Here are some Behavior Management strategies that I have found successful over the years with a wide variety of students. Hopefully you will find them as successful for you as well!
There is no one-size fits all when it comes to special education classroom behavior management strategies. Behavior interventions can be preventive or reactive. Preventative or proactive interventions anticipates the student’s possible reactions and provides supports for the student to engage in desired behavior. Reactive interventions occur when the undesired behavior has already occurred. The teacher may change the consequence or control the child directly.
Provide clear expectations so that your students aren’t fully dependent on others for all environmental modifications.
– Provide Clear Expectations with Visuals
– Reduce demands (increase through time and progress)
– Change the physical environment (flexible seating, lighting, arrangement)
– Color code your classroom
– Create a “Calming Corner” or “Break Area”
– Reduce Distractions
– Set a timer to prep for the transition
– Place specific music or different instruments to signal each new, different activity
– Use a picture schedule
– Use a “now/next” schedule
Coping strategies need to be taught and consistently practiced!
– Provide a supportive and safe environment
– Coping Strategies Visual
– Identify Feelings
– Take a Break Card/ Ask for a Break
– First/Then Visual
– Contingency Maps
– ‘I am Working For’ Visuals
– Visual Task Steps
– Use of Break Area / Sensory Needs
All the visuals placed onto ONE folder to provide each student with every type of visual reinforcement of expectations, strategies and supports to help teach the student to self-regulate and develop independence.
There must be some expectation for appropriate behavior but the environment may need to be modified as necessary for the child to experience success – The best behavior strategies may be a combination of both of these techniques.So what can you do to stop a behavior before it even gets started? Be Proactive! The first then you need to do is recognize the behavior. If you don’t see the behavior coming, you’ll never be able to effectively intervene (you will be reactive). It’s important not only for you to recognize the chain of events that lead to undesired behavior, but it’s equally as important that those helping you also see it coming (paraprofessionals, related services, etc.). Make sure that you get everyone on the same page to help provide consistency for the student.
A proactive teacher modifies the environment and teaches coping skills or replacement behaviors.
All behavior is communication and therefore there is a purpose for each behavior. As a teacher, it is our job to determine this purpose.
The main way to target sensory behaviors is to see if you can think of an alternative response that is more appropriate. Some type of response that in some way meets those same sensory needs. Once you identify an alternative response, you need to teach and shape those responses just like with attention and escape behaviors. Provide the student regular and consistent access to the alternative sensory response. You want them to be engaging in this behavior over the problem behavior.
– Dance Breaks (GoNoodle)
– Sensory Toys / Equipment Breaks
– Movement / Yoga Breaks
– Multi-Sensory Learning
A great resource on Sensory Behaviors is Autism Helper – Sensory Behaviors
If a student tends to throw tantrums when he/she has to transition to a new activity (you know this because of careful formal and informal observations and data collection). You can be proactive and create visuals/scripts to use during those new transition activities.
– Take a deep breath
– Count to 10
– “I can stop kicking and screaming.”
– “I can hold my teddy bear and walk to the next activity.”
– When given independent work/tasks.
– You target the behavior by teaching the student to use a “help” card.
– Observe and determine if the tasks are too difficult and causing frustration for the student (independent to instructional level).
– Take a deep breath
– Read the directions
– “I can stop not doing my work.”
– “I can try the first question then raise my HELP card”
These are highly disruptive behavior that impacts learning of self and/or others.
– If behavior is significantly disrupting learning, a formal behavior analysis & behavior intervention plan should be recommended and discussed with the team.
– Target the specific behavior (through data collection)
– Create an intervention plan (keep in mind that undesired behaviors may increase before they decrease)
– MONITOR progress
– Adjust if needed
These skills should be taught over and over in a safe, non-triggering environment (the student is calm). Make sure it a rewarding positive experience! Practice, consistency and reinforce! Positive behavior supports are essential!
Requesting a Break
We all need breaks! Teaching your student how to ask for a break is essential! Knowing how to request a break, knowing what happens during a break, and knowing how/when the break ends is an essential part of breaking the undesired behavior for a student with Autism.
– Determine how a student will ask for a break (and add a visual to cue break time)
– Decide what is available to a student when they are on break (like head down, puzzle, writing/drawing, play-doh, etc.).
– Figure out how long break will last and how time will be measured- will it be a timer? Or maybe the time it takes to watch a video? Breaks are timed!
– How does a student return to work? Does the student return to the work they were doing before the break? Is there a preferred activity used in the transition? Is there a low-difficulty academic task used to transition? You have to decide how to transition back to work or slowly get back to the routine.
* If a student initiates a break, you must let them have it! If you don’t, it may make the process unmeaningful to the student and work against you. Try not to refuse a properly initiated break request.
Review the schedule for the day – this helps reduce anxiety regarding unpredictable events in the day. The goal is help a student anticipate what is coming so they can better manage in the moment. Help the student know the expectations and what is coming in the next 5 minutes, 10 minutes, or even for the entire day; may help to alleviate the anxiety and you might find that it cuts off the path to undesired behavior.
Everyone likes to make their own choices – why not give students an opportunity to do so too!
– First/Then Choice
– Break Time Choice
– Calming Strategy Choice
– Activity Choice (out of 2 options)
(All provided with visuals)
This can improve a student’s self-esteem and the feeling of self-determination. Offering the student the opportunity to choose which activity they want to do makes a dramatic change in daily behavior.
Tantrums and Meltdowns can look very similar when you see a student having one.
Kids who have sensory issues or who lack self-control,, a meltdown is very different from a tantrum. Knowing the differences can help you learn how to respond in a way that better supports your student!
It is important to remember that the key difference between the two types of outbursts is that tantrums usually have a purpose. So the first thing we have to do to manage tantrum is to understand them!
My goal is help to provide you with strategies and tools to help calm the chaos.
A tantrum includes manipulation, knowing what they are doing and a choice. It is an outburst that happens when a student is trying to get something he/she wants or needs. (Some kids with learning and attention issues are more prone to tantrums). They may get angry or frustrated quickly – yelling, crying or lashing out isn’t an appropriate way for your student to express their feelings, but they’re doing it for a reason. Your student has some control over their behavior. The tantrum is likely to stop when they get what they want—or when realize they won’t get what they want by acting out.
This is usually the MOST disruptive/out of control behavior due to the student being in a “crisis” mode. Teaching coping skills in the moment is impossible – Need to proactively teach coping strategies!
– Make it clear that you understand what the student is after/seeking
– Acknowledge what the student needs without giving in
– Help the student see that there’s a more appropriate behavior that will work
– Teach the student that appropriate behavior
– Teach the student how to use a “break” card
– Use coping skills script
– Use coping strategies visuals
A sample script could be:
-Take a deep breath
-Count to 10
-Say, “I can stop _________.”
– Say, “I can ___________ instead.”
A meltdown is a reaction to feeling overwhelmed, anxious feelings, and system breakdowns. It happens when there’s too much sensory information to process. Something might set them off (commotion in the classroom, loud noise, etc.) or it can be a reaction to having too many things to think about (too much sensory input) floods the student’s brain and the student goes into a “fight or flight” response mode. That excess input overflows in the form of yelling, crying, lashing out or running away.
Students with Autism will often show signs of distress before having a meltdown – this is called a “rumble stage.” Signs of anxiety may be shown, such as pacing, seeking reassurance through repetitive questioning, or physical behaviors such as rocking. At this stage, it IS POSSIBLE to prevent a meltdown!
– Calming Tools
– Removal of potential triggers
– Remain calm yourself – Help your student find a safe, quiet break area to de-escalate
– Provide a calm, reassuring environment (don’t talk too much to the student – goal is to reduce input coming in)
– Cancel out the trigger (headphones, remove from a crowd, etc)
– Diversions/Distractions (silly faces, singing, music, videos, etc)
Meltdowns tend to end in one of two ways:
1) Fatigue – They just wear themselves out! Total exhaustion.
2) A change in the amount of sensory input (this can help kids feel less overwhelmed)
To prevent future meltdowns, identify what is overwhelming for that student and try to eliminate/prevent those situations!