Positive Behavior Interventions and Supports for Students with Autism

Instructor: Elizabeth Hemmons

Beth has taught early childhood education, including students with special needs, for the past 11 years. She has a bachelor's degree in Elementary Education.

Students with autism spectrum disorder benefit from positive behavior supports. This lesson discusses possible interventions that help students with autism including structure, routine, an individualized behavior plan, and positive reinforcement systems.

How Can We Provide Positive Behavior Interventions and Support for Students with ASD?

Ever since the first day of school, Dan has struggled with his behavior. He does well academically but has trouble listening to authority, has sensory needs, and can sometimes have temper tantrums. Dan is a student in your class with a diagnosis of autism spectrum disorder.

Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is a wide range of disorders that are characterized by difficulty with social interaction and communication (both nonverbal and verbal) and behavioral issues. Students with ASD usually need more support and behavioral strategies in the classroom. But how can teachers help these students, like Dan, get the positive behavior interventions and support that they need? The support/interventions can be summarized in three categories:

  • Structure and visuals
  • Communication
  • Sensory/biological and regulation

Children with ASD, like Dan, should go through the tiers of support just as any other student in a school. Not only does providing support at all three tiers help to identify students who may need extra behavioral support, but it also provides support to the entire school as a whole. It is important to provide interventions across the three tiers of support:

  • Primary support (All students in the school)
  • Secondary support (Students who are at risk for behavior problems)
  • Tertiary support (More intensive, individualized behavior plans)

Primary Supports

Primary supports are provided school-wide and available for all students. At the primary level, interventions are working more on prevention and teaching expectations. All teachers in the school should support school-wide initiatives and adapt school-wide positive reinforcement systems. Some examples of positive behavior supports provided at the primary level are:

  • School rules and expectations (3-5 rules that are used in every classroom)
  • A video to show peers modeling appropriate behaviors
  • Assemblies that promote positive behaviors and teach students expectations
  • Visual prompts (signs/photos) throughout school environment to encourage positivity
  • A clear schedule and routine for the school environment
  • Positive behavior reinforcement in the classroom and throughout the school

Dan responded well to the school-wide 'high five' rules that students at your school are expected to follow each day. When you give him and his peers the 'high-five' sign, it is a good nonverbal prompt to remind him to remember those rules.

Secondary Supports

Secondary supports are provided for students who may need more support or who are at risk for future behavior problems. If the primary supports do not seem to be meeting the needs of the child, teachers can move on to secondary supports. Students with ASD and other disabilities are at risk for behavior problems and may need more secondary supports. Following are examples of positive behavior supports provided at the secondary level:

  • Home-school communication form/journal
  • Check-in, Check-out (checking in with a staff member in am and pm)
  • Social therapy groups
  • Peer mentoring
  • Individualized incentives and reinforcement (token economy board)
  • Break cards
  • Social stories
  • Sensory integration therapy
  • Coping skills instruction

Because Dan continued to struggle even with primary supports, it was decided that he needed a bit more support. You decided to start a check-in, check-out procedure with his gym teacher, Mr. Smith. Mr. Smith and Dan have bonded over their love of baseball. Dan starts and ends each day by visiting Mr. Smith and checking in with him to go over his behavior goals. This has become a routine that Dan and Mr. Smith enjoy.

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