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Identifying the Underlying Causes of “Difficult Behavior” in Kids on the Spectrum

"As a teacher, I would like to ask you what method you use to find the real reasons [or triggers] for behavior problems in students with high functioning autism?"

In order to identify the underlying causes of difficult behaviors in children with Asperger’s (AS) and High-Functioning Autism (HFA), a Functional Behavioral Assessment (FBA) must be performed. An FBA is an approach that incorporates a variety of techniques to diagnose the causes and to identify likely interventions intended to address difficult behaviors.

An FBA looks beyond the actual problem behavior, and instead, focuses on identifying biological, social, affective, and environmental factors that initiate, sustain, or end the problem behavior in question. The FBA is important because it leads the researcher beyond the "symptom" (i.e., the behavior) to the child's underlying motivation to escape, avoid, or get something (i.e., the cause of the behavior). Behavior intervention plans stemming from the knowledge of why a child misbehaves are extremely useful in addressing a wide range of issues.



The “functions” of behavior are not usually considered inappropriate. Rather, it is the behavior itself that is judged appropriate or inappropriate. For example, getting good grades and engaging in problematic behavior may serve the same function (e.g., to get attention), but the behaviors that lead to good grades are judged to be more appropriate than those that make up acting-out behavior.

As an example, if the IEP team determines through an FBA that a child is seeking attention by misbehaving, they can develop a plan to teach the child more appropriate ways to gain attention, thus fulfilling the child's need for attention with an alternative behavior that serves the same function as the inappropriate behavior. By incorporating an FBA into the IEP process, team members can develop a plan that teaches “replacement behaviors” that serve the same function as the difficult behavior.

==> Parenting System that Significantly Reduces Defiant Behavior in Teens with Aspergers and High-Functioning Autism

Before an FBA can be implemented, it is necessary to identify the behavior that is causing problems, and to define that behavior in concrete terms that are easy to communicate and simple to measure and record. If descriptions of behaviors are vague (e.g., child has a “bad attitude”), it is difficult to determine appropriate interventions.

It will be necessary to observe the child's behavior in different settings and during different types of activities, and to conduct interviews with parents and teachers in order to identify the specific traits of the behavior. Once the difficult behavior has been defined concretely, the IEP team can begin to devise a plan for conducting an FBA to determine the functions of the behavior.

Since difficult behavior stems from a variety of causes, it is best to examine the behavior from as many different angles as possible. The IEP team should assess what the "pay-off" for engaging in problem behavior is, or what the child escapes/avoids/gets by engaging in the problem behavior. This assessment will enable the team to identify workable techniques for developing and conducting an FBA and developing behavior interventions.

When carrying out these tasks, the IEP team should find answers to a few critical questions. Addressing these questions will assist the team in determining the necessary components of the assessment plan, and will lead to more effective behavior intervention plans. Questions to ask include the following:
  • Are there any settings where the problem behavior does not occur?
  • Does the child find any value in engaging in appropriate behavior?
  • Does the child have the skills necessary to perform expected behaviors?
  • Does the child realize that he is engaging in unacceptable behavior, or has that behavior simply become a "habit"? 
  • Does the child understand the behavioral expectations for the situation? 
  • In what settings is the problem behavior observed? 
  • Is it possible that the child is uncertain about the appropriateness of the behavior?
  • Is it within the child's power to control the behavior, or does she need support? 
  • Is the behavior problem associated with certain social or environmental conditions? 
  • Is the child attempting to avoid a demanding task?
  • Is there a more acceptable behavior that might replace this behavior? 
  • Is there evidence to suggest that the child does not know how to perform the skill – and therefore can’t? 
  • What activities or interactions take place just prior to the behavior? 
  • What current rules, routines, or expectations does the child consider irrelevant?
  • What usually happens immediately after the behavior? 
  • Who is present when the behavior occurs?



Interviews with the child may be useful in identifying how he perceived the situation and what caused him to act in the way he did. Questionnaires, motivational scales, and checklists can also be used to structure indirect assessments of behavior. For example:

1. Hypothesis statement— Drawing on information that emerges from the analysis, school staff can establish a “working hypothesis” regarding the function of the behaviors in question. This hypothesis predicts the general conditions under which the behavior is most - and least - likely to occur, as well as the likely consequences that serve to maintain it.

2. Direct assessment— Direct assessment involves observing and recording situational factors surrounding a difficult behavior (e.g., antecedent and consequent events). A member of the IEP team may observe the behavior in the setting that it is likely to occur, and record data using an Antecedent- Behavior- Consequence (ABC) approach.

3. Data analysis— Once the IEP team is satisfied that enough data have been collected, they should compare and analyze the data. This analysis will help the team to determine whether or not there are any patterns associated with the behavior. If patterns can’t be determined, the team should revise the FBA to identify other methods for assessing behavior.

After collecting data on a child's behavior, and after developing a hypothesis of the function of that behavior, the IEP team should develop the child's behavior intervention plan. It is helpful to use the data collected during the FBA to develop the plan and to determine the discrepancy between the youngster's actual and expected behavior.

==> Parenting System that Significantly Reduces Defiant Behavior in Teens with Aspergers and High-Functioning Autism

Intervention plans emphasizing the skills that AS and HFA children need in order to behave in a more appropriate manner will be more effective than plans that simply serve to control behavior. Interventions based upon “control” often fail to generalize (i.e., fail to continue to be used for long periods of time, in many settings, and in a variety of situations). Control measures usually only serve to suppress behavior, resulting in the youngster meeting unaddressed needs in alternative, inappropriate ways.

It is good practice for IEP teams to include two evaluation procedures in an intervention plan:
  • one designed to measure changes in behavior
  • one designed to monitor the accuracy with which the plan is implemented

In addition, IEP teams must determine a timeline for implementation and reassessment, and specify the degree of behavior change consistent with the goal of the overall intervention.

To be meaningful, plans need to be reviewed at least annually and revised as needed. However, the plan may be reviewed and re-evaluated whenever any member of the youngster's IEP team feels that a review is necessary. Circumstances that may warrant a review include the following:
  • It is clear that the original behavior intervention plan is not bringing about positive changes in the child's behavior.
  • The situation has changed, and the behavioral interventions no longer address the current needs of the child.
  • The youngster has reached his behavioral goals and objectives, and new goals and objectives need to be established.
  • The IEP team makes a change in placement.

If done correctly, the net result of an FBA is that school personnel are better able to provide an educational environment that addresses the special learning needs of the AS/HFA child.

CLICK HERE for an example of a completed Functional Behavioral Assessment (FBA) form…

CLICK HERE for a blank FBA and Behavior Intervention Plan (BIP) form…


More resources for parents of children and teens with High-Functioning Autism and Asperger's:

==> How To Prevent Meltdowns and Tantrums In Children With High-Functioning Autism and Asperger's

==> Parenting System that Significantly Reduces Defiant Behavior in Teens with Aspergers and High-Functioning Autism

==> Launching Adult Children with Asperger's and High-Functioning Autism: Guide for Parents Who Want to Promote Self-Reliance

==> Teaching Social Skills and Emotion Management to Children and Teens with Asperger's and High-Functioning Autism

==> Parenting Children and Teens with High-Functioning Autism: Comprehensive Handbook

==> Unraveling The Mystery Behind Asperger's and High-Functioning Autism: Audio Book


==> Parenting System that Reduces Problematic Behavior in Children with Asperger's and High-Functioning Autism

Children on the Autism Spectrum and Problems with Perfectionism

“I'd like to ask you about a very big problem for our autistic son - his perfectionism! Can you give me some advice on what to do about this issue, because I believe it is a major contributing factor to his never-ending anxiety, especially when doing his homework?”
 
 ==> CLICK HERE for the full article...

70 Tips & Tricks for Educating Students with Aspergers/High-Functioning Autism

 "I need to come up with some ideas for my son' teacher. My son is on the spectrum. The teacher is really struggling with his behavior as well as his learning style (he's a very visual learner, I know, and he doesn't do well with lengthy verbal instructions)."

Research has identified classroom characteristics that promote success for children with Aspergers and High-Functioning Autism (HFA: individualized instruction, interesting curriculum, positive reinforcement, predictability, short working periods, small teacher-to-student ratio, and plenty of structure.

Research has also identified optimal teacher characteristics: consistency, firmness, frequent monitoring of the child’s work, humor, knowledge of behavior management strategies for students on the spectrum, patience, personal warmth, and positive academic expectations.

Based on this research, here are 70 quick and simple – yet highly effective – tips and tricks to use in teaching your students who are on the autism spectrum:

1. Allow the child to change seats and places as long as she or he stays on task.
2. Allow the child to chew gum to reduce anxiety if needed.
3. Allow the child to stand or walk with a clipboard (if possible) as long as she or he remains on task.
4. Allow the child to use learning aides, computers, and calculators (for different parts of the task).
5. Allow the student to manipulate an object, doodle, squeeze a ball, bend a pipe cleaner or paper clip, or handle another non-distracting item as long as she or he attends and is on task.
6. Assign a capable "study buddy" who can remind and assist the active or disorganized child.
7. Assign another child to be a "support buddy" who works with the distractible student, and provides one-to-one attention to assist in completing tasks.
8. Assign duties that require self-control (e.g., line leader, materials distributor, etc.). Prepare the student for the duty, encourage the student, and reinforce the student during and after that activity/task.
9. Assign the child to a seat that best allows him or her to observe you while avoiding distractions (e.g., away from doors, windows, pencil sharpeners, etc.).
10. Assign the test grade based on performance on different aspects of the assessment (i.e., organization, writing mechanics, penmanship, subject knowledge displayed, etc.).

==> Teaching Social Skills and Emotion Management to Children and Teens with Asperger's and High-Functioning Autism
 
11. Be sure you have the student's attention before you start.
12. Develop good rapport with the child. Aspergers and HFA students are more likely to respond to emotional connections than contingent consequences.
13. Devise interesting activities.
14. Eliminate excessive noise.
15. Eliminate excessive visual stimuli and clutter that might distract the student.
16. Employ study carrels or seat the child in the area of the class with the least distractions, and/or face the desk toward the wall. However, do not isolate the student for long periods of time because it may stigmatize the student. Allow the child to engage in group work too.
17. Encourage moms and dads to build physical activity into the student's out-of-school schedule.
18. Ensure that your style of presentation is enthusiastic and interesting.
19. Give a general overview first. Let the child know what will be learned and why it is important in life.
20. Give your attention to appropriate behaviors.





21. Have another child place carbon paper under the Aspergers and HFA student’s paper while writing down homework assignments. Give the carbon copy to the child to take home.
22. Have the child progress through the following steps while learning: See it, say it, write it, and do it.
23. Have the child underline or highlight directions.
24. If social rewards/reinforcement is insufficient to bring about the desired behavior, pair social recognition with earned activities or tangible reinforcers.
25. If you get a lot of defiant behavior, review how often you say negative things and give commands to the student. Children who hear too many negatives and commands will shut off the teacher they come from. Get positive, encourage the student, and focus on progress, however small.
26. Ignore as much of the negative behavior as possible.
27. In a multi-part task, provide visual cues that are written on the child's desk or on the chalkboard for each part. The child then engages in that next step.
28. In cooperation with the child, create a "secret cue" (e.g., tugging on your ear lobe, clicking your tongue, saying an odd word such as "huckleberry") that reminds the student to attend.
29. Incorporate movement into lessons.

30. Involve the child's interests into assignments.
31. Keep directions and commentary short and to the point. Avoid "overloading" the child with too much verbiage.
32. Keep unstructured time to a minimum.
33. Make a tube that the child uses as a telescope, keeping you in view and blocking out other distractions.
34. Motivate the student by having him or her "race against the clock" to finish the task (or part of it).
35. Move nearer to the child when she or he becomes restless. Offer verbal encouragement or touch. When misbehavior occurs (or threatens to occur), move closer and soften your voice.
36. Place instructions on an audio tape that can be replayed by the child as needed.
37. Play soft background music without lyrics.
38. Present the assignment in parts (e.g., 5 math problems at a time). Give reinforcement for each completed part before giving the next segment of the task, or have the student mark off his or her progress on a chart.
39. Provide "do now" activities for other children while you focus the child.

==> Teaching Social Skills and Emotion Management to Children and Teens with Asperger's and High-Functioning Autism
 
40. Provide a "squeeze ball" for the child to manipulate if he or she becomes frustrated.
41. Provide a bouncy inflatable seat cushion. The child may put his or her energy into squirming on it, but he or she will stay in the seat.
42. Provide a grown-up to whom the child reports at the beginning and end of the day to organize his or her work and assure assignments are in-hand.
43.  Provide a laptop computer to children who lose papers (but not books).
44. Provide a second set of textbooks for the forgetful child to use at home.
45. Provide a special "transition object" (e.g., puppet, small stuffed animal, etc.) that accompanies the child to other classrooms, providing a sense of consistency and support.
46. Provide an individualized written schedule to which the child can refer.
47. Provide extended time to finish.
48. Provide opportunities for physical movement (e.g., erasing the blackboard, running errands, distributing and collecting materials, etc.), and build physical activities into the daily schedule.
49. Provide some choice or variation in assignments to maintain the child's attention.





50. Reduce the length of assignments so that child does not lose interest.
51. Repeat and simplify the directions.
52. Seat the child next to appropriate models.
53. Set expectations for behavior BEFORE an activity or event.
54. Set up routines that prepare the student for upcoming transitions.
55. Teach memory techniques and study strategies.
56. To block out distractions on a page, create a "window" in a piece of card board that exposes only one or two lines of print.
57. To ensure understanding, have the child repeat the directions in his or her own words.
58. To gain the attention of younger kids on the spectrum, give directions through a puppet.
59. To increase reflection and concentration, have the child identify the correct answer AND cross out incorrect answers on multiple choice tests. Inform the child that there may be more than one correct answer.

60. Use a clock to remind the impatient student that the next activity must wait until a certain time.
61. Use alert cues to get the child's attention before giving directions.
62. Use color and highlighting to accentuate certain important words or phrases on worksheets.
63. Use concrete objects to assist in keeping the child's attention.
64. Use examples that capitalize on the child's interests.
65. Use game formats to teach and/or reinforce concepts and material.
66. Use more than one modality when giving directions. Supplement verbal instructions with visual ones.
67. Use oral testing if that format will keep the child's attention and better assess his or her knowledge.
68. Use pantomime to capture the attention of the child to give instructions.
69. Use performance testing. Have the child do something or make something.
70. Use progress charts and other visual records of behavior to encourage more appropriate behavior. Use colorful charts and cards to motivate the student and recognize effort.


==> The Complete Guide to Teaching Students with Aspergers and High-Functioning Autism


More resources for parents of children and teens with High-Functioning Autism and Asperger's:

==> How To Prevent Meltdowns and Tantrums In Children With High-Functioning Autism and Asperger's

==> Parenting System that Significantly Reduces Defiant Behavior in Teens with Aspergers and High-Functioning Autism

==> Launching Adult Children with Asperger's and High-Functioning Autism: Guide for Parents Who Want to Promote Self-Reliance

==> Teaching Social Skills and Emotion Management to Children and Teens with Asperger's and High-Functioning Autism

==> Parenting Children and Teens with High-Functioning Autism: Comprehensive Handbook

==> Unraveling The Mystery Behind Asperger's and High-Functioning Autism: Audio Book


==> Parenting System that Reduces Problematic Behavior in Children with Asperger's and High-Functioning Autism

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

Social rejection has devastating effects in many areas of functioning. Because the ASD 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.

Click here to read the full article…

How to Prevent Meltdowns in Children on the Spectrum

Meltdowns are not a pretty sight. They are somewhat like overblown temper tantrums, but unlike tantrums, meltdowns can last anywhere from ten minutes to over an hour. When it starts, the Asperger's or HFA child is totally out-of-control. When it ends, both you and your child are totally exhausted. But... don’t breathe a sigh of relief yet. At the least provocation, for the remainder of that day -- and sometimes into the next - the meltdown can return in full force.

Click here for the full article...

Parenting Defiant Teens on the Spectrum

Although Aspergers [high-functioning autism] is at the milder end of the autism spectrum, the challenges parents face when disciplining a teenager on the spectrum are more difficult than they would be with an average teen. Complicated by defiant behavior, the teen is at risk for even greater difficulties on multiple levels – unless the parents’ disciplinary techniques are tailored to their child's special needs.

Click here to read the full article…

Older Teens and Young Adult Children with ASD Still Living At Home

Your older teenager or young “adult child” isn’t sure what to do, and he is asking you for money every few days. How do you cut the purse strings and teach him to be independent? Parents of teens with ASD face many problems that other parents do not. Time is running out for teaching their adolescent how to become an independent adult. As one mother put it, "There's so little time, yet so much left to do."

Click here to read the full article…

Parenting Children and Teens with High-Functioning Autism

Two traits often found in kids with High-Functioning Autism are “mind-blindness” (i.e., the inability to predict the beliefs and intentions of others) and “alexithymia” (i.e., the inability to identify and interpret emotional signals in others). These two traits reduce the youngster’s ability to empathize with peers. As a result, he or she may be perceived by adults and other children as selfish, insensitive and uncaring.

Click here
to read the full article...

Highly Effective Research-Based Parenting Strategies for Children with Asperger's and HFA

Become an expert in helping your child cope with his or her “out-of-control” emotions, inability to make and keep friends, stress, anger, thinking errors, and resistance to change.

Click here for the full article...

My Aspergers Child - Syndicated Content