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Looking Beyond Behavior: Schoolwide Discipline and Individual Supports for Students with ASD (page 2)

By — Autism Society
Updated on Oct 25, 2010

Using Positive Behavior Supports

Through the work of positive behavior interventions and supports (PBIS), we have learned that schools that fully implement schoolwide positive behavior supports (SWPBS) have fewer discipline problems (e.g., office discipline referral and suspensions and expulsions) than those who do not (Horner et al., 2005). There is early research that indicates students with significant needs, including students with ASD, benefit from participating in SWPBS (e.g., Freeman et al., 2006; Turnball et al., 2002). Positive behavior supports at the schoolwide level involve three levels of support: universal (schoolwide), secondary (group) and tertiary (individual).

Universal Support

Universal supports include proactive skills taught to all students in the school that act to reduce or eliminate many of the problem behaviors from occurring for most students. Appropriate behavior is specifically taught to all students, staff is actively involved in regularly “catching” students performing appropriate behavior and reinforcements are provided. An example of a universal support is: (1) posting three to five school rules that are operationally defined; (2) holding assemblies and providing class instruction about expected behavior based on these rules; and (3) having staff give tickets to students who are observed demonstrating one of the expected behaviors. These tickets are then entered into a daily drawing for a special acknowledgement or reward. Most students respond to this level of positive intervention and do not engage in problem behaviors.

Schools that take a school-wide discipline approach often use data to identify those times of the day, months, areas of the schools, teachers and activities in which problematic behavior is more likely to occur. For example, if it is found that bullying is more likely to occur in the lunch room, then more staff would be placed in the cafeteria to monitor the situation. Likewise, overall programming to minimize bullying would be used in these schools. Instead of focusing on “fixing” the student who is being bullied, the focus would be on trying to ameliorate the underlying problem.

Secondary (Group) Support

Secondary or group support is provided to a smaller number of students who, despite universal supports, continue to exhibit problem behaviors. Typically, these supports increase the intensity of teaching rules, and may provide smaller group instruction, more examples, and continual checking by staff, group or peers to ensure understanding.

Students with ASD can benefit from participation in these two less-intensive levels of support and, as a result, become part of the overall school community and culture. Some modification and tailoring of the presentation of the school rules may be needed to address the unique communication and learning styles of the student with ASD while ensuring understanding of expectations and incentives. Using the PBIS framework, we can address many behavior concerns of students with ASD and, through universal and secondary levels of support, reduce or eliminate some of the problem behaviors as well as the amount of more intensive, individualized, tertiary support needs. This also results in an increased availability of staff and resources to address the more intense behaviors.

Tertiary (Individual) Support

Even as the student with ASD is involved in schoolwide and group support, there may be the continued need for additional and individualized support to address a smaller number of behaviors or a specific behavior across settings. In these cases, a functional behavior assessment is conducted, beginning with defining the behavior of concern, identifying its function, teaching alternative behaviors and skills, and developing a plan to support the new behaviors. All too often these behavior plans focus on punitive consequences. Students on the spectrum who are threatened with expulsion and suspension may become anxious anticipating these consequences. This heightened anxiety may actually result in increased behavioral incidents.

Individualized supports needed for students with ASD to learn and integrate newly learned behaviors should include strategies in environmental organization, visual support, sensory support, communication/social support and curricular support. It is critical that the needs of each student be individually assessed to determine how to address that person’s unique understanding and communication. Individual supports may include, but are not limited to: (1) individually designed classroom and workspace according to the student’s needs; (2) an accessible, individual daily schedule understood by the student; (3) changes in the student’s schedule that are planned for ahead of time; (4) activity schedules or task organizers used throughout the day to assist in understanding; (5) individually designed instruction modifications and supports; (6) sensory programming and individually designed breaks, as needed; (7) a positive and direct reinforcement system understood and used by the student, peers and staff; (8) a communication system that is readily available, understood and used by peers and staff at all times; (9) social coaching and skill building embedded throughout the day; (10) strategies to assist with transitions and movement throughout the day; and (11) family members who are involved in planning, evaluation and support.

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