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Using Assistive Technology to Reduce Negative Behaviors in Autistic Students

written by: jenniferterry • edited by: Sarah Malburg • updated: 1/5/2012

Assistive Technology can be used to reduce negative behaviors in children with autism. This article will offer strategies in finding appropriate assistive technology solutions that can work miracles in behavioral changes for students with autism in any classroom.

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    Children with autism are unique as individuals and classroom strategies must be planned at an individual level. However, like other groups of children, similarities can be drawn among those with autism. This article focuses on tackling negative behaviors displayed by many children with autism by offering assistive technology tips to end those behaviors in the classroom.

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    Useful Strategies

    The first point to remember when choosing assistive technology to end negative behaviors is that no behavior happens in isolation. Every positive or negative behavior is a reaction to a stimulus. In order to match effective assistive technology with a child you must first be a detective.

    • Track down the root of the negative behavior.
    • Keeping a daily log is perhaps the best tool to use when tracking behaviors.
    • A simple log which has spaces to write the events of the day will work just as well as a complex log in the beginning.
    • This log should be kept in an easy to access location.
    • You want to write events as they happen. Never wait until the end of the day to play "catch up", this will cause your log to be skewed to your bias.
    • The log will allow you to look back and determine what happened just before the negative behavior occurred. Once you get the log set up, they are not as time consuming as they might appear.
    • The benefits and information you gather from your log will be invaluable, as well as, time-saving in the future.

    Once you have determined the cause of the negative behaviors, you are ready to find assistive technology solutions to help minimize them by targeting the cause of the behavior in your autistic student.

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    Dealing with Communication Problems

    Often negative behaviors are a child's ineffective attempts to communicate a desire or need. These behaviors can escalate once the child determines the adult does not understand and the child is not receiving their desire/need. If the cause is determined to stem from ineffective communication, there are many options available.

    Consider creating a picture communication system. Depending on the reading level of the child, he or she may prefer using actual words instead of pictures. Also, symbols from one of the stock picture exchange system softwares may be appropriate for the child you work with. Always consider the level the child can comfortably work at when introducing the system. The goal in the beginning should be to allow the child to experience success before he or she is challenged.

    The communication system can be low tech (even created by the teacher or parent) or there are a number of electronic devices available. With either option the cognitive level and physical capabilities of the child must be considered. For example, if the child is physically unable to push a button, then a push device would not be useful in itself, but an adaptation may allow the child to push the device. Or the child may simply point to the choice. An occupational therapist should be able to provide input on these matters.

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    Consider Positional Comfort

    Sometimes children who have autism may prefer to work in different positions. If the child's cognitive level is around toddler-age, consider how a toddler likes to sit or lay when learning. These children may work better when weight is put on the joints. A natural way to attain this without additional equipment is to modify the lesson to allow the child to kneel on the floor and work. An enclosed nook may allow the child to feel more comfortable when working on a math assignment. These are accommodations a classroom can make that would allow each child to work in an area comfortable to them. As long as the assignment is completed and the learning outcomes are achieved in a safe environment, these free flowing classrooms should be considered.

    If the child sits at a desk, he may have trouble holding himself in the desk properly. Consider purchasing Dycem. This is a rubber type material which lays thin and flat in the seat to help keep the child from sliding down. There are other uses for Dycem which include using it under plates, books and marking spots on the floor. A less expensive alternative is the rubber-like grip used under rugs to keep them from slipping.


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