Education and Counseling for Individuals Affected by Autism Spectrum Disorders


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Creating Effective Behavior Plans for Kids on the Spectrum: Pointers for Parents

Inappropriate behavior is common among many children with Aspergers and High Functioning Autism, especially when comorbid conditions exist as well (e.g., ADHD, OCD, anxiety). Knowing how to create and utilize behavior plans improves the home environment on multiple levels. The behavior plan is a great management tool for children engaging in unwanted behavior. It serves to teach and reinforce positive behaviors in the “special needs” child – and is a helpful way of documenting the success of the plan.

Common behavioral techniques for parents of kids on the spectrum include:
  • Contingency Management: A child receives a positive outcome or reward if certain conditions are met.
  • Modeling: The special needs child observes siblings receiving rewards for appropriate behavior.
  • Planned Ignoring: The parent ignores the problem behavior to reduce negative attention-seeking behaviors.
  • Proximity Control: This technique involves placing the child closer to the parent (e.g., at the dinner table), or when the parent comes closer to a child who is at risk of engaging in unwanted behavior.
  • Signal Interference: This involves having a planned signal with the child as a reminder to redirect inappropriate behavior.
  • Social Reinforcement: This is the effective use of parent-attention and praise to promote appropriate behavior (i.e., catch the child in the act of doing things right).
  • Token Reinforcement: The child receives a “token” when a clearly defined target behavior is performed. Tokens can be exchanged for a wide variety of reinforcers (e.g., special privileges). It is easily administered with checkmarks or stickers. Tokens should be given immediately after target behavior is performed.

Creating effective behavior plans for kids on the spectrum:
  1. Describe the targeted misbehavior (be specific)
  2. Obtain a baseline measure of misbehavior (i.e., frequency or duration of misbehavior)
  3. Determine what causes the behavior
  4. Determine what is reinforcing to a child
  5. Consider additional supports that might be needed
  6. Define roles of those involved in the intervention
  7. Document everything
  8. Use positive recognition and incentives
  9. Clear and consistent house-rules and consequences are important and can improve situations and prevent many problems

Motivating the special needs child:

Successful behavior plans require the child to become motivated. A parent must first determine what motivates the child by interviewing him or her. Create a menu of potential reinforcers that you are willing to give, and allow the child to choose from the menu.

All parents want their children to be intrinsically motivated (i.e., reinforcement directly from performing a task). Unfortunately, some special needs children are not intrinsically motivated for a variety of reasons. Extrinsic motivators (i.e., reinforcement from outside the performance of a task) are often used to motivate a child to engage in a more appropriate behavior.

Some parents believe that children should not be rewarded for something they should be doing already. But, extrinsic motivators should be temporary. The goal is to motivate the child extrinsically until he or she begins to feel success, and then use intrinsic motivation when the behavior is changed. Extrinsic motivators should be phased out over time to best allow intrinsic reinforcement to provide the motivation.

An example of extrinsic-intrinsic motivation used properly:

A behavior plan is created for a special needs child who usually completes her school assignments – but consistently fails to turn them in to the teacher for credit. The child is initially rewarded with extra computer time each day she turns in her assignments (as reported by the teacher). After a few weeks of success, she receives a weekly reward for weeks that all assignments are handed in. She turned in assignments for the reward initially, but grades came up. Mom and dad were excited and stopped complaining, they gave praise, and as a result the child began to feel proud of herself. She became intrinsically motivated and no longer needed an extrinsic motivator to be successful with turning in assignments.

Evaluating the behavior plan:

After creating a behavior plan, it is important to evaluate the outcomes. With good baseline data, it will be fairly easy to measure the behavior again and compare. If the plan is working like it should, gradually encourage more independence from your child. If it is not working like expected, determine what is at fault, and revise and monitor closely. Behavior plans that are implemented inconsistently usually fail.

==> Teaching Social Skills and Emotion Management


•    Anonymous said... Having the same struggle at home and at school with 11 yr old son. Might have to try some if the suggestions
•    Anonymous said... I also homeschool and use gametime as incentive and reward for full day of school or whatever is required.
•    Anonymous said... I feel for you Tonya as we've had similar situations in our home with our 9 1/2 year old daughter. I've learned that work first before any video games or Ipod is the best result for us. We use that as a reward system instead of an entitlement and so far so good! Good luck!
•    Anonymous said... My son is 13 and he just acts like theres no one else that matters but him. He makes up reasons why he cant help us do anything..and just sits in his room playing his video games. If we do ask him to do something anything, he freaks out and yells at us. My husband is his step dad and thinks i should just spank him but i no that isnt going to work. Help how do i handle this.

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Sarah said...

Awesome!! I will be bringing this to the IEP meeting in a few weeks to talk again about James Behavior Plan. Thanks for organizing it for me!!

Josephine said...

Hi, can anyone shed any light? We've always wondered if our 3 yr old is slightly on the spectrum. Went to gp recently but he thinks the stuff we're seeing is an anxious response to his asthma/allergies and because he's 3. He has severe separation anxiety for preschool. He's never coped well with being away from me, for a while even getting upset when I took a shower. I can't see how he's going to cope with all the change and noise at preschool. He's always been very routined, lining up toys, getting upset when people move them, has rules for games you have to follow. He used to get distressed if we took a certain route in the car, not angry, but distressed and same if we walked him in the sling, it had to be the exact route. This started at 9 months. There's loads of other stuff which would take too much time to outline but life has always been very intense and tough with him. He is very bright and seems to have a good sense of humour and imagination. Are we completely barking up the wrong tree? Help!

Proud parent said...

Well we are in the U.K. And I spent many years helping in various classes across the primary school (4-11) yrs, my son attends.I noticed my son was different when the teacher said wow you must have read lots with him ( at 4 yrs) old! As he can read so well! Yes indeed we did read to him every night since he was a year old ish, but neither of us were aware he could read himself ! In his very early stages, he walked early talked early and followed commands i.e. Please get your shoes, or coat etc... he knew all his shapes at 24 months, and at 3 could comfortably count up to 30+ and backward from 20, he wasn't obsessed with anything really but had a fantastic memory being able to know every figure he owned, for instance from Thomas the tank engine over 50 of them, he is an only child and I had no comparison so to speak, although I did start to notice he had this fab memory and spoke very well for his age, easily able to articulate himself and what he needed or wanted. To be honest I attributed his cleverness to us, his parents, as we always answered his questions no matter what as he had this thirst to know everything he could!
Nothing was repetitive as such,the same as any other child he likes his favourite books etc,, When he started school however I noticed the vast difference between his peers, he was overly eager to please and wanted more than anything to please the adults. He himself would help the other children with their work and took on a superiority believing he was better than his peers. Although this was the truth the academic sense, he likes to take charge of games changing rules of games to
Make them more exiting ( his words ) he had lots of friends and was popular being invited to parties regularly etc,, the end of yr 3 of primary (age 7) things had started to change he started to get bullied and struggled to understand why his friends attitude had changed towards him, socially he suffered awfully and the school only noticed it was becoming a problem at the end of yr 3 (8yrs) and then no bullying was admitted it was that my son was different exhibiting odd behaviour like opening doors for adults etc.. no joke, I have a letter stating this!!! I had been asking in the meanwhile since he was 5 for some kind of assessment as he was clearly clever, the school just didn't seem to be bothered that he was bored or that he didn't want to go to school. After a meltdown by myself at yet another meeting instigated by me again !! He was assessed by means
Of a WRIT- WRAT test ( wide range intelligence and wide range of Achievement test) and this came back on the 98th percentile making his intelligence in the top 2% in the country ! A huge deal meaning I wasn't a lunatic neurotic parent as I had been made to feel but one who knew what I knew and eventually was proven right. A big two fingered salute to the schoool! He also became a member of Mensa at 8yrs old, since then he had been diagnosed with high functioning autism, the school now have to step up and educate him with an educational plan just for him, And the bullying has mostly stopped he still prefers adult or older children's company but that's just him, We fought like mad for him to be understood, with or without a diagnosis, as parents it's what we do, keep fighting you know your child better than anyone, im pleased that he is now getting the support he is entitled too. He is now 9 let's see where this adventure takes us
Thanks for reading

Kelly said...

This sounds very much like my son. He was verbal around age 1 1/2 and then stopped. We started speech therapy at age 2 1/2 and quickly got back to verbalizing. He would do all those things...lining up his toys, obsession over certain ones and resistance to things out of routine. I love how you say life has always been intense or tough with him. This is exactly how we feel. Our son is now 8. The only diagnosis we've ever heard is sensory processing disorder and anxiety. All I can offer you is while life will always be more intense, it has become easier as it gets older. He has learned how to copy better and we have learned how to be very patient. I feel once I accepted that he is more intense and requires more time, I learned how to help him and provide support. Emotional support and emphasizing his God given gifts. He loves to draw and make books. We focus on the positive and that we'll always be there to support him.

My child has been rejected by his peers, ridiculed and bullied !!!

Social rejection has devastating effects in many areas of functioning. Because the Aspergers child tends to internalize how others treat him, rejection damages self-esteem and often causes anxiety and depression. As the child feels worse about himself and becomes more anxious and depressed – he performs worse, socially and intellectually.

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