Practical Suggestions for Addressing Behaviours

Teachers encountering a student with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) for the first time can find the experience confronting. When trusted methods of settling everyone else in the class don’t work, and as the behaviours of the student with autism spectrum disorder become more and more extreme, frustration can soon set in..

It’s not uncommon for exasperated teachers to find themselves saying things like:

She's just naughty! / He's so spoilt! / What do you expect? He has autism. / I've told her and told her and told her...

But giving up is not the answer. Rather, you need to come at the problem from a different angle. The key here is to look at your student’s behaviour in a new way. Understand that there is no such thing as random behaviour; it’s all communication. From there you can move to introducing practical strategies to help facilitate communication and encourage on-task behaviour.
Student smiling and holding up a fruit kebab he has made

You already have the building blocks for success. Remember your Quality Teaching Framework

Don’t forget the basic facts around ASD

Every child with autism is different; they are all unique individuals. But there are some common underlying issues around learning and behaviour for children with autism spectrum disorder that your student will be experiencing to some degree or another.

They will most likely have (in some combination):

  • A severe communication disorder.
  • Auditory problems.
  • Ritualistic tendencies.
  • Resistance to change.
  • Difficulties with new situations.
  • Difficulty with transitions

Also, students with autism will:

  • Learn in chunks.
  • Like rituals and routines.
  • Have difficulty learning new routines.
  • Have difficulty with change and transition.
  • Have trouble analysing and synthesizing.
  • Lack the ability to generalise skills.
  • Have their very own personal idiosyncrasies.

Students with autism often experience considerable anxiety. This can lead to an escalation in behaviour. They are telling you that there is something amiss for them in their environment.

Step 1:
Take stock of what you have to build on

Remember, you already have all the tools, skills, knowledge and experience you need to succeed.

Your Building Blocks for Success

  • You understand the Disability Standards for Education and what they require of you.
  • You’re committed to ensuring learning is always rigorous, meaningful and dignified.
  • You know the three dimensions of the NSW Quality Teaching Framework and use them to shape your classroom practice.
  • You know and are already teaching the curriculum.
  • You’re well practised at differentiating the curriculum to meet the needs of different students.
  • You know what works best for you to achieve the best possible learning outcomes for your students, in your classroom, in your school, in your community.

Step 2:
Get to know your student

All your students are unique individuals with their own likes and dislikes, special interests and a specific set of needs.

Create a Student Profile

  • Write up everything you know about your student – gather copies of reports and health care plans, talk with former teachers and your principal, talk with the child’s parents or carers.
  • You want to know who the student is and how they learn, what they like, what they do not like, what upsets them, how they communicate etc.
  • Trust your own observations – students with disabilities often struggle to communicate but you can learn a huge amount about them and how they will learn best by paying close attention to the ways they behave and what they react to in different situations (remember all behaviour is communication)
  • Make it a living document – keep coming back to your profile to up-date and add to it as you gain a deeper and deeper understanding of the child and what works for them.
  • Example of a student profile document

Step 3:
Bring together your classroom practice and your student profile

Determine what adjustments and supports you need to put in place to stabilise the environment for them and facilitate learning. Adjustments and supports for a child with autism spectrum disorder will be decided by giving particular attention to four main factors: physical environment, routines, communication, and socialisation.

Make Adjustments for Two Key Dimensions

Use this knowledge to address students’ needs in relation to these two dimensions. This will improve student engagement and increase student learning(intellectual quality)

  • Quality Learning Environment – what adjustments and supports can you put in place to help reduce anxiety, increase independence and promote engagement for your student?
  • Significance – how can you make learning meaningful and relevant, use the student’s strengths, and ensure that she or he is appropriately challenged and is fully engrossed?
  • Use all resources available to help you ensure students are achieving with the highest level of independence
  • Find our more about what Adjustments you can make

Are you still experiencing impending clouds around behaviour?

All of us carry around with us our own personal weather system. Are you radiating sunshine today? Or has something happened that means a storm cloud’s hovering above you?

Your student with autism spectrum disorder is exactly the same. And just as we all watch for weather changes outside, you can make things easier for your student, and yourself, in the classroom by learning to read their personal barometer. By staying a step ahead, you can even head off a situation before a thundercloud explodes into a full on meltdown.

Know what will upset your student and be aware of the setting events (precipitating factors) that increase the likelihood of challenging behaviours being triggered.

Three categories of setting events can affect a child’s mood:

  • Biological – tiredness, hunger, thirst, pain, sickness.
  • Physical – temperature, noise, crowding.
  • Sociocultural – presence/absence of certain people, numbers of people, staff changes or patterns.

In each category setting events may come up at different times of the day, in different places and in relation to different activities. They may not be immediately obvious, and they may be multiple. The trick is to identify patterns – when they happen and when they don’t.

As you learn them, develop strategies to neutralise setting events in advance or help your student prepare for and deal with them. You’ll discover that many a squall can be dispersed by making a few quick and simple adjustments. Of course, larger, more complex weather systems need a more considered response but, over time, you’ll find that these too can be effectively managed.