Children with autism spectrum disorder, attention deficit disorder,andother developmental delays often have professionals of all different backgrounds providing strategies for their success.  While occupational, physical, and speech therapy, special education, and applied behavior analysts have different focuses, these professionals often use the same foundations to help kids learn and grow.  Read on for the most common behavior strategies that the whole team uses:


Use Positive Reinforcement


Teachers and parents use positive reinforcement with both neurotypical children and kids with disabilities for a valid reason.  Their developing brains make stronger connections with positive reinforcement than negative.  Try to catch them at their best, whether by saying hello to a friend, listening to your message, or trying something new without getting frustrated.  Recognize and praise their behavior.  Therapists and educators are as specific as possible with praise and positive attention based on what the child can comprehend.


Define Expectations


It is helpful to remember that little ones lack the time and experience to understand what you expect of them.  This goes for daily routines but is even more evident when children are in a novel situation.  Communicate expectations to them by sharing what you want them to do (“let’s sit by a friend during snack for five minutes”) rather than the behavior you want to avoid (“we don’t take our friend’s snack.”)


Use Controlled Choices


This strategy is enormously helpful because it can be used before, during, or after a behavioral incident.  As an adult, you know what is best for the child at a given moment.  Based on that, offer the child two choices that would be appropriate for the situation.  It can be as simple as “would you like the blue chair or the green chair?”  The ability to make a (supported) decision empowers children, even amid a meltdown.


Consider the Environment


We wouldn’t expect most adults to be able to engage in a complex task when they are in a busy and loud office and haven’t had a break in several hours.  However, we too often expect the equivalent out of children and adolescents.  All children have sensory preferences that can enhance or discourage their learning behavior at a given time.  Whether it is a speech-language pathologist helping a child learn to communicate their needs, or a BCBA assisting a child in attending at circle time, the environment plays a significant role in children’s behavior.  If you feel dysregulated in the space as an adult, the child likely feels the same.  Educators and therapists modify the environment by adding quiet areas, access to noise-canceling headphones, adding movement breaks, having the child sit near the teacher, dividing the class in half for certain activities, etc.


Model Expected Behavior


 Modeling the correct behavior can be challenging in the heat of the moment.  However, you may notice that the most experienced therapists and educators remain calm and collected during a behavioral episode.  They realize that the child will become even more dysregulated if they become elevated.  Try using a quiet voice, breathing deeply, and being present without outwardly judging the behavior.  Sometimes, this strategy alone can help a child refocus.

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