Addressing Behavior Problems for Students with Autism- A Step by Step Guide that Works from NoodleNook.Net

Addressing Behavior Problems in Students with Autism

Are you looking to dig deeper into behavior problems in your classroom? Chances are you have a few bumps and bruises from your students (if not physically, then definitely mentally). I was 7 months pregnant and got hit in the stomach by a student with Autism. Fortunately for me there were no complication from that student’s behavior, but many Autism Unit and LIFE Skills teachers are seriously injured working with their students.

So, are you looking to lessen that?

Want to implement change and find a manageable solution? Read on!

Welcome to 5 Steps on Addressing Behavior Problems!

Addressing Behavior Problems for Students with Autism- A Step by Step Guide that Works from NoodleNook.Net

Step One to Addressing Behavior Problems:

Define the Behavior


Before you can go any further into this, you have to pinpoint the behavior you want to work on. Saying a student is just a slacker is not a target you can use as you go forward. You have to be specific… What does the target behavior look like? Can you see it, hear it, or measure it? When you define it, would other people new to your room know the behavior when based on your description?


So, to start, write down in objective and measurable words, what the behavior looks like. For example you would not say a student has a fit- that is too broad and two people looking at the same behavior may not call it a ‘fit’. Be clearer, like: student throws themselves on the floor, kicks and/or screams, and refuses to do what is asked of them. This is clearer and another person seeing it will know what it is.

Step Two to Addressing Behavior Problems:

Get a Baseline


Just like Google Maps, you can’t just put in your destination to get some directions… you have to put in where you are starting from. It works the same way with behavior. You have to have a start point to go anywhere.


The four ways to measure behavior are

  1. Frequency: How often does it happen over a specific period or time, for example Jaquan hit the table ten times during his 50 minute math class.
  2. Duration: How long does the behavior occur, for example Juan cried for 20 minutes after lunch.
  3. Latency: How long is the period of time in between the directive and the desired response, for example Jasmine picked up her paper 30 seconds after the directive was given.
  4. Intensity: To what degree is the behavior present, for example Jacob banged his head so hard on the wall that he had two large red marks.


I suggest that you collect baseline data for at least a week, but two is better. You really want to know what is happening and have some good measurements.



Step Three to Addressing Behavior Problems:

Determine the Function


In order to make any change in a student’s behavior, we have to know the function. We have talked about the function of behavior before here at NoodleNook, but it is a very important step in addressing behavior problems. Knowing the function and shaping the behavior will prevent you from having to intervene later and possibly getting hurt.


So what’s the function? Please read more about this here, but know that there are two things that drive all behavior: wanting to get something and wanting to escape something. So analyze the data, hypothesize on the function, and let’s test it out. Still need more to help you identify the function? There is more about that in the post ABA and Autism. But to get started, but sure to try out the Data Collection and Guides which were designed with teachers like us in mind.


Addressing Behavior Problems for Students with Autism- A Step by Step Guide that Works from NoodleNook.Net


Step Four to Addressing Behavior Problems:

Create an Intervention


So now that you have made a well-informed and data driven hypothesis about the targeted behavior, it is time to change it. To do that you will need to identify 5 things:

  1. What is the replacement behavior? This is what you want your student to do when presented with the antecedent. It needs to address the function of the behavior and provide a student with a positive way to get a desired response. It needs to be phrased in a positive statement (ie: instead of ‘Jordan will not hit himself in the head’ you may try ‘Jordan will indicate the need for a break by using his Voice Output Device’. Absence of the behavior is not the replacement behavior.
  2. How will the student collaboration in building the intervention? If you want buy in, student input is a must. Even with student who cannot read or write, you will still want their input in the form of preferred item inventories. Either way, they have something to contribute so include them.
  3. How will you use reinforcers? In order to get the replacement behavior to happen, what consequence are you going to put in place in the form of a reinforcer? Remember, we are targeting the function of the behavior to support a change in behavior.
  4. What skills do I need to teach the student to be successful? Just because you put on a BIP that a student is going to calm down by counting backwards doesn’t mean they will magically do it. You have to teach them how! So really ask yourself if the student knows how to do the targeted behavior and what you need to teach them to be successful.
  5. What changes do you need to make to the antecedent? Is there something you can do to change the trigger of the behavior? Is there something you can pair with the antecedent to avoid negative behavior altogether? These are questions you need to ask.


Now that you have identified these three things, the real work begins.

Addressing Behavior Problems for Students with Autism- A Step by Step Guide that Works from NoodleNook.Net

Step Five to Addressing Behavior Problems:

Implement the Plan & Get More Data


Putting the plan into place should be the easy part after all the analysis you have done… but it isn’t. The biggest issue at this phase is getting the entire team of adults who support the student to be consistent in all the parts of the plan. You will fail if you can’t get the team so follow your plan and also report on the intervention. Pin this article now so you can find it. Print it and share it with you paras as you work through the behavior. It’s all or nothing.


So bust out all those data sheets you used to establish your baseline… the data train is on the tracks again! But this is a good thing. I love being able to see the plan I so carefully crafted cause a change in the target behavior.


It’s hard not wanting to see magic, but we aren’t witches or wizards. The behavior will not disappear the first time you try implementing your plan. You have to stick with it. Remember to include visual supports to your plan, role playing to practice the replacement behavior, and that you have checked yourself as a teacher. Teacher expectations, routines and procedures, structure, and the physical environment all feed into a behavior. Have you done an assessment to see your role in the behavior you’ve targeted?

Addressing Behavior Problems for Students with Autism- A Step by Step Guide that Works from NoodleNook.Net


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1 Comment
  1. Hallie

    I’ve been working as an aide with Autistic kids and finally passed my teacher tests to get my own classroom. I’m absolutely going to follow your suggestions and love this post!

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