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Effective Research-Based Behavior Management Strategies for Children With Autism

Whether you’re a teacher, social worker, behavior interventionist, or school counselor, working with children can be difficult.

While these are some of the most rewarding jobs, sometimes you’re just left scratching your head and wondering how to manage negative behavior. If you work with children with autism, this can be an even trickier topic to navigate, as they often require special techniques.

Behavior management strategies are going to help you work through difficult behavior. More importantly, research-based classroom management strategies are already tested for you.

If you’re looking for classroom behavior management techniques, keep reading!

The Importance of Behavior Management Strategies

When you’re working with any child, it’s important to treat them with compassion and patience.

Working with a child with autism is going to present its own set of challenges and obstacles. It’s important to have behavior management strategies so you can deal with behavioral issues in a way that’s going to help the child. Getting upset and using ineffective measures won’t only leave you feeling frustrated, but the child will feel hurt as well.

Behavior management techniques are going to help you reel in negative behavior before it starts. It will also help you de-escalate the behavior once it’s already started.

Research-Based Classroom Management Strategies

While it’s important to have behavior management techniques planned out, research-based strategies are the most effective.

Research-based classroom management strategies have been tested and have resulted in positive outcomes. Here are some of the best strategies to use for children with autism:

Timeouts

When we hear the word “timeout,” many of us think of a child being sent to the corner as punishment.

In progressive classrooms, this isn’t really what a timeout looks like anymore. Timeouts aren’t meant to shame or embarrass the child. Instead, timeouts allow the child to reflect on their actions and take some time to calm down.

This is especially important for children with autism.

Sometimes the hustle and bustle of the classroom can be a little bit too much for children with autism. The noises, conversation, and even a change in routine can trigger a child with autism to get upset. When this happens, it’s important that the child has a way to get away from the chaos.

This is where timeouts come in.

If a child that you’re working with is struggling, suggest that they go to a timeout area so they can re-gather themselves. Instead of calling the timeout area by this name, consider calling it a calm-down area. Or, maybe a “chill corner.”

Additionally, add coloring sheets, stress balls, stuffed animals, or anything else that can help calm the child down.

These alternative names remove the stigma surrounding the timeout area. Instead of feeling overwhelmed by the idea that they’re being punished, they can feel relief from the emotions they’re feeling.

Notes Praising the Child

When it comes to behavior management strategies for teachers, encouraging the child after good behavior is essential.

If we only focus on the negative behavior, children may become discouraged about learning positive behavior. No matter how small the behavior, any positive behavior should be celebrated.

A great way to praise a child for good behavior is by leaving a note in their cubby or locker. Let them know you’re proud of them with a short message encouraging them to keep up the good work. This will give them a boost of confidence and motivation to keep doing great things.

Additionally, send a letter home at the end of the week or month letting the child’s family know how well they’ve been doing. This will give them praise from not only you but their family as well!

Practice Over-Correction

Learning a routine can be difficult for any student at first.

Repetition is essential for learning a routine, especially for children with autism. While a routine can be difficult to learn and master, a routine is vital to the success of children with autism. This is where practicing over-correction comes in.

Introduce a routine and go over it multiple times. Practice the steps repeatedly so the child can get accustomed to the new routine. If they get stuck on a certain step, offer them prompts or hints to help them work through it.

Before you know it, the child that you’re working with will know the routine like the back of their hand!

Use Nonverbal Transition Cues

Nonverbal cues can serve as a transition for younger children in the classroom.

They are also incredibly important in classroom management systems.

For example, if you turn off the music and stand at the front of the room, the children will know it’s time for large group time. Seeing a familiar visual cue will guide them to where they should be.

Remind the Child Privately

It can be embarrassing for a child to be called out in front of the entire class.

Whether they’re talking or throwing toys, a child should be talked to privately. Children with autism may be triggered by negative attention more than the other children as well.

When you notice negative behavior, pull the child aside, and talk to them calmly. Guide them through the scenario to help them learn from their behavior. You’ll find this helps much more than shouting at the child in front of the entire class.

Personal Greetings

All children want to feel special and unique.

Feeling like they have a special part in the school, program, or classroom will motivate them to shine and come out of their shell a bit. You may have seen the viral videos of students pushing a button and receiving a greeting. This is because it’s an awesome strategy to use with children!

When a child comes to you or arrives for the day, have a special greeting for them. This can be in the form of a special handshake, dance, or just a gesture.

Time Management Strategies

Children with autism often struggle with time management.

For example, if you have an activity that must be done in 10 minutes, you may notice the child running behind. If their time management skills aren’t at the same level as other children, they’ll struggle to keep up.

This is why it’s helpful to have a visual aid when it comes to tracking time. Have an hourglass out or another visual timer so children can keep themselves updated on the time they have left.

Positive Reinforcement

As we mentioned earlier, positive reinforcement is essential for learning behavior.

In addition to writing the child notes, consider using tangible rewards. For example, if they practice positive behavior, the child gets to add a sticker to their grid. Once the grid is filled up, they get to choose a prize for their efforts.

Not only is this system a blast for children but it encourages them to work towards a goal. While some people disagree with offering rewards for good behavior, it’s important to offer rewards as children learn to navigate their emotions and behavior.

Offer Distractions

If a child with autism is triggered, they may start to unravel quickly.

When you start to notice that child’s trigger signs, act immediately by offering distractions. You can ask them to walk down the hall and deliver something to a classroom with you. Or, ask them to help you sort some papers.

Any task you could ask for help with is a great way to distract a child from their negative emotions. Children love to feel helpful!

Once the child has had a chance to calm down, try to talk them through the emotion. Talk casually to understand why it happened and how it can be prevented in the future.

Have Quiet Places Available

Having a timeout area is a great way to get the child away from some of the chaos.

A timeout area offers distractions from the classroom, however, sometimes that’s not quite enough. If the child you’re working with starts to show trigger signs, such as covering their ears, it’s time to get them to a quieter place.

It’s not practical to keep the entire classroom quiet during playtime, music time, or lunchtime. This is the kids’ time to just be kids, so it’s important that this isn’t taken from them. However, if a child with autism is becoming over-stimulated from the environment, they need to have a quiet area available to them.

You have some options for where you have a quiet place. It can be in an office or a separate room if the child needs that. Many teachers prefer to keep them in the classroom. If this is the case, offer some headphones or a corner that’s farther from the other children.

Provide an audiobook, music, or something else to offer them solace amongst the chaos.

Which Behavior Management Techniques will You Use?

When it comes to behavior management strategies, there are so many techniques that you can incorporate into your classroom.

Research-based classroom management strategies will help condition the children you’re working with to practice positive behavior.

To learn more about behavior management, try one of our 30-minute demos. Or, tune into our behavior management series!

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