Buron and Curtis, 2003). The keys to successful use of self-regulation scales are finding and practicing helpful calming or arousing activities, focusing on identifying and intervening at levels before behavior is out of control, modeling and practicing the process in low stress situations and remembering to make the strategies positive not punitive even at the highest levels. For example:
          • 3 (red)--picture of crazy face→go to safe place
          • 2 (yellow)--picture of worried face→take deep breaths
          • 1 (green)--picture of happy face→earn rewards
    • Calming Down Activity Board - Create a picture- or word-based board with the steps of calming down (e.g., go to a quiet place; sit down; fold hands; breathe slowly; count to 10; etc.) (Adams, 1997).
    • Stimuli Tolerance Activity Board - If a student needs help tolerating specific events that are challenging, such as the bell ringing to indicate the end of class, a specific activity board can be created. Adams (1997) suggests a board that shows a picture of the unpleasant stimuli, in this case a bell, followed by the steps to help him or her tolerate it (e.g., think about something pleasant, such as a song he or she likes, and then proceed).
    • Activity Termination Signals - The visual symbols (“go”, “almost done”, and “stop”) can also be used to prevent escalating behavior due to a student’s lack of understanding of when he or she will be allowed to stop an activity that is challenging or at least not as pleasing as some others. Data will need to be taken initially to get a general idea of how long a student will continue with a particular task. For example, a student will attend to a particular task for approximately 45 seconds and then throw the materials aside to indicate that he or she is finished with the task. To initially teach the significance of the “go”, “almost done”, and “stop” cards, timing is of the essence. The “go” card is presented at the beginning of the activity, the “almost done” card must be given after approximately 30 seconds (as we already know the student will throw the materials after 45 seconds), and the “stop” card is given at about 40 seconds, with the activity immediately ceasing. It is critical to initially use the cards to “stop” the activity prior to the student throwing the materials, so that the student realizes the significance of the cards in relaying the messages of being “almost done” and “stopping.” It is important to note that the “almost done” card is always given to the student within a short time frame of giving them the “stop” card. Consistency is important in using these cards to avoid negative behavior.
    • Motivation- For students with ASD providing a reason to do something that doesn’t appeal or make sense to them (why would I sit in class and listen to a boring teacher if I didn’t have the social awareness to care about the consequences of leaving?) can be an important part of supporting behavior choices that we see as positive. Using special interests in the curriculum and establishing predictable routines can be sufficiently motivating for many students.
      • Reward cards, which visually illustrate what the individual is earning (stars, check marks, smiley faces) and how, can motivate behavior improvement throughout the school day or in certain predictably difficult situations. Students can see exactly what behavior they are being rewarded for and how. Systems that withhold rewards can cause more anxiety, so be sure to find something to reward on a regular basis.
      • Power Cards (Gagnon, 2001)
        For students with particular interests or role models, Power Cards can provide both clarification and motivation. Simply identify the difficult situation and the desired behavior or actions. Then create a scenario where the character, animal, or person of interest struggles with similar issues and takes that action.

Mid Tech Tools and Strategies

  • Time Timer: A Time Timer or other visual timer may be used to let the student know how much time is remaining. This is especially helpful if the student does not like the task very well or is eager for the next task.
  • WatchMinder: This special wristwatch is a reminder device to help in a variety of ways. It has a silent vibrator alarm system (similar to that of a common pager), an eight-character display for messages, 16 daily alarm settings, as well as training and reminder modes. It can be preset with specific behavioral reminders for certain activities or times of day when the student typically has difficulties. The entire day can be programmed with numerous messages displayed at the appropriate times.
  • Audio or video recordingcan be used to focus on a number of communication skills to draw the student’s attention to inappropriate communicative behaviors (e.g., interrupting, preservative speech, incessant question asking, topic maintenance, etc.) as well as to develop self-awareness and self-regulation of appropriate communicative interactions.
    • Audacityis free, open source software for recording and editing sounds. You can use these recordings within other software programs such as PowerPoint, Writing with Symbols 2000 and with video recordings.

High Tech Tools and Strategies

  • Computer- The use of the computer with a variety of fun games can be a reinforcing activity as well as a calming choice. The specific software will need to be selected for the individual student.
    • Leisure software and websites
      • ZAC is the first web browser developed specifically for children with ASD. The software was developed by the grandfather of a child with autism for his safety while using the computer and internet. It is not an actual browser such as Explorer or Safari in that you cannot explore the internet. It is a self-contained environment of activities
      • Hiyah.netis another website developed by a family member for children with autism. Sara, the mother of a son with ASD, created educational software for children ages 18 months to 4 years of age.
      • Free online games at HelpKidzLearn
      • PBSkids has many activities. This link takes you to a game on money.
      • xtranormal is a site for older students that allows them to create their own movies online.
      • Artpad is an online drawing tool. FUN! FUN! FUN!
      • Blabberize let's you take any photo, select the mouth and then record sound to have your picture "talk"
      • Dance Mat Typing is an online typing tutor game
      • Jam Studiois an online music factory
    • Behavior software
    • *** Kid Coach(Fitzgerald & Semrau, 2000) is a free software tool that students (ages 7-13) can use to create their own self-management materials. When students create their own behavior plans, they take responsibility and build internal controls for behavior. For the student who is capable of doing this, KidTools can be a valuable tool.
      • Teaching Tools for Young Children with Challenging Behavioris a free product developed by the Technical Assistance Center on Social Emotional Intervention for Young Children (TACSEI) that gives teachers practical strategies, developed from TACSEI’s research activities and experiences in Positive Behavior Support, to create a plan to support young children who are having challenging behavior.

      • Flow charts - Inspiration and Kidspiration (refer to Organization) are concept mapping software programs that can help students visually represent a chain of events from challenging situation through the consequences of two or three behavior choices. Simply understanding how behavior choices lead to positive or negative social consequences can help students understand why making better choices makes sense.
  • Videos -** Students can create a series of short public service announcements explaining appropriate school behaviors or defining class rules. Seeing the rules in action can make them much more understandable and concrete.