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Modify Instead of Eliminate: Autism Behavior Modification

written by: Kathy Foust • edited by: Sarah Malburg • updated: 9/11/2012

How many times have you seen an autism behavior and decided right then and there that it had to go? The idea of changing a behavior is much simpler and more feasible than eliminating one. Read this article for tips on autism and behavior modification.

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    What is Behavior Modification?

    Quite often, when we as teachers see a behavior that is unacceptable, we make a decision to eliminate that behavior. However, especially in children with autism, that behavior may NEVER go away, but can certainly be modified with some work. Behavior modification is the act of changing a behavior so that it is acceptable and harmless to the individual or those surrounding the individual. Read the section below to properly use behavior modification techniques.

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    Using Behavior Modification

    As the tips are listed below, you may often see the phrase "talk to" or "talk with" and think that this is a ridiculous notion when it comes to those with autism that have some language barriers. For the sake of simplicity, please understand that the main idea is communication, in whatever form is feasible for the child with autism and the caregiver who is seeking answers. Please review the suggestions below to assist you in using behavior modification techniques with autism.

    • Keep in mind that those with autism do most of the seemingly odd behaviors simply because it feels good. Your job is to find out why it feels good so that you can help them to simulate the experience while doing no harm to themselves or others.
    • Keep goals simple every step of he way. Your first priority is safety. That means keeping the child safe and the child's environment safe from the child's actions. You can work your way to modifying behaviors into a more socially acceptable format later, but first focus on safety.
    • Talk to the child to find out what they are experiencing as they perform this behavior as well as what was going on that caused them to want that feeling in the first place. At times, it may be nothing more than a craving for a particular feeling. Other times the behavior may occur as a result of over stimulation or anxiety.
    • Get to know the child in order to know their likes and dislikes so that you can develop a program that works for them.
    • Create a list that begins with the most harmful behaviors. Focus on one or two at a time.
    • Find ways to simulate the good feelings so that they can be duplicated in a safe manner.
    • Express behavioral goals to student.
    • Review the plan with the student and the parent.
    • Implement the plan.
    • Use positive reinforcement to encourage the child to continue positive behaviors.
    • Place heavy focus on positive behaviors and experiences. It is the natural order of things that focusing on the positive creates less focus on the negative and will in turn decrease negative behaviors.

    Remember to keep it simple every step of the way. There will be set backs and they need to be accepted for just that, set backs. They happen. It's not the end of the world and the quickest way to discourage a child with autism from progress is simply by becoming discouraged yourself.