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Autism Spectrum Workshop: Positive Behavior Strategies

* disclaimer- These are notes taken in a county-wide autism spectrum series of workshops for educators.  I am not an autism spectrum expert, nor will I post copyrighted material.  I highly recommend attending a conference or workshop when you have the opportunity.  Enjoy! First of all, the perspective on behavior must be adjusted.  Rather than trying to suppress or punish behavior, we can look at behavior as a symptom with underlying causes.  If we can look at behavior as a communicative tool, the entire approach to 'controlling' behavior will change.

Context is critical when evaluating behavior.  We need to know how and why the behavior is triggered.  Also, we need to know the underlying challenges for each individual student.

You have got to start by changing the way you think about behavior.  Shift form thinking as a behavior problem towards thinking about the skill deficit and/or learning difference.

If you focus on the behavior problem, you assume that students are choosing to cause behavior disruptions.  If punishment was going to work, it would work.  Trying to change behavior with traditional means will not change anything in the long run.  We also blame in this model.  We blame the child, the teacher, the parents, the environment.  And that doesn't change anything.  We also may want to exclude that student.  We may also ignore the student, and thus the underlying cause of the behavior.  All of these misguided approaches lead to frustration and burn out.

If we change our perspective, we then assume that the student is misbehaving because the student has not yet learned those skills or has an underlying challenge demonstrating those skills.  This approach prompts us to understand, communicate, and teach.

If we take an understanding stance, and give the disability respect, we find ourselves advocating education.  Education for everyone- teachers, kids, families, aides, office help.  If we as a community can wrap up and hold these kids

Kids would rather be 'naughty' than 'stupid'.  So if you have a learning disability or challenge, and academics are emotionally overwhelming, you may turn to defiance and disruption rather than feeling dumb.  I can sympathize with that.    This is why an attitude of understanding, information-gathering, and assessment/possible diagnosis are so important.

Interesting- today's workshop is about a paradigm shift, changing how we think about behavior and kids.

Changing ideas, changing the world :)

The time has come, the time is now, as Dr. Seuss said :)

Watch the kids with chronic behavior issues.  Wonder about the underlying cause.

There is an activity with clear direction that demonstrates a learning challenge- draw a star within a star then hold a mirror beside it.  Draw a line in between the stars only by looking in the mirror.  Our brains stumble at the corner.  No matter how hard you try, no matter how much you know what should be done, you cannot get around the corner.  I'll have to try it.

Our kids with disabilities may be trying harder than anyone to complete tasks.  They may be wearing themselves out with trying so hard.  Then they are emotional frayed and coping is that much more challenging.

Pavlov, with his dogs, figured out reflex conditioning. Pair a trigger with a reflex, and soon the trigger initiates the reflex.

Kiddos on the spectrum have reflex reactions perhaps more often, and perhaps with greater reactivity, than most people.  They may have challenges regulating the fight or flight reflexes.

When this fight or flight is triggered, it may show up as aggression, fighting, or bolting, withdrawing.  A trigger can become conditioned, which may result in the heightened emotions, and thus the response.  We then see big reactions to seemingly innocuous things, like a vacuum.  And if a behavior works, even by accident, like attacking a vacuum the first time it was loud and startling and it resulted with the vacuum being shut off- results in aversions to vacuums, and an attack pattern to distressing situations.

These are neurological responses.  We cannot reason out of them.  But we can teach coping and regulation.

Behavior can be the tip of the iceberg.  If we don't take the time to look beneath the surface, we are not meeting the kids are their level, we are not changing the underlying causes of a behavior.

Anxiety can be calmed with counter-conditioning.  Playing a favorite song while a kiddo is on a swing that is emotionally challenging can counter-balance, then with gradually increase exposure to the anxiety while pairing a positive emotional activity or response.  This can help neutralize the very real emotional reaction.

We choose behavior based on getting the things that we want, or to avoid the things that we don't want.

Once you understand a disability, it's much easier to understand behaviors based on individual wants and avoidance patterns.

Behavior that is reinforced continues to happen.

What is learned can be unlearned or re-learned.  We can set up situations to teach a new behavior- not telling, but teaching.

On the spectrum, they may have skill deficits and behavior excesses.

If you stop a behavior without teaching a replacement behavior- the kiddo will usual find a worse way to express the same emotions.  Suppressing behavior does not touch the underlying emotional cause behind the behavior.

Long term behavior change means teaching skills.  Teach a better way.

Common triggers that ignite behavior are lack of interest in a subject, or there is no buy-in (motivation).  Too much sensory input triggers behavior.  When expectations are unclear or different than they expected, behavior surfaces.

Expectations are key, and not just the academic expectations.  Is there an expectation to complete the task amid distractions?  With an entire page?  With a pencil with a very sharp lead?  With multiple types of problems on one page that requires a shift in attention?

Pay attention to communication attempts at the lower levels.  Responding at lower levels means the student does not need to escalate.

When instructions are too high, or too complicated for a learner, behavior happens.  Again, the task may be completely attainable, it's the way of presenting it that is key to success.

We are going into great detail being behavior detectives- looking at behavior with regard to the set up (antecedents) and actual consequences (what a student gains from that behavior- intended or not).  Many result in adults giving space.  Which works well when a student is over-stimulated.

So how to prevent these big-behavior communications?  Be predictable.  Teach functional communication strategies and skills.  Be aware of sensory needs and accommodate for that.  Provide opportunities for choice whenever possible- gives a sense of shared control.  Odd or even problems?

To think that a student can communicate concepts like fatigue, sensory overwhelm, or confusion is just setting the expectations too high.  Be realistic and responsive.

We need to find an alternative way for that student to have their needs met.  They may use unconventional methods to get their needs met.

Often, they use behavior to escape or avoid certain people, moods (boredom or restlessness) or peer responses/social situations.

Or they are trying to get things.  They may be trying to get a sensory experience that feels good.  Get and activity, or an object/tangible item.  Or an interaction with another person that provides help, clarification, mediated regulation and/or affirmation.  They may not know how to ask for help in a constructive way.  Our instructor deliberately leaves off trying to get attention or control- students with ASD, generally, are not going for the usual reinforcement.  Why?  They are not socially driven and usually don't care what others think.  So they are looking for an interaction that gives them . . . what?  Why would they be wanting the interaction?

This is where the detective work begins.  What purpose is the behavior serving for them?

To get . . .  and/or escape . . .

Identify what the student is trying to get or avoid.  And make an alternative plan that is more appropriate, yet gets the student the same result.

The importance of regulating emotions- and sometimes the behavior is a need to have someone listen and help regulate the underlying emotions.  We call it venting.  These kiddos may not have the language to express that venting and/or self-regulate feelings.

So it is vital to teach the positive communication-building skills.  If the plan is working, the troubling-behavior will decrease while the positive behavior increases.

If we can build a structure for success, and give students authentic support and skill-building, then their days (and our own) will be a much more positive experience.  We can learn from each other.  Again :)

Bubbles, Horse Races, and Fairy Houses

Coping with a Disability