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    Proactive Strategies for Reducing Problem Behaviors Before they Happen

    Topics: Autism & Emotions, Infant/Toddler (0-3), Elementary (4-12), Teen (13-17)

    Using Routines and Pre-Correcting in the Classroom for Students with Autism

    What is the best way to address a problem behavior? Before it happens! Procedures and routines paired with pre-correction strategies are evidence-based interventions for supporting students with autism. Instead of waiting for a challenge to arise and reacting to it, use proactive strategies to reduce opportunities for negative behaviors to occur. When you front-load lessons by pre-teaching expectations, students know exactly how to behave in the setting—and through repetition, they will be more likely to perform the skill without additional prompting or supports.

    Male teacher by row of children with autism at school 

    Procedures and Routines

    What is a routine? A routine is simply a set of procedures for handling things such as attendance, turning in assignments or starting a class period. It could also outline what students should do when there are minor interruptions to instruction such as how to ask to use the bathroom or when transitioning to different areas of the classroom. These procedures are not necessarily only for students, but can also be for staff. Staff members often have procedures for things like getting attention, passing out papers, and posting lesson objectives.

     

    Why do it? Routines and procedures help make the classroom setting predictable and safe, which can help reduce anxiety in what is already a complex environment for students with autism. The classroom especially can be incredibly overwhelming when it comes to navigating the space, social situations and sensory inputs, all while trying to learn! Established routines let students know what to expect and what is expected from them—as a result, they are more likely to follow the procedures. What’s more, adding structure to your setting increases students’ feeling of safety. As we know through Maslow’s hierarchy, students must have their basic needs met before they are ready to engage with learning.

     

    How should I do it? The key to teaching a procedure is to have a plan. There are multiple routines throughout a school day to consider. There are transition routines between activities in and out of the classroom, transition to free-time activities when work is completed, bathroom routines, leaving within the setting (for things like throwing away trash, sharpening pencils and getting supplies) and emergency transitions like a fire drill. There are also routines meant only for the teacher and routines that only students perform.

     

    1. Have a plan: 

    girl with autism sharpening a pencilIt’s helpful to start thinking of a step-by-step list of what you would actually want the behavior to look like. Think about where you want them to stand or put things and if there are certain times that are appropriate or inappropriate to follow the routine. For example, I realized I needed to teach my pencil-sharpening routine only after I realized I had students sharpening during lessons that were constantly being interrupted!

     

    2. Practice: 

    Next, make a plan to teach the class the routine and practice, practice, practice. Depending on the routine and needs of the students, you could develop a visual support with the steps included for student reference such as using the Language Builder cards If you’re not sure what procedure to start with, consider where students are having the most challenging behaviors—sometimes the reason is because there are no clear procedures.

     

    Pre-Correction

    What is it? Pre-correcting is a proactive strategy that involves providing a verbal, gestural or visual prompt shortly before an anticipated problem behavior. It can be given to a whole class, small group or to an individual student. It focuses on using positive language so the student with autism knows what they should be doing and, just like routines and procedures, it allows staff to reduce the likelihood of a negative behavior occurring in the first place.

     

    Why do it? Addressing the problem before it occurs allows you to focus on teaching the expected rather than responding to negative behaviors. If data indicates that the student with autism is struggling in a particular setting, routine or activity, pre-correcting paired with other interventions like using social stories. This can be a positive way to teach a skill rather than playing catch-up after the negative behavior has already occurred.

     

    How should I do it? The best part about pre-correction is that you can really do it at any point in time. If I am getting ready to ask the whole class a question, I might raise my hand up as my prompt and say “If you know the answer, raise your hand.” However, there may be moments in your classroom when you need a more explicit teaching model.

    elementary school child with autism raising hand to ask questions in the class 

    1. Identify key times: 

    Start by looking for periods in the day when problem behavior is more likely to occur, even after you’ve already adjusted a routine or procedure and taught it to the class.

     

    2. State expectations: 

    Processing a lot of steps can be overwhelming for students with autism. When stating the expectations, keep directions short and concise. Pairing the direction with some kind of a gestural or visual cue could also help ensure the students understand what is expected. This might sound like, “Before we line up, remember to walk in a straight line, with voices off and hands to self.”

     

    3. Role play: One strategy to consider in pre-correction to teach is the “super student” model. Research shows that students with autism respond more effectively to imitating neurotypical peers. After stating the expectation, you might say, “Before we line up, we’re all going to have Johnny show us how.” If a peer model is not available and the student with autism is struggling with a particular skill, you could practice with them one-to-one and then pair them with a neurotypical student to model for the class, or they may be able to do it independently.

     

    When using either of these strategies to proactively address behavior in your classroom, it is critical to provide reinforcement to students. That will help to increase the likelihood that students will continue to use the skill. Whether it be a formal, positive behavioral support system or behavior-specific praise such as, “I like how you waited to sharpen your pencil until after the lesson was done,” giving some kind of recognition is a key to helping make your classroom run successfully.  

     

    Please tell us what has worked for you! Do you have some pre-correction strategies or special routines that have helped reduce negative behaviors? We would love to hear from you in the comments.

    Frankie Kietzman, Ed.S.

    Written by Frankie Kietzman, Ed.S.

    Frankie Kietzman is a behavior coach for the Olathe School District in Olathe, KS. She has experience teaching as an elementary teacher, self-contained autism teacher for elementary and secondary students, autism specialist and now as a coach for teachers in dealing with challenging behaviors. Frankie’s passion for supporting children and adults with autism originates from growing up with her brother who is deaf and has autism. As one of her brother’s legal guardians, she continues to learn about post-graduate opportunities and outcomes for people with autism. Frankie’s dream is to bridge general and special education to create a more inclusive culture. She has a passion for peer-mediated interventions, social emotional learning, visual supports and community-based instruction. Frankie has a Bachelor’s degree from Kansas State University in Elementary Education, a Master’s degree in high and low incidence disabilities from Pittsburg State University and in 2021, completed another Master’s degree in Advanced Leadership in Special Education from Pittsburg State University.