Autism Behavior Problems in the Classroom: Overcoming Strategies

Discover strategies to overcome autism behavior problems in the classroom, fostering an inclusive environment.

reuben kesherim
Ruben Kesherim
April 28, 2024

Autism Behavior Problems in the Classroom: Overcoming Strategies

Understanding Autism Behavior

Getting to grips with the intricacies of autism behavior is the first step in empowering education for children with autism. Comprehending the characteristics of autism behavior can provide a framework for teachers to develop effective strategies for the classroom.

Characteristics of Autism Behavior

Children with autism often exhibit unique behavioral patterns. These behaviors can vary widely in their manifestation, both in terms of intensity and type. Recognizing these behaviors can pave the way for more effective teaching strategies, tailored to the individual needs of the child.

Some common characteristics of autism behavior include:

  1. Repetitive behaviors: Children with autism often engage in repetitive behaviors, such as rocking, spinning, or hand-flapping. These behaviors can serve as a coping mechanism for the child, providing a sense of comfort and predictability.
  2. Insistence on sameness: Many children with autism prefer routines and may become upset if their routine is disrupted. They may also show an intense focus on certain interests or topics.
  3. Communication difficulties: Children with autism often struggle with both verbal and non-verbal communication. They may have difficulty understanding social cues or expressing their own feelings and needs.
  4. Sensory sensitivities: Many children with autism have heightened or reduced sensitivity to sensory stimuli, such as light, sound, touch, or taste. This can lead to behaviors such as covering their ears, avoiding certain textures, or seeking out specific sensory experiences.
  5. Social interaction challenges: Social interactions can be challenging for children with autism. They may struggle to make eye contact, understand social norms, or relate to their peers.

Understanding these autism behavior characteristics is crucial for creating an inclusive and supportive classroom environment. By recognizing and responding to these behaviors, teachers can develop strategies that cater to the individual needs and strengths of each child.

The Autism Speaks School Community Tool Kit provides 14 autism teaching strategies that can help educators set students up for success in the classroom. These strategies are tailored for teachers by subject and all members of the school community, providing a comprehensive resource for addressing autism behaviors in the education setting.

Strategies for Classroom Behavior

Implementing effective strategies is key to managing autism behavior problems in the classroom. This involves a combination of evidence-based practices (EBPs) and behavior intervention plans (BIPs).

Evidence-Based Practices

Evidence-based practices are teaching strategies or interventions that have been proven through research to be effective in improving outcomes for students with autism. The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA '04) and the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) mandate the use of such practices and programs for children with autism.

The National Professional Development Center on Autism Spectrum Disorder has identified 27 evidence-based practices for enhancing outcomes for students with ASD. Additionally, the Autism Speaks School Community Tool Kit provides 14 autism teaching strategies tailored for teachers and all members of the school community [2].

Before selecting and implementing an EBP, educators and practitioners should determine the target behavior they wish to change. This ensures the chosen method is the most appropriate for a specific child. Once a strategy or intervention has been selected, baseline data should be gathered to help determine the effectiveness of the intervention.

Behavior Intervention Plans (BIPs)

Behavior Intervention Plans are another crucial component in addressing autism behavior problems in the classroom. A BIP is a plan that uses positive reinforcement to increase desirable behaviors and decrease problem behaviors.

Creating an effective BIP involves a few key steps:

  1. Identify the problem behavior.
  2. Define the behavior in observable and measurable terms.
  3. Collect and summarize data on the behavior.
  4. Determine the function of the behavior.
  5. Develop and implement a plan to modify the behavior.
  6. Monitor and modify the plan as needed.

Both EBPs and BIPs are essential tools in the educator's toolbox for managing autism behavior problems in the classroom. By implementing these strategies, teachers can create a positive and supportive learning environment for all students.

Addressing Sensory Sensitivities

Sensory sensitivities are a common characteristic in individuals with autism and play a significant role in shaping their behavior in classrooms. Understanding these sensitivities and creating an appropriate environment is crucial for helping students with autism succeed.

Impact on Behavior

Children with autism often have heightened sensitivities to textures, aromas, bright lights, and noise. These sensitivities can cause discomfort or even pain, leading to challenging behaviors in the classroom.

For example, a student might experience sensory overload when overwhelmed by too much sensory input, or exhibit sensory-seeking behaviors when they crave more sensory stimulation. The resulting behaviors can vary widely, from withdrawing and becoming nonresponsive to acting out in disruptive ways.

It's important to understand that these are not misbehaviors, but coping mechanisms for sensory discomfort. Recognizing this is the first step towards addressing autism behavior problems in the classroom.

Creating a Sensory-Friendly Environment

Creating a sensory-friendly environment is a crucial strategy in managing autism behavior problems in the classroom. This involves making modifications that take into consideration the student's unique sensory needs.

Here are some strategies to consider:

  • Provide a Quiet Space: A designated quiet area can provide a safe space for students to retreat when they feel overwhelmed and need to calm down.
  • Use Visual Schedules and Cues: Visual aids can enhance predictability and reduce anxiety for students with autism.
  • Adjust Lighting and Noise Levels: Dimming bright lights or minimizing loud noises can significantly reduce sensory discomfort.
  • Incorporate Sensory Tools: Fidget toys, weighted blankets, or other sensory tools can help students manage their sensory needs and focus better on learning.
Strategy Description
Quiet Space A safe retreat for overwhelmed students
Visual Schedules & Cues Enhance predictability and reduce anxiety
Lighting & Noise Adjustments Reducing sensory discomfort
Sensory Tools Aid in sensory needs management and focus enhancement

These modifications can go a long way in creating a comfortable learning environment for students with autism. By addressing sensory sensitivities, educators can significantly mitigate associated behavior problems and foster a more inclusive and supportive classroom.

Collaborative Support

Addressing autism behavior problems in the classroom requires collaboration and mutual support from several stakeholders. This includes not only teachers and school administrators, but also parents, caregivers, and community-based resources.

Involving Parents and Caregivers

Parents and caregivers play a crucial role in managing autism behavior problems in the classroom. They are often the first to notice changes in behavior and can provide valuable insights into the triggers and strategies that work best for their child.

According to the Raising Children Network, parents are advised to focus on guiding autistic children towards positive behavior by helping them build skills such as communication, emotional understanding, managing emotions, social interactions, and practical everyday tasks.

Moreover, parents and caregivers can support teachers by implementing strategies to handle challenging behavior at home. This includes setting clear rules, allowing downtime for calming down in low sensory environments, and planning ahead for challenging situations.

Community-Based Resources

Community-based resources, such as psychologists, counselors, and autism support groups, also play a vital role in managing autism behavior problems in the classroom. These resources can provide additional training, support, and advice for both teachers and parents.

Lack of proper training can leave even the best teachers unsure how to support their autistic students, leading to misunderstandings and challenges in the classroom [5]. Collaborative support from community-based resources can help to bridge this gap and promote awareness and acceptance of autism.

Teachers, parents, and school administrators should work together to provide training and resources not only to general education teachers but also to physical education teachers, art teachers, music teachers, and others throughout the school. This collaboration can help to create an inclusive classroom environment that promotes the well-being and success of students with autism.

In conclusion, collaborative support from parents, caregivers, and community-based resources is crucial for effectively handling behavior challenges in the classroom for students with autism. By working together, these stakeholders can ensure that every student has the opportunity to learn, grow, and succeed.

Handling Challenging Behaviors

Managing challenging behaviors in students with autism can be a complex task. It requires understanding the root causes of behavior and implementing targeted strategies that address those issues.

Identifying Triggers

Challenging behavior in autistic children and teenagers can have negative effects on both the children themselves and the people around them. Understanding the reasons behind such behavior is crucial in order to effectively respond to it.

Children with autism typically use behaviors to communicate their wants, needs, anxieties, and frustrations. Some behaviors can disrupt learning in a classroom setting.

Identifying the triggers of these behaviors is an essential first step in addressing them. These triggers could be related to sensory sensitivities, such as discomfort from textures, aromas, bright lights, and noise. Addressing a child's sensory sensitivities can improve their comfort in the classroom and reduce challenging behaviors [3].

Developing Targeted Strategies

Once the triggers have been identified, targeted strategies can be developed to handle the challenging behaviors. This could include implementing consequences, setting clear rules, allowing downtime for calming down in low sensory environments, and planning ahead for challenging situations.

In a classroom setting, strategies could include following a behavior plan, incorporating strengths and interests, increasing structure, setting and explaining realistic expectations, timing transitions carefully, addressing sensory sensitivities, offering quiet spaces, improving communication skills, and implementing calming techniques.

A behavior plan for children with autism starts with a Functional Behavioral Analysis (FBA) to identify the root of behaviors, followed by a Behavior Intervention Plan (BIP) that includes measurable goals specific to the child's needs. The BIP can be modified as the student achieves goals [3].

In case parents have tried various strategies and still have concerns about their child's challenging behavior, seeking professional help from a pediatrician or psychologist is recommended.

Handling challenging behaviors in the autism classroom is a dynamic process that requires understanding, patience, and effective strategies. It's essential to remember that every child is unique, and what works for one child may not work for another. Therefore, strategies should be customized to suit the individual needs of each student.