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Question 1: If I teach my student to request a break, won’t he constantly be requesting breaks and not do any work? >>
Question 2: My student is verbal and we have been teaching him to say, “Snack, please” instead of grabbing fruit snacks from the shelf. However, he has continued to grab the snacks and only uses the verbal request when we ask him to. >>
Question 3: My student exhibits many interfering behaviors. How can I possibly teach her to communicate instead of engaging in all of these behaviors? >>
Question 4: My student hits all the time and there is no rhyme or reason to it. It is not serving any function for him. Why shouldn’t I just use time-outs to punish him for hitting, like I would with any other student? >>
It is important to keep in mind the primary goal of the intervention. For example, the goal may be for the learner to reduce self-injurious behaviors. To accomplish this, he is taught to request a break from the work that he is avoiding. At first, it may be that he does less work than you, as his teacher, want him to do. But, remember, the work is not the primary goal (and he wasn’t doing the work when he was exhibiting those behaviors, either!). The prevention of self-injurious behaviors is the goal. As the training progresses, you will be able to increase the length of time between the request and the break, shorten the length of the break, and/or limit the number of requests he can make. However, at first, it is important that the communication be honored and that he is given the reinforcement (the break) quickly and consistently.
It can be overwhelming to face an entire day’s worth of interfering behaviors and not know where to start. The FBA process will break this up into different behaviors and allow you to look at each one. You may find that the student engages in a response class of behaviors that all serve the same function. For example, it may be that she hits, spits, screams, and flaps her hands, but all of these behaviors are used to escape environments where other students get too close to her. Teaching a single message (for example, hitting a Big Mac © switch to request, “Step back, please”) and teaching peers how to respond to the message may result in a significant reduction in interfering behaviors. Again, the FBA process is crucial and will help your team make sense of what you are observing.
Interfering behaviors always serve some purpose, even if the student does not intend for the behavior to specifically communicate something. Completing an FBA will help identify the reason for the behavior. Because students with ASD interact with their environment differently than other students, it may be that something typically considered punishing, such as a time out, is actually reinforcing for the student and result in increased use of the undesired behavior. If this turns out to be the case, you may be able to teach the student to request some alone time to prevent the hitting behaviors.