Positive Behavioural Strategies

Students can engage in behaviours during the school day which are perceived as negative or challenging by others. It is helpful to remember that every behaviour, regardless of form, is communicating a message. Students with autism may engage in a range of behaviours for multiple reasons, including:

  • Physiological needs: the student may be in pain, hungry or thirsty or may be tired.

A home/school correspondence notebook can help ensure both school and home are as aware as possible of how the student is on any given day.

  • Receptive language difficulties: the student may not understand instructions and can become overwhelmed by the amount of confusing verbal language used throughout the day. In some cases, a student may appear to be ignoring an instruction or refusing to follow adult direction when actually it is because the student cannot process what is being asked.
  • Social demands: the number of social interactions in which they are expected to participate may overload the student. The student may then engage in socially avoidant behaviours, such as running out of the classroom, hiding or refusing to work/play with others. Equally the student may be seeking social interaction through their behaviour.
  • Point to remember Remember that negative attention is still attention!
  • Expressive language difficulties: the student may not be able to articulately express needs, feelings, opinions etc. which can then lead to frustration so the student may have learnt that this is how they can gain access preferred activities or items.
  • Fear of change: the student may have a preference for predictable routines and therefore reacts negatively to any change e.g. a substitute teacher, change to the timetable, change in the physical environment.
  • Control: engaging in certain behaviours may be the only way in which the student feels they have control over their own lives.
  • Difficulties in emotional regulation: many students with autism find it difficult to self-regulate emotions and cannot always express how they are feeling. This can lead to extreme behaviours, which are often a way of the student trying to calm themselves e.g. hiding under a desk, banging head with fist, shouting repetitive phrases. The student may also engage in some behaviour as a means of being removed from the situation they are finding difficult i.e. the student may throw furniture or be aggressive toward others, as he/she knows that this will lead to removal from the classroom to a quieter area.
  • Boredom/Task Avoidance: the student may find the activity too difficult and wish to avoid it or may be bored with the activity.
  • Anxiety: many students with autism experience high levels of anxiety throughout the school day due to factors such as social demands, unpredictability, sensory overload and the level of work required. This anxiety can lead to a range of behavioural responses. For more information, see section on Anxiety Management link to section on anxiety management.

These are only some of the factors which may cause the observable behaviours seen in the classroom and other settings, and there can be many other reasons, depending on the unique needs of each individual student.