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Consequences and autism in the classroom Steve Buckmann Any discussion about teaching students with autism spectrum disorders in school settings will invariably turn to a discussion about the role of consequences in managing inappropriate behavior. Usually the discussion takes the form of this question: What do I do when "Johnny" does . . .? Few educators would contest that consequenc...

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Consequences and Autism in the Classroom

Consequences and autism in the classroom

Steve Buckmann

Any discussion about teaching students with autism spectrum disorders in school settings will invariably turn to a discussion about the role of consequences in managing inappropriate behavior. Usually the discussion takes the form of this question: What do I do when "Johnny" does . . .?

Few educators would contest that consequence interventions have long dominated the lion's share of our behavior management efforts. The result is that consequences have become narrowly linked with managing inappropriate behavior, and it is the misguided use of consequences for inappropriate behavior that is of concern. Fortunately, as our efforts shift toward prevention of challenging behavior, questions about consequences should no longer monopolize our efforts and energies. Nonetheless, for the present, it represents a valid question which warrants discussion and some ideas about direction. The discussion begins by addressing the purpose of consequences, followed by an examination of how consequences are misused, and, finally, some ways to use them more effectively.

What is the purpose of consequences?
Consequences have three purposes when used to manage student behavior: (1) reinforcement to strengthen behavior; (2) punishment to weaken undesirable behavior; and (3) neutralization of behavior in a crisis. Too often our focus lies on the second of these three purposes, using consequences solely to eliminate behavior.

Why do negative consequence interventions still dominate our efforts?
Negative consequences meant to punish (i.e., decrease) behavior are a familiar entity. Responses to problem behavior, such as verbal reprimands, time out, and response costs (to name only a few), have a long history in school settings. And they often achieve results. For most students, negative consequences work exceedingly well, at least on the surface. They are the behavior management version of a quick fix because they generally require low effort and produce a quick change. Unfortunately, for many individuals, and especially those with an autism spectrum disorder, the fix is short lived, overly simplistic, and tends to suggest that what is needed in the future is merely a stronger negative consequence. It also fosters an elusive and never ending search for the perfect consequence.

How are consequences misused?
Below are some ways consequences for inappropriate behavior are commonly misused in school settings, followed by suggestions for more effective use:

• Consequences are applied continuously and for long periods of time, even when ineffective.

Although negative consequences represent tangible evidence to others (e.g., the principal, other staff, parents, the student) that something is being done about inappropriate behavior, too often they are applied reflexively, without much consideration for their individual effectiveness or how the person perceives them. For many students w...

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Developing Long-Term Relationships between School and Parents

Developing long-term relationships between school and parents

Melissa Dubie

The process involved in establishing a student’s individualized education program (IEP) can nurture a climate of trust if certain steps are followed. Ideally, the annual case conference is a systematic process that ultimately leads to effective programming for students on the autism spectrum. In order for the case conference to run smoothly, certain preliminary steps should be taken that involves setting up the meeting, gaining input from all involved, and creating meeting cultures that promote collaboration.

Let’s start by setting up the annual case conference meeting. The annual case conference must be set up at a “mutually agreed upon time.” This means the school can suggest times. However, parents have the right to say when they can attend if the stated time does not work for them. Each party needs to be reasonable about their request. Attempt to meet during lunch hour, before school, or after school. Give sufficient notice for parents to make arrangements with their employers to get off of work. If a parent does not respond, it is essential to keep trying to meet with them for the conference. Offer to provide transportation to and from school for the parent. If there are extreme health or other circumstances, school staff may need to consider meeting parents at their home. If these attempts don’t work, then conduct the meeting over the phone. School districts must make three attempts to contact parents for a case conference meeting. Be sure these attempts are sensitive and responsive to events surrounding the family member’s life. Parents are an essential member of their son or daughter’s educational team. Also, be sure to let the parent know they can bring a friend, an advocate, or anyone else they feel comfortable with. Being outnumbered by the numerous professionals that typically attend these meetings can be overwhelming to some parents.

Prior to the case conference meeting, provide parents with relevant reports and gather their input concerning their child’s instructional program. Being blindsided with reports and goals during a meeting is not the best way in which to establish the ground work for an ongoing working relationship. Providing family members with information ahead of time can create a climate of trust and collaboration. It can also assist families with being able to more effectively participate in the process.

As a case conference coordinator, it is imperative to consider where to sit during the meeting. Perhaps the optimal location is at the foot of the table to be able to see everyone’s body language, facial expressions, and how all members are responding. Another spot to strategically sit would be in the middle of the table to show support for both family members and school staff. Think about this decision and arrive to the meeting early to set up.

At the beginning of the meeting, one should plan for a minimum of 15 minutes for...

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Motivating Students Who Have Autism Spectrum Disorders

Motivating students who have autism spectrum disorders

Rozella Stewart

Motivating individuals who have autism spectrum disorder is an essential but often difficult challenge. It is essential because, by definition, they have restricted repertoires of interests and skills needed for community living and coping. Without planned, positive experiences, these individuals often become increasingly victimized by their autism as they age. With successful experiences, each can become a victor who lives, works, and plays in the community. It is difficult, at least in part, because people who have autism are particularly vulnerable to key factors which impact motivation.

An individual's motivation is strongly influenced by: learning history; learning styles; internal and external incentives to engage in tasks; expectations of success or failure with a particular task; meaningfulness and purposefulness of the task from the perspective of the learner; and task-surrounding environmental variables which affect attention and achievement.

In general, tasks and activities which learners associate with past success tend to stimulate interest. Success begets success! Challenges which trigger memories of past anxieties and failures tend to stimulate avoidance reactions and self-preservation responses. Although occasional failure is often seen as a challenge by learners who are highly motivated to learn through problem solving, repeated failure fosters feelings of futility and frustration in fragile learners who lack self-confidence and may lack competencies for task-related problem solving.

When diligently applied, proactive strategies often prove successful in eventually eliciting positive, productive responses and pride in personal accomplishment. The following are just a few success-oriented strategies that support motivation for individuals who have autism spectrum disorder:

Know the individual
• Maintain a current list of the individual's strengths and interests. Include preoccupations and fascinations that may be considered "bizarre" or strange. Use these strengths and interests as the foundation for gradually expanding the individual's repertoire of skills and interests.
• Note tasks or activities which create frustration and heightened anxiety for the individual. Attention to these factors can result in avoiding episodes which perpetuate insecurity, erode confidence, foster distrust in the environment, and generally result in avoidance behaviors.
• Pay attention to processing and pacing issues which may be linked to cognitive and/or motor difficulties inherent to the individual's autism. Give the individual time to respond. Vary types of cues given when movement disturbances are suspected.

Structure a supportive environment. Both the social and physical milieu should encourage and support successful task performance.
• Teach in natural environments that contain the cues and reinforcement which prompt and maintain learned beha...

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