AFT - American Federation of Teachers

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Addressing Challenging Behavior

Two of the core challenges for students with autism are communication and socialization. These communication and social deficits, at times, can result in students with autism responding to situations in an inappropriate manner. Behaviors exhibited by students with autism may include loud vocalizations, leaving the instructional area, self-injury, aggression or other inappropriate behaviors. The important thing to note is that this behavior is exhibited because of the communication and social deficits. With a quality, systematically implemented positive behavior support plan students with autism—even those with the most challenging behavior—can achieve a reduction in inappropriate behavior and success in the educational environment.

To effectively address challenging behavior, the educational team must understand "why" a behavior is occurring. A functional behavior assessment can be completed to assist with determining why a behavior is occurring and should include:

  • A clear description of the problem behavior(s)
  • Activities, times and situations that predict when behaviors will and will not occur (i.e., setting events)
  • Consequences that maintain the problem behaviors (i.e., functions)
  • Summary statements or hypotheses
  • Direct observation data to support the hypotheses

Upon the completion of a functional behavior assessment, a positive behavior support plan can be developed and should include:

  • Modifications in the environment that reduce the likelihood of the problem behavior
  • Teaching plans for developing replacement skills and building competencies of the student,
  • Natural and minimally intrusive consequences to promote positive behavior and deter problem behaviors
  • A crisis plan (if needed)

Specific training, including coaching and modeling of the implementation of the positive behavior support plan should occur for all team members responsible for implementing the plan. A quality, well-implemented positive behavior support plan can be highly effective in promoting behavioral growth.


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