Behaviour management is possibly the trickiest issue for most parents and teachers. Behaviour management is even more complicated when you are parenting or teaching a child on the Autism Spectrum.
Before I begin, I should say that every child and every situation is unique so what I’m suggesting here is certainly not a one size fits all. It’s simply my thoughts and these are strategies that have worked well in our family context …
It’s important that we never place limitations on a child and what they are capable of achieving. It’s always good to extend your child, even just a little bit, in order to ensure they continue to grow, learn and progress. I think sometimes parents, teachers and others working with our ASD kids can tend to unknowingly lower their expectations or make unnecessary exceptions for our children and their behaviour. In my view, our children need to know that certain behaviours such as physical violence or verbal abuse are unacceptable, ASD or not. We should always make clear our expectations and stick by them. Of course, there will be times when we need to use our discretion and make some accommodations but by and large, our behavioural expectations of our ASD kids need not be different to those expected from their peer group. Keeping your hands, feet and other objects to yourself; following directions the first time; speaking nicely to others and being a good friend – are all achievable rules.
With children on the spectrum, it’s important to have systems in place when it comes to behaviour. In our house we have written rules which we talk about and which we expect will be followed. We have kept these rules similar to the school rules to avoid confusion.
We use token boards beside our displayed house rules in order to reinforce positive choices in following the rules. Basically, both boys start with all three tokens (stars) on the board every day. If they make a poor choice, they lose a token and receive a warning. If they lose a second token, they lose a privilege such as iPad time. If they lose a third token, they go to “time out” in their bedroom for 5-10 minutes and then need to have a chat with Chris and/or myself about their choices before we move on. At the start of every day both boys start with all tokens. Every day is a fresh, new day. In my view, punishments or any negativity regarding choices and behaviour should not be held over from the day before. I think every day should be a clean slate. Further, I’m not sure that our ASD kids can transfer choices made the day prior to the present day – therefore punishing in that way is actually futile.
Of course they are able to earn the tokens back by making consistently good choices. When we give a token back or take a token away – we always relate this back to a rule – for example, “James you have not kept your hands to yourself – therefore you will lose a token. This is a warning.” And likewise, “James thanks for speaking nicely to your brother, you may put a token back onto your token board”. This really helps to reinforce the rules and positive choices.
We have visual supports for emotions and emotions management. We use the Tucker Turtle technique – stop, think, go into your shell and count to 3. We are using these techniques on a day to day basis much less now that the boys are getting older and better at articulating how they feel. In a high stress situation though, the visuals are still very helpful if one of the boys is reluctant or unable to verbalise their feelings.
Self regulation skills are an imperative part of a child being able to consistently make good choices. We use the “Alert Program – How does your engine run?” to teach self regulation. This program was written more to address alertness and readiness to learn in a classroom context. But I have found the simplicity of the concept makes it a fantastic overall tool to discuss both physical and emotional regulation. Basically, you want your engine (behaviour, level of alertness) to be “just right” – not too high, not too low, just right. For example, “James I think your engine is running a bit high because you’re making a lot of noise. What do you think?” The kids are now even able to help me out when my engine is running too high!! They have learnt a range of strategies for dealing with too high or too low situations. I think this program is marvellous. For teachers, this is a wonderful program for your whole class to use. https://www.alertprogram.com/
The “Zones of Regulation” program is another fantastic resource for teaching self regulation and emotional control. http://www.zonesofregulation.com/ It’s worth looking into and is another wonderful classroom resource.
Some other resources worth looking at are the “Wheel of Choice” program by Lynn Lott and Jane Nelson. It is a visually based problem-solving program. http://store.positivediscipline.com/Wheel-of-Choice-A-Problem-Solving-Program-E-Book-Download-PDF-File_p_68.html
This visual support for the “Stop, Think, Choose” program is fantastic and another great classroom resource. We use this one at home too. https://www.creativetherapystore.com/Anger-Control-Therapeutic-Games-and-Resources/Stop-Think-and-Choose-Poster/FR-73
Visual supports are really helpful for your every child, every classroom. Visual schedules, break cards, visual timers, routine charts, supports for rules and expectations – all are helpful for every child in your home or classroom. Anything you instigate for an ASD child will help your entire class. And there’s little point teaching these skills to your ASD child at home or in a classroom, and not simultaneously upskilling their peers around them. We have had our visual support board for just over 2 years now. We are using it less because the boys have internalised the skills it was aiming to teach them. It’s working!
It takes a considerable amount of time and effort to get these systems of support for positive behaviour choices into place however I guarantee it will be worth the effort for all the children in your homes and classrooms.