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Autism Behavior Problems in the Classroom: Management Strategies & Approaches

Navigate autism behavior problems in the classroom with evidence-based strategies and supportive approaches.

steven zauderer
Steven Zauderer
May 9, 2024
8 min read
min read

Understanding Autism Behavior

Gaining insight into autism behavior is fundamental to successfully addressing autism behavior problems in the classroom. This involves understanding the impact of this behavior on learning and identifying the common causes of challenging behavior.

Impact of Autism Behavior on Learning

Autism behavior can greatly influence a child's learning experience. Children with autism typically use behaviors to communicate their wants, needs, anxieties, and frustrations. While this form of nonverbal communication may be effective in some instances, it can disrupt learning in a classroom setting.

Disruptions can arise from an inability to focus, frequent interruptions, or difficulty in participating in group activities. These behavioral issues can hinder the child's academic progress and also affect the learning environment for other students. However, with the right interventions, children with autism can be taught new skills to develop acceptable ways to communicate, socialize, and function in a classroom setting [1].

Common Causes of Challenging Behavior

Challenging behavior in autistic children and teenagers refers to behavior that has negative effects on them and those around them. Understanding why this behavior occurs is critical for effectively responding to it.

Autistic children and teenagers may exhibit challenging behavior due to various reasons such as:

  • Communication difficulties: They may struggle to express their needs or feelings verbally and resort to behavior as a form of communication.
  • Sensory sensitivities: Overstimulation or understimulation can lead to discomfort, resulting in disruptive behavior.
  • Difficulty managing emotions: They may find it hard to understand and control their emotions, leading to outbursts or meltdowns.
  • Anxiety: Fear or worry about a particular event or situation can trigger disruptive behavior.
  • Trouble getting along with others: Difficulties in understanding social cues can lead to misunderstandings and inappropriate behavior [2].

Understanding these common causes can help educators, parents, and caregivers devise effective strategies to address autism behavior problems in the classroom. This process often involves a combination of interventions, including Behavior Intervention Plans (BIPs), designed to teach students new skills or behaviors to replace challenging behavior.

Evidence-Based Practices for Autism

To effectively address autism behavior problems in the classroom, educators often rely on evidence-based practices (EBPs) for autism. These are recommended academic and behavioral strategies proven through research to improve outcomes for children with autism.

Mandated Academic and Behavioral Practices

The Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) and the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA '04) are two federal laws that mandate the use of evidence-based academic and behavioral practices and programs for children with autism. Both of these laws are designed to ensure that children with autism receive the support and interventions they need to succeed in the classroom.

In addition to the federally mandated practices, the National Professional Development Center (NPDC) on Autism Spectrum Disorder has identified 27 evidence-based practices for improving outcomes for students with ASD. These practices encompass a range of strategies, including individualized instruction, behavioral interventions, and social skills training.

Implementing Evidence-Based Practices

Implementing evidence-based practices in the classroom involves a four-step process. First, educators or practitioners must identify the target behavior. This involves observing the student and determining which behaviors are interfering with learning. Next, baseline data should be collected on the behavior. This data provides a starting point for measuring progress.

The third step is to indicate the goal in the child's Individualized Education Plan (IEP) or Individualized Family Service Plan (IFSP). This goal should be specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-bound. Finally, educators should determine which evidence-based practices can address the target behavior.

Once an evidence-based practice has been selected and implemented, it's important to collect data on the behavior to evaluate the effectiveness of the intervention. This data can help determine whether the practice is working for the individual student and whether any adjustments need to be made. It's also crucial to ensure that the practice was implemented with fidelity, meaning that it was carried out as intended [4].

In addition to evidence-based practices, educators can also use high-leverage practices (HLPs) that have been shown to increase student performance. These practices often overlap with evidence-based practices for students with autism. Examples of HLPs include small-group instruction, functional behavior assessments, peer-assisted strategies, and organized and supportive learning environments.

By implementing these evidence-based and high-leverage practices, educators can help students with autism overcome behavior challenges and succeed in the classroom. This approach is part of a broader strategy for creating an inclusive and supportive learning environment for all students.

Behavior Intervention Strategies

Behavior intervention strategies are crucial for managing autism behavior problems in the classroom. In this section, we examine two effective strategies: Behavior Intervention Plans and Functional Behavior Analysis.

Behavior Intervention Plans (BIPs)

Behavior Intervention Plans, or BIPs, are comprehensive support plans designed to teach students new skills or behaviors to replace challenging behavior. These plans include antecedent strategies, instructional strategies, and consequence strategies to decrease challenging behavior and increase prosocial behaviors. BIPs created using functional behavior assessments (FBAs) have been shown to effectively improve student outcomes.

However, these plans require accurate implementation to be effective. Surveys of educational leaders report fidelity estimates averaging around 68%, indicating that educators often fail to implement BIPs as planned.

Reasons for low-fidelity implementation of BIPs range from limited educator training to a lack of resources. Strategies such as self-monitoring, performance feedback, modeling and role-play, and practice-based professional development can help increase educators' fidelity of BIP implementation.

Planning for positive consequences for educators' implementation of BIPs is another critical factor. Providing positive reinforcement and removing aversive stimuli for educators can serve as reinforcers for their behaviors, thus supporting the implementation of BIPs with fidelity.

Functional Behavioral Analysis (FBA)

Functional Behavior Analysis forms an integral part of developing effective BIPs. The FBA process involves identifying the specific triggers and reinforcers of a student's challenging behavior. The findings from the FBA then inform the creation of the BIP, ensuring that the intervention strategies are tailored to the individual student's needs.

Collaboration and communication between behavior analysts and educators are crucial for the successful implementation of BIPs. Building a supportive and collaborative relationship with educators, establishing feedback modalities and schedules, and providing ongoing performance feedback are key to maintaining educators' fidelity of BIP implementation.

In conclusion, Behavior Intervention Plans and Functional Behavior Analysis are powerful tools for addressing autism behavior problems in the classroom. By using these strategies effectively, educators can create a supportive and conducive learning environment for students with autism.

Creating Supportive Classrooms

Addressing autism behavior problems in a classroom setting requires the creation of a supportive environment that caters to the unique needs of children with autism. This includes structuring the classroom environment and addressing sensory sensitivities.

Structured Classroom Environments

Children with autism often benefit from a structured classroom environment. An increase in classroom structure, daily organization, and routine can help reduce stress and pressure for these children. Modifications such as an organized classroom, predictable schedule, visual activity schedules, and routines can help children feel calm, relaxed, and less agitated throughout the school day.

For example:

Modification Benefit
Organized Classroom Reduces confusion and promotes focus
Predictable Schedule Lowers anxiety and stress
Visual Activity Schedules Helps the child anticipate and prepare for upcoming activities
Routines Provides a sense of security and helps manage expectations

These modifications can significantly minimize disruptive behaviors, improve the learning experience, and promote a positive school experience for children with autism.

Addressing Sensory Sensitivities

Children with autism often have sensory sensitivities that can affect their comfort and behavior in a classroom setting. These can include sensitivities to textures, aromas, bright lights, and noise. Addressing these sensitivities can significantly improve comfort levels and reduce challenging behaviors.

For instance, simple changes like dimming lights, providing headphones for noise control, and avoiding crowded hallways can make a significant difference for a child with autism. Providing sensory breaks and creating quiet corners in the classroom can also help children with autism manage their sensory needs.

Addressing autism behavior problems in the classroom requires understanding, patience, and the implementation of supportive strategies. By creating a structured environment and addressing sensory sensitivities, educators can provide a conducive learning environment for children with autism.

Collaborative Approach for Behavior Challenges

Addressing autism behavior problems in the classroom requires a multi-faceted approach. It involves not only the efforts of educators and school staff but also the active participation of parents, caregivers, and community resources. This collaborative approach is essential in ensuring that students with autism receive appropriate support in managing their behavior challenges.

Involvement of Parents and Caregivers

Parents and caregivers play a crucial role in addressing the behavior challenges of students with autism. Their involvement in the educational process can significantly contribute to the success and well-being of these students. They can help set appropriate expectations and goals, and prioritize the growth and competence of the students [5].

It's also important for parents and caregivers to take care of their own well-being. Looking after their physical, mental, and emotional health enables them to better respond to the challenging behavior of their children. Seeking support from trusted individuals, parenting helplines, or professionals can be beneficial in managing these challenges.

In instances where behavior problems persist or become concerning, parents or caregivers should consider seeking help from professionals like pediatricians or psychologists. These professionals can provide insight into understanding and managing challenging behavior in autistic children.

Collaboration with Community Resources

Community resources, such as psychologists or vocational-rehabilitation counselors, can also be valuable allies in addressing autism behavior problems in the classroom. These professionals can provide additional support and expertise that can enhance the strategies implemented by the school and family.

Collaboration and communication between behavior analysts and educators are crucial for the successful implementation of Behavior Intervention Plans (BIPs). Building a supportive and collaborative relationship with educators, establishing feedback modalities and schedules, and providing ongoing performance feedback are essential in maintaining educators' fidelity of BIP implementation.

However, challenges to implementing BIPs can arise, such as limited educator training and limited in-service support. Addressing these barriers through strategies like self-monitoring, performance feedback, modeling and role-play, and practice-based professional development can increase the fidelity of BIP implementation.

In summary, a collaborative approach involving various stakeholders is crucial in managing autism behavior problems in the classroom. By working together, parents, caregivers, educators, and community resources can create a supportive environment that fosters the growth and competence of students with autism.

Managing Challenging Behavior

Managing challenging behavior, particularly in relation to autism behavior problems in the classroom, is often a complex task. This section will address various strategies for handling such behavior and the importance of seeking professional help and support.

Strategies for Handling Challenging Behavior

Challenging behavior in autistic children refers to behavior that negatively affects them and those around them. It's crucial to understand why this behavior occurs to respond effectively. Some strategies for managing this behavior include:

  1. Using consequences: Implement a system of rewards for positive behavior and non-harmful consequences for negative behavior.
  2. Establishing clear rules: Clearly defined rules help children understand expectations.
  3. Providing downtime: Allowing time for emotional regulation can help manage anxiety and stress.
  4. Planning for challenging situations: Anticipating potential triggers can help prevent challenging behavior.
  5. Reconnecting: After a challenging behavior episode, reconnect with the child in a warm and affectionate manner.
  6. Seeking professional help: If the behavior continues to be concerning, consider consulting a pediatrician or psychologist.

These strategies aim to address the various causes of challenging behavior, such as communication difficulties, sensory sensitivities, difficulty managing emotions, anxiety, and trouble getting along with others.

Seeking Professional Help and Support

When other strategies have been tried but the challenging behavior continues to concern parents or caregivers, professional help from a pediatrician or psychologist can be beneficial. These professionals can provide a deeper understanding of the behavior and offer additional management strategies [2].

Parents and caregivers also need to care for themselves physically, mentally, and emotionally to have the energy required to respond to challenging behavior. Seeking support from trusted individuals, parenting helplines, or professionals can be beneficial in managing these challenges. Remember, it's not a sign of weakness to ask for help; it's a step towards finding effective solutions and creating a supportive environment for the child [2].

References

[1]: https://www.sarahdooleycenter.org/news/autism-in-the-classroom-how-to-handle-behavior-challenges/

[2]: https://raisingchildren.net.au/autism/behaviour/understanding-behaviour/challenging-behaviour-asd

[3]: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC9582084/

[4]: https://iris.peabody.vanderbilt.edu/module/asd2/cresource/q1/p02/

[5]: https://www.abtaba.com/blog/how-to-handle-behavior-challenges

steven zauderer

CEO of CrossRiverTherapy - a national ABA therapy company based in the USA.

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