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Resolving School Behavior Problems in Kids on the Autism Spectrum

Question

"Mark, I have a daughter age 6 who was diagnosed with an autism spectrum disorder (unspecified) at age two. She received intensive therapy, 40 hours plus, per week utilizing various techniques. She is now 6. She is extremely friendly to even strangers, her IQ is 133… she is great with the exception of some behavioral problems. She is in first grade and is getting in trouble and being punished regularly for things such a marking on things she should not mark on, refusing to write. I need help."

Answer

You need to have a functional behavior assessment performed. Consider the following scenarios: 
 
A child with ASD has a behavior meltdown, in the school hall way. He begins to scream and hit other child. A grown-up is able to redirect the child and thus eliminate the behavior. Afterward, the team meets to discuss behavioral approaches for the future and to try to find out what led to this behavioral incident. 
 
As the team discusses potential reasons for the behavior, they discover that the child has been the victim of intense bullying and teasing. In response, the team questions what they can do in the future to eliminate behavioral difficulties. The issue of dealing with the bullies is never discussed.

Another child has a history of behavioral challenges that were minimal during elementary school, but have intensified in middle school. The team realizes that middle school presents special challenges because of changing classes and working with multiple staff. 
 

Accommodations are discussed that may assist the child in making numerous transitions throughout the school day. Despite these efforts, behavior incidents continue to occur. The behaviors are most likely to occur in the cafeteria or in hallways, which are incredibly noisy. It is suggested that in the future, in-school suspension be considered when there is a behavioral challenge. 
 
This is the approach used with other child, and the school has a strong zero-tolerance policy. The child is warned repeatedly. Despite these warnings, behaviors continue and actually escalate, resulting in removal from the educational setting.

Responding to Problematic Behavior—

When a youngster with ASD engages in problematic behavior, a typical response includes trying to identify what is going on within the youngster that leads to this behavior crisis. Questions are asked, such as, “Why is he exhibiting this behavior?” “Why is she hitting others?” or “What will stop this behavior?” 
 
All too often, this last question keeps us focused on consequence procedures that are child specific. However, simply focusing on the child as the sole source of the behavior provides limited insight into potential solutions and problems. In these situations, there are multiple issues to consider.

First, the federal law guiding special education services, the 2004 Individuals with Disabilities Education Improvement Act (IDEIA), requires special procedures and safeguards to be used when considering discipline for child with disabilities. These IDEIA provisions regarding discipline were designed to ensure that kids with disabilities maintain their ability to receive an appropriate education, even though the symptoms of their disability may include behaviors that require interventions. 
 
These provisions consider the amount of time a child may be removed from class or school due to behavior, and require the school team to analyze whether the behavior is related to the child’s disability. This process is called manifestation determination. If the behavior is determined to be due to the disability, the law requires that a functional behavior assessment be conducted that results in an individually designed behavior support plan. This plan should use positive behavioral interventions, strategies and supports to address the behavior and teach alternative ways of responding.

When conducting a functional behavior assessment, professionals and family members examine setting events or triggers that may increase the probability of these behaviors. These setting events may not be readily apparent. For example, a child with ASD is ill, has had a difficult morning ride on the bus or has not slept. These conditions will increase the likelihood that a behavior incident will occur. For most of us, stresses in life, changes in morning routines or skipping our morning coffee may set us up to be moody and agitated. These are setting events. 
 
Setting events that we often do not consider are related to the culture of the school. Schools that struggle with bullying, high rates of suspension or expulsion, or even high staff turnover may be settings that promote problematic behaviors. If this is the case, then schools should take a systematic approach in creating a school culture that is responsive to child and staff.


Resources for parents of children and teens on the autism spectrum:
 
  
 
Best Comment:

Well, I guess it’s time for me to tell our school administration about my son. I initially wanted to wait on this as I was trying to grasp what ASD was, make sure he really has this and really understand it. I feel I have the tools to do this now, two diagnoses from two professionals, a neurologist and a psychologist and after the two incidents that happened at school, I must say something.

First incident: I received a call from the school that my son was doubled over in pain in the office because he said his stomach hurt. I arrived at the school to pick him up in the office. The secretary said that he was in the bathroom (I told her to encourage him to go over the phone as he has had this problem/ his 8 yrs of life) Well, I waited and waited and waited...I told her he was taking too long. I then decided to knock on the bathroom door. He was not there. I walked over to his classroom and looked into the window and there he was! I went back into the office and told them that he was in his classroom. 
 
The office called him back so I could assess the situation. He now felt fine and wanted to stay at school. He loves school and could have easily pretended he was sick or just come home but that is not how he is. The office had no clue their student went m.i.a on him and if they had looked him in the eye and told him to make sure he came back and check on him after 3 min he would have been back. In his mind, he was ok and went back or just forgot and had his mind on one idea.

Second incident: My son was called into the office (he never gets called to the office!) because he spelled out loud an inappropriate word at school. The note said that he said the F word for which he does NOT know nor ever heard. I was in shock, tears, you know it! They said he heard this from a kid at camp over the summer. I asked him what he said. He said "mom, I spelled Sucker" When he went to the office, the administrator asked him to spell what he spelled out on the playground and the admin said he spelled it with a F. My son told me that spelling that with an F is NOT a word and does NOT make sense. I know in my heart that the admin heard it wrong. An F and an F sound alike when said out loud. What really bothered me was that the admin thought my son was lying or changing his stories in the office. 
 
When he said to the admin, I did not spell that, I spelled sucker. the admin said "you know what you spelled!" that is just wrong and then after being questioned my son started to get confused and cry and told the admin...uuhh I forget, which he does! It was not the admins fault. I blame myself. They need to know my so does not lie. He is a truth teller! I told my son that he has a detention for spelling sucker and that is not a good word. I’m hurt and angry because now he has been exposed to the F word because the admin. Thought that is what he said. It’s so unfair! I did not bring up ASD etc when I was in the office crying and trying to make sense of all this. I did not want to use that as an excuse. I called for the impromptu meeting in the office, they did not.

My son is also going through testing for an auditory processing disorder (on Wed) and other language issues. His speech is unclear at times, slurs words (may have been why the admin thought he used an F) and had a hard time expressing himself at times. The school does not know this. The only teachers that know of his diagnosis are his current teacher, teacher from last year and the music teacher. I will now be setting up an appointment with the administration.

My son told me that he did hear the word sucker from a kid at camp and that the boy did not get into trouble for it but he somehow knew it was bad. He said "Mom, it is a bad word to say and that is why I SPELLED it!" From the mind of a child with ASD. Thank you, God that he did not say the F word even though the guy in admin thought so. I know what he said...they can believe what they want.

I wrote a letter stating that for the record, my son did not spell what they thought he spelled, but I stand by the school 100% and YES, he should have a 20 min. detention for spelling the word SUCKER.I do not allow that word in our home and as a matter of fact the word Stupid is a bad word in our home. Stating the facts and supporting the school at the same time, shows the school I’m not a crazy parent without a brain.

My son attends a private school that we love! The admin who heard him wrong, is an amazing individual. I respect him but I think his "hearing aid" needed to be turned up that day! Ahhhh, I need to laugh.

Thanks for listening, my eyes are swollen! ( :
 
 
More articles for parents of children and teens on the autism spectrum:
 
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…

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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...

--------------------------------------------------------------

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…

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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."

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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.

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to read the full article...

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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.

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Nonverbal Learning Disorder versus Autism Spectrum Disorder: What Is The Difference?

I can't tell you how happy I am to have found this site. I have a 9 year old son with ASD. He was diagnosed at 6 years old with a non verbal learning disorder, and attends a school for children with ADHD and/or autism. As his parent, I feel overwhelmed, scared, frustrated, and completely alone. I am hoping to find other parents who understand the issues we face daily, and who can share thoughts and ideas. I'm really hoping this site might be the life ring that keeps me from drowning!

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Nonverbal learning disorder (NLD) is a learning disorder that has many traits commonly associated with autism spectrum disorder (ASD). Like those with ASD, kids with NLD usually start to talk around 2 years of age (the age at which speech normally develops).
 
Youngsters with NLD are very verbal, and may not have academic problems until they get into the upper grades in school. Often their biggest problem is with social skills. NLD is very much like ASD level 1 (high-functioning autism). 
 
It may be that the diagnoses of ASD and NLD simply provide different perspectives on a heterogeneous, yet overlapping, group of individuals sharing at least some common aspects. ASD and NLD are generally thought to describe pretty much the same kind of disorder, but to differ in severity—with ASD describing more severe symptoms.

Signs of NLD—

• Anxiety, depression, low self-esteem
• Attention to detail, but misses the big picture
• Concrete thinking; taking things very literally
• Difficulty with math, especially word problems
• Excellent memory skills
• Fear of new situations
• Great vocabulary and verbal expression
• May be very naïve and lack common sense
• May withdraw, becoming agoraphobic (abnormal fear of open spaces)
• Messy and laborious handwriting
• Physically awkward; poor coordination
• Poor abstract reasoning
• Poor social skills; difficulty making and keeping friends
• Trouble adjusting to changes
• Trouble understanding reading
• Trouble with nonverbal communication, like body language, facial expression and tone of voice

Parenting tips for youngsters with NLD—

• Be logical, organized, clear, concise and concrete. Avoid jargon, double meanings, sarcasm, nicknames, and teasing.

• Be very specific about cause and effect relationships.

• Get your son into the therapies he needs, such as: occupational and physical therapy, psychological, or speech and language (to address social issues).

• Have your son use the computer at school and at home for schoolwork.

• Help your son learn coping skills for dealing with anxiety and sensory difficulties.

• Help your son learn organizational and time management skills.

• Help him out in group activities.

• Keep the environment predictable and familiar.

• Learn about social competence and how to teach it.

• Make use of your son's verbal skills to help with social interactions and non-verbal experiences. For example, giving a verbal explanation of visual material.

• Pay attention to sensory input from the environment, like noise, temperature, smells, many people around, etc.

• Prepare your son for changes, giving logical explanations.

• Provide structure and routine.

• State your expectations clearly.

• Teach him about non-verbal communication (facial expressions, gestures, etc.). Help him learn how to tell from others’ reactions whether they are communicating well.

• Work with his school to modify homework assignments, testing (time and content), grading, art and physical education.

• Bullying is unacceptable. Your son's school must make every effort to prevent it. If talking to your son's teachers and principal does not put an end to the victimization, ask his doctor to write a letter to the school, and pursue the issue up to higher channels in the school district if necessary.

• Encourage your son to develop interests that will build self-esteem and help him relate to other youngsters. For example, if he is interested in Pokémon, pursuing this interest may open social doors for them with schoolmates.

• Reassure your son that you value him for who he is. It's a little tricky to help your son  improve social skills, and at the same time nurture his confidence to hold on to his unique individuality.

• See if you can find a small-group social skills training program in your school system, medical system, or community. This kind of program will probably not be available in smaller communities.

• Steer your son toward a playmate he has something in common with and set up a play date. This is a way to get some social skills experience in a small, controlled, less-threatening way.

• Talk to your son in private after you have gone with him to a group activity. You can discuss with him how he could improve the way he interacts with other youngsters. For example, you might point out that other youngsters don't feel comfortable when your son stands so close to them. Help him practice the social skills you explain to him through role-playing.

• These youngsters need as few handicaps as possible, so make sure your son is getting the counseling, therapies, and/or medication he needs to treat any other problems or medical conditions he might have.

Can my son with ASD truly understand love?

"My son is 8 yrs old. He is fairly high functioning. Here's the problem. I don't feel like he loves me. Can he truly understand love at all. He does not hug, kiss or cuddle. He never has. He likes to have his back scratched at night, but that's it. He struggles emotionally at school- a lot of anger. But at home you would notice anything out of the ordinary, until supper. Same meal every single night. He has no problems sharing emotions every once in a while with his father (who lives outside of the home). How can I help him to open up to me?!"

 
Many emotional concepts are difficult for kids with ASD. Love is probably one of the most complicated emotions of all. The lack of empathy and inflexibility that many kids on the spectrum live with will definitely make understanding the concept of love difficult – difficult, but not impossible.

It is sometimes hard to separate the idea of a person with autism loving someone from the true source of difficulty, which is the concept of theory of mind. People with autis feel a full range of emotions: anger, sadness, joy, and yes, love. 
 
However, the problem lies in connecting these feelings to the feelings of others. Theory of mind is understanding that another person's thoughts and feelings are their own and how they can coincide with ours, even though they are not reliant on what we are feeling.

The possibilities are there for your son with high-functioning autism. Love is an emotion that he can come to understand. Here are some things you can do to make sure that happens:
  1. Behavioral therapists can use play therapy to enhance your son's theory of mind. Pretend play can be difficult for kids with ASD due to the close connection with understanding other's feelings. Play skills are important for developing relationships on many levels.
  2. Social skills therapy can help him work on social cues, facial expressions, and basic communication, which in turn, will enhance his theory of mind abilities.
  3. Practice facial expression and recognition with pictures in books or family photographs. Explain the emotion and the cause. Using the ‘say, see, hear' approach to enhance his understanding.
  4. Social stories and comic strips can also be used to show situations that cause different emotional responses. Use these to explain why other people may react in various situations.

The process of developing theory of mind is ongoing in kids on the autism spectrum. Love is only a small part of this very complex equation. While love may be a tricky emotional concept for kids with ASD, the basic idea of love is very real. 
 
Balancing the feelings of love within a relationship is what will bring on a variety of experiences, both positive and negative. With straight forward discussion about feelings and emotions, your son should be able to understand love, and be successful at it. 
 
 

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