ASD: On Its Best Behavior Experts Peter Faustino and Deana Longden shared advice on managing outbursts and defiance among students with severe autism during a recent ASHA online conference. The Leader listened in. Overheard
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Overheard  |   February 01, 2016
ASD: On Its Best Behavior
Author Notes
  • Peter Faustino, PsyD, is a school psychologist who works with students with autism. He is the New York delegate to the National Association of School Psychologists and is past president of the New York Association of School Psychologists. Faustino also maintains a private practice in Bedford Hills, New York. pcfaustino@verizon.net
    Peter Faustino, PsyD, is a school psychologist who works with students with autism. He is the New York delegate to the National Association of School Psychologists and is past president of the New York Association of School Psychologists. Faustino also maintains a private practice in Bedford Hills, New York. pcfaustino@verizon.net×
  • Deana Longden, MEd, MS, is a speech and language specialist in the Bedford Central (New York) School District, working at the secondary level with students with autism who have varying degrees of communication difficulties. She is an adjunct professor at Brooklyn College, where she teaches courses on communication development and curriculum modification for children with ASD. Dlongden1674@bcsdny.org
    Deana Longden, MEd, MS, is a speech and language specialist in the Bedford Central (New York) School District, working at the secondary level with students with autism who have varying degrees of communication difficulties. She is an adjunct professor at Brooklyn College, where she teaches courses on communication development and curriculum modification for children with ASD. Dlongden1674@bcsdny.org×
Article Information
Special Populations / Genetic & Congenital Disorders / Autism Spectrum / School-Based Settings / ASHA News & Member Stories / Overheard
Overheard   |   February 01, 2016
ASD: On Its Best Behavior
The ASHA Leader, February 2016, Vol. 21, online only. doi:10.1044/leader.OV.21022016.np
The ASHA Leader, February 2016, Vol. 21, online only. doi:10.1044/leader.OV.21022016.np
Amanda Batts: What’s the best advice you give to parents to deal with disruptive behaviors on a daily basis? How do you recommend they “keep their cool”?Deana Longden: It’s truly important to determine what is causing the behaviors and to be certain that we are providing the families with the tools they need to work through these behaviors.
Peter Faustino: Great question. I like to remind parents that at school we have a team who works with their child, so we never judge about the ways in which [the parents] try to solve problems. I often ask them to partner with us and share the “real” stories of what is happening at home. When we have more details about the behavior, we can often solve problems.
Moderator: Next up, a question from the team here at ASHA, on the issue of problem behavior: How do you know when to address a behavior or ignore it?
Faustino: The first question to ask is, “What is the function?”
Longden: If the function of the behavior is attention, then you ignore it. If the function is to acquire a desired item, then it is important to respond, regardless of whether the desired item can be obtained.
Faustino: I would add that ignoring can sometimes be a first good step. Ignoring can buy you time to think about the way you want to respond. Ignoring is also only effective if the student knows what he/she is doing wrong and can correct the behavior. If these conditions are not present then we must teach the appropriate behavior and support the child while they are learning.

Ignoring is only effective if the student knows what he/she is doing wrong and can correct the behavior.

Moderator: Another question from the team at ASHA: How do you get families to support you when trying to determine the function of a behavior?
Faustino: I like to ask parents to talk about the problem. I find that they will describe symptoms or behaviors, which helps get the ball rolling, but what you really are seeking are the needs or wants that underlie the behaviors. Some theories break down functions into four discrete areas like “sensory,” “attention,” “avoidance of demand” or “tangible,” but other theories offer more specific/detailed functions that can be subsumed under these. I use these frames to guide the parents as we go back and forth with trial and error. At the end of the day, it really is a hypothesis as to why we think something is happening. Don’t be afraid to try something, evaluate and try something else if you have more information that either confirms the function or disputes it and leads you to another approach.
Longden: Oftentimes parents are not fully aware of what is happening at home. They see some behaviors as challenging and don’t realize that their child does not need to exhibit such behavior to get what s/he desires. We work very hard to share our work with parents so they can carryover the methods we’ve used. Communication is key. We work with kids to communicate their needs and wants, and oftentimes send home materials for the families to use to facilitate these communications. We have also given families schedules, task analysis forms, etc., so that they can work at home using the same steps that we use in school. This way it’s familiar to the child.
Maureen Crane: What do you do or say to parents who are countermanding your suggestions on how to deal with these behaviors? In some situations, I have seen parents cause situations to escalate.
Faustino: Yes, we have seen that. I hope I don’t overuse the term, but “anxiety” in the parents can be a big problem as well. We find that they have the right intentions but, boy, do they jump to conclusions and make rash attempts at fixing the problem or sheltering the problem from us. In these cases, as Deana mentioned, we have to develop trust with the family and reassure them that there are good ways to manage behavior—that students can learn alternate approaches and model good techniques.
Longden: I believe that sharing the positive results of our work in school has shown parents that, over time, our practices work. While we cannot “force” a family to replicate our work, we continuously share with families the successes their child makes, in the hopes that they will want to improve their child’s behavior.

We have to develop trust with the family and reassure them that there are good ways to manage behavior—that students can learn alternate approaches and model good techniques.

Colleen Endrizzi: Do you construct detailed behavioral intervention plans with written instructions for parents? To help with consistency across parents?
Faustino: The home plans can be a little different. Consistency does comes from the method of communication or use of visual schedules or reinforcement, but the tasks we are asking for can be very different.
Longden: We need to consider the differences between the home and school environments. For example, for a student who refuses to shower at home, we can create a visual schedule that mirrors something we would use in school and provide the parent with a similar visual schedule of reinforcement. For some of our more severely impaired students, we ask the parents to share their struggles at home, for example, eating out or going into a dark room. We then create those plans in school to help the student prepare and increase the incidence of generalization at home.
Susan Shields: Speaking of visual schedules, have you used any iPhone apps that can support some of the visual behavior reminders for older students? Specifically any scheduling apps that you have found ideal to make the visual schedule portable and not as cumbersome?
Faustino: There is so much out there. I tend to search the app store with keywords and ask the student what they like. I have found a few that use real photos or movie clips with reminders for higher-functioning students.
Longden: We use ProloQuo because it is the students’ main form of communication. We program pages that outline the students’ day. This allows us the opportunity to make changes and rearrange icons as needed.
Batts: Is trial and error the best way to determine the function of a behavior? Any other recommendations?
Faustino: It is one approach. Interviews with those who know the student and have a sense of ABA [applied behavior analysis] is another. Knowing the student (which means developing a great rapport and pairing appropriately with them initially) will help with determining why a student is acting the way they do. Trial and error has a connotation of randomness, where we feel there is more of a concerted approach that should be applied.
Longden: However, thorough observations in multiple environments under varying conditions can be helpful, whereas we begin by adapting the environment: Organize and provide structure, inform transitions and changes, and use visual supports. Through these pre-interventions, we are better equipped to determine what is causing the behavior. It may look like “trial and error” but it’s actually a systemic application of approaches.
Julie Rogala: I am working with a kindergarten teacher who has seven behavior students: three are severe behaviors and four are moderate-to-mild behaviors. She is dealing with all these behaviors, so she is having a difficult time teaching to all of her students. Without going into too much detail about the behaviors, any suggestions? As I listened to your presentation, I was thinking that putting a break area in her room would be helpful.
Longden: I love the idea of a break area, but it seems like many more supports could be in place. First, a regimented schedule of reinforcers for all students. This could be pennies, stickers, tokens, skittles, etc., for the simplest demands (“Nice job sitting,” “Nice job raising your hand,” etc.). Posted classroom rules are imperative, too. Once students determine that good behavior yields positive results, they will increase the incidence of such behaviors. A break area is key for students who may need to “take a minute,” but the student will need to learn how to use the area appropriately. Setting a timer, engaging in deep breathing, playing with an appropriate “fidget,” yoga, etc., can make the time useful in teaching the student how to regulate independently.
Faustino: “Pairing” is my new favorite word. I attended a conference in NYC last week where a colleague presented on EI [early intervention] and ASD. He suggested that we spend the first 30 days “pairing” with students. This is to say that we play with them, have fun with them, learn what they love—make school and the classroom fun and a place they want to be. Only after the children love school and the teacher can you start to place demands on them for academics, group behavior, etc. It is a concept I feel like I forget a lot because we are so quick to want to set high expectations and academic demands that relate to the IEP. But think about your own behavior: If you have fun with a friend and they ask for help, you want to help them and it feels good—as opposed to making work feel like a chore by someone that you do not trust yet.
Tamara Pogin: Do you typically have a strategy you try first—visual strategies, social stories, pictures, video models—or do you use what the child is most familiar with?
Faustino: I guess we would lean toward visual strategies, or if you know what the child is familiar with, then lead with that. Increasing the communication loop is really key. If the child knows what is expected and can communicate his/her wishes, then you have success. I think visuals help that tremendously.
Longden: For example, if a student is better able to understand images as opposed to Mayer-Johnson symbols, you would use pictures.
Jitka Dragounova: How do you respond when a student with ASD keeps asking for one item over and over? For example, a cookie—you present a cookie, and he/she keeps coming for more, but the mom/teacher/myself doesn’t want to give any more. How do you say, “No more,” plus steer clear of an outburst?
Longden: I would use a reinforcement schedule. Have the student engage in demands that earn him/her a token. Once a set number of tokens is earned, then deliver the reinforcer—and perhaps just a small bite of cookie. The goal is to spread out the schedule of reinforcer so that the child is aware that the reward is coming, but has a visual in front of him/her to show her that positive behaviors will yield desirable results.
Wesley Nicholson: Are there any materials or websites that have more information about teaching nonverbal language? Posture, facial expressions, gestures, etc.?
Longden: Model Me Kids has a great emotions app that links photos and emotions. This is very helpful with learning to read facial expressions.
Faustino: Do2Learn is another great website with resources that teach facial recognition and a variety of skills. For the younger grades, we like the cartoon characters like Moody the Monster, and Sesame Street now has a character [with autism] named Julia. For older students, anything like movie clips or TV shows where you can discuss or highlight the behaviors are best.
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February 2016
Volume 21, Issue 2