Supporting Appropriate Behavior in Students With Asperger Syndrome

By — Autism Society
Updated on Mar 8, 2010

Challenging behaviors are frequently the primary obstacle in supporting students with Asperger’s (AS ).

While there are few published studies to direct educators towards the most effective behavioral approaches for these students, it appears most evident (given the heterogeneity among these individuals) that effective behavioral support requires highly individualized practices that address the primary areas of difficulty in social understanding and interactions, pragmatic communication, managing anxiety, preferences for sameness and rules, and ritualistic behaviors. While the specific elements of a positive behavioral support program will vary from student to student, the following 10 steps go a long way in assuring that schools are working towards achieving the best outcomes on behalf of their students.

Use functional behavioral assessment as a process for determining the root of the problematic behavior and as the first step in designing a behavior support program.

The key outcomes of a comprehensive functional behavioral assessment should include a clear and unambiguous description of the problematic behavior(s); a description of situations most and least commonly associated with the occurrence of problematic behavior; and identification of the consequences that maintain behavior. By examining all aspects of the behavior, one can design a program leading to long-term behavioral change.

Think prevention.

Too often the focus of a behavior management program is on discipline procedures that focus exclusively on eliminating problematic behavior. Programs like this do not focus on long-term behavioral change. An effective program should expand beyond consequence strategies (e.g., time out, loss of privileges) and focus on preventing the occurrence of problem behavior by teaching socially acceptable alternatives and creating positive learning environments.

Use antecedent and setting event strategies.

Antecedents are events that happen immediately before the problematic behavior. Setting events are situations or conditions that can enhance the possibility that a student may engage in a problematic behavior. For example, if a student is ill, tired or hungry, he may be less tolerant of schedule changes. By understanding settings events that can set the stage for problematic behaviors, changes can be made on those days when a student may not be performing at his best to prevent or reduce the likelihood of difficult situations and set the stage for learning more adaptive skills over time.

In schools, many antecedents may spark behavioral incidents. For example, many students with Asperger’s have difficulty with noisy, crowded environments. Therefore, the newly arrived high school freshman who becomes physically aggressive in the hallway during passing periods may need to leave class a minute or two early to avoid the congestion which provokes this behavior. Over time, the student may learn to negotiate the hallways simply by being more accustomed to the situation, or by being given specific instruction or support.

Key issues to address when discussing these types of strategies are:

  • What can be done to eliminate the problem situation (e.g., the offending condition)?
  • What can be done to modify the situation if the situation cannot be eliminated entirely?
  • Will the strategy need to be permanent, or is it a temporary “fix” which allows the student (with support) to increase skills needed to manage the situation in the future?
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