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Supporting and managing behaviour
As noted elsewhere, the world can be a very confusing place for pupils on the autism spectrum, resulting in high levels of stress and anxiety. The tools identified elsewhere in these resources will help you to provide a range of strategies and resources which will help the pupil to cope. At times however it is possible that the level of anxiety may be such that the pupil may exhibit behaviours which challenge.
Challenging behaviour can be one of the most difficult areas an education practitioner has to address. It comes in all different forms and behaviours one professional finds challenging may differ entirely to those of another. Challenging behaviour can often arise as a result of anxiety and therefore working to reduce the anxiety a child is experiencing will assist in addressing challenging behaviour. Additionally, a child may present with challenging behaviour as a means of communication. Consider what the child may be trying to tell you through his behaviours.
Examples of challenging behaviour a child with autism may present include:
These may all be behaviours you come across. Learning how to manage these behaviours will be crucial to ensuring the child you are working with is able to access school life, as well as ensuring that you are able to enjoy your job!
In order to support a behaviour which challenges it is first necessary to understand the purpose it serves.
One of the most useful ways of doing this is to use a STAR chart by Clements and Zarkowski (not to be confused with the traditional sticker star chart).
What is it?
A STAR chart is a way of both recording and analysing incidences of behaviours which challenge.
When would you use it?
When a pupil is displaying behaviours which cause concern.
How to use it?
The STAR chart works by providing a detailed record of the behaviour which is taking palce, in relation to
The idea is that by gathering information in relation to these key points you will be able to recognise patterns in behaviour a develop your understanding of the cause. Once you know this, you can implement a behaviour strategy which will aim to reduce and ideally replace the behaviour which causes concern with more appropriate behaviours. For example, you might be able to reduce or eliminate a particular behaviour by altering the setting, reducing the trigger, teaching an alternative behaviour to achieve the same end and/or changing the consequences/responses.
The chart should be completed each time there is an incident, and over time you should begin to see patterns.
For example, if a particular behaviour occurs in response to an unplanned or unexpected activity, using a timetable or schedule to let a pupil know what is happening will eliminate the ‘trigger’ and potentially stop the behaviour from happening.
Some pupils might present a range of behaviours, in which case, you might find it useful to complete a STAR analysis. This enables you to analyse a series of incidents, prompting you to consider the purpose of the behaviour as well as the trigger, and draw on this to identify what skills the pupil needs to learn to address it (this could be a replacement or target behaviour).
Pupils have often developed very effective, but not always appropriate behaviours, and this may be because they are not aware that there is an alternative behaviour which could achieve the same need.
Strategies such as SOCCSS (tool 7) could be useful in helping to explore this with the pupil.
It can be hard for a pupil to switch from a behaviour which has been effective for him or her in the past. It is important therefore to think about rewards which will support and increase the likelihood of the pupil implementing the target behaviours.
In order to do this effectively it is helpful to complete a Skills and motivators chart. This should be completed in discussion with others who know the pupil well. This will be key in identifying rewards which are meaningful to and motivating for the pupil.
Building rewards into the behaviour management strategy
It is important to reward and reinforce appropriate behaviour. Pupils on the autism spectrum are not necessarily motivated purely by having pleased a teacher. They may need a more tangible reward, particularly if they are stopping using behaviours which they have engaged in over a long period of time, and which have proven to be very effective in achieving their aim.
You might therefore find it useful to draw on the following:
1. ‘I am working for’ charts
‘I am working for’ charts act as a visual reminder of what reward a child will receive once he has completed the work or activity set. They can also specify how long a child will need to work for before he receives a reward as is shown on the left.
How to use:
Offer the child a choice of what they would like to work for from a choice board of motivators. The number of choices offered will depend on the child’s level of understanding. For some children this may be two, for others, six. Once the child has made his choice the object is stuck onto the “I am working for” chart with Velcro.
Initially teaching will focus on cause and effect. For example, I do some work, and then I get a reward, as is demonstrated in the picture.
At first rewards will need to be immediate and the work task will need to be short and simple, however, over time as a child understands the system, the time spent on the task can be increased as can the complexity of the task.
NB: The same format can be used for sitting and waiting. For a child on the autism spectrum, the concepts of sitting or waiting (for example, waiting for all the children to get dressed for outside play) can be very confusing and frustrating. Allowing the child to see they will receive a reward if they do good sitting or waiting will motivate them to do so. It is important to note, however, that the child may well need to be taught how to sit or wait appropriately.
2. Token reward charts
Token reward charts are useful when extending the amount of time spent on task before a reward is given. When using token reward charts it is advisable to start with only two tokens. As the child’s understanding of the reward system increases, more tokens can be gradually introduced until the child needs to receive 10 tokens before he receives a reward (this is dependent on individual need – some children may only be able to work for two tokens before a reward is received). Individualise these charts using pictures of favourite characters or toys as the tokens.
How to use:
The child decides what he would like to work for. While the child is engaged in the task the teacher rewards him with a token. This maybe after every question is completed or after he has listened well. The reward schedule (the timings of when he is given a token) will vary from child to child. Again, initially while the child is learning how to use token rewards, tokens will need to be given very frequently and then gradually, as the child comes to understand the reward system, the time between receiving tokens can be extended.
3. Motivator puzzles
Motivator puzzles work in a similar way to that of reward charts.
How to use:
Cut up a copy of a picture of a motivator into appropriate puzzle pieces. The number of pieces you cut the puzzle into will depend on the understanding level of the child. The child receives a piece of the puzzle in the same way he would a token and each piece is stuck on to the existing picture of the motivator with Velcro. The motivator puzzle is intrinsically motivating as each time he receives a piece of the puzzle he is building up a picture of his favourite toy or activity. Once all the pieces have been received the child can have the toy or activity.
Pupils will benefit from clear guidance about what it is they need to do in order to secure a token. Using the ideas in the section on providing structure will help you to think about how best to do this. In the example, which follows, the pupil has been given clear guidance about how much s/he has to write in order to get a reward.
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