Dealing With Escape/Avoidant Behavior

TIP: Dealing With Escape/Avoidant Behavior

In the last Piece of the Puzzle Tip we discussed strategies for dealing with negative behavior used to obtain a desired item. Hopefully over the past few weeks you have had many opportunities to implement those strategies and have begun to see a decrease in the use of negative behavior to obtain these items. This week we will take a look at how to handle behavior your child uses to get out of something or to avoid doing something they don’t want to do. Again, understand that behavior is used to communicate! It’s our job to ensure they are learning the correct way to communicate their wants and needs.

The best way to illustrate these strategies is by providing a scenario:

  • Scenario – Your child is playing with toys and you ask them to clean up their toys to come to the table and complete an art activity/craft. Your child immediately starts crying and throwing the toys into the bucket to clean up. When they get to the table they swipe all the craft materials onto the floor. How do you react? What do you do?
    • First, think about the function of the behavior! Your child is communicating that they do not want to do the art activity/craft. Be sure the strategy you implement does not allow them to escape the demand that you placed on them OR you will be teaching your child that this is an effective way to communicate their wants. So, time-out would NOT be an effective strategy to deal with this behavior – you would actually be reinforcing the child because you would remove them from the activity that they are trying to escape.
    • Second, make sure to follow through with the demand! You want to communicate to your child that their negative behavior will not remove the demand to complete the activity. Even after your child’s negative behavior and crying, continue to repeat the demand that caused the behavior (“come to the table and do an art activity/craft). Place more paper, crayons, glue, etc. on the table and hand over hand prompt your child to begin the activity. Give verbal cues for any appropriate behavior or compliance. Continue to give hand over hand prompts until your child participates in the activity with only verbal directives or independently. If your child calms down and complies with directives, differentially reinforce so the most desired behavior receives the greatest reinforcement! Continue providing reinforcement for participation and compliance until the activity is complete.
    • Third, require your child to clean up the mess they made by swiping the materials onto the floor. Verbally reinforce them for completing the activity, then let them know they need to take responsibility for their behavior. (“Good job making the gingerbread house. Now you need to clean up all the things on the floor and put them back on the table.”)  Again, use hand over hand prompts to clean up if needed, but fade prompts until they independently clean up. Require them to keep cleaning it up until they willingly participate.

The most important thing to remember is that your child’s negative behavior should not allow them to avoid or escape the original demand that was placed on them. Be sure the strategies you use do not accidentally reinforce their behavior by delaying their compliance to the demand. After they comply make sure they are responsible for any necessary clean up that their behavior caused. BE CONSISTENT…..and PERSISTENT! As your child learns that negative behavior will not get them out of complying with daily demands, you will begin to see a decrease in these behaviors for that function.

If you have any specific scenarios that you want to share or ask questions about email


Strategies to Deal With Negative Behavior

TIP: Strategies to Deal with Negative Behavior

Hopefully, over the past few weeks you were able to recognize and celebrate a decrease in your child’s negative behavior by becoming more aware of, anticipating your child’s needs and modeling appropriate communication in order to meet their need. This is a very effective strategy to proactively address behavioral concerns. However, we all know that it is impossible to anticipate all behavioral outbursts due to the busy pace and schedule of life. This week we will begin listing and describing strategies to implement to effectively address behavior without unintentionally reinforcing your child’s behavior.

As discussed in a previous tip, your child’s behavior always serves a purpose to either get something they want or avoid something they don’t want. This negative behavior continues, and sometimes escalates, because it has worked in the past to either obtain what they wanted (tantrum leads to getting the iPad or toy) or avoid what they didn’t want (tantrum leads to delayed bedtime).

Strategies to Deal with Negative Behavior Used to Obtain a Desirable Item or Attention:

  1. Count and Mand (Request) – You would use this strategy when your child wants something and they CAN have it but they are using an inappropriate method (tantrum, crying, screaming) to ask for it. You will first tell your child “quiet” then begin counting (usually to 10 or 15). If the problem behavior continues or begins again during your count, say “quiet” again and begin your count over at 1. Continue this until you are able to reach your desired number without any negative behavior, and then prompt your child to request for the desired item in an acceptable manner (word, sign, PECS or pointing). Immediately deliver the item and reinforce appropriate requesting (“that’s how you tell mommy you want juice”, “good job using your words to tell mommy you wanted juice”). This strategy works to provide space and time between the negative behavior and receiving the item.
  2. Walk and Peel – You would use this strategy when your child wants something (ice cream, to go to desirable location, or a toy) they CAN’T have at that moment. Utilizing this strategy, you simply say “No” or “not right now”. If they accept your “NO”, provide reinforcement and praise. If they continue with negative behavior walk in the opposite direction to ignore and not give any attention to the behavior. Return to your child only to protect your child or property with no talking and minimal eye contact then walk away again. If your child pulls or grabs at you, peel them off and walk away. When your child stops the problem behavior for 1 minute, return to your child and redirect them to something else.

Be consistent and persistent!! Remember, your child has learned for several years that this behavior gets them what they want. Expect it to take several days or weeks to reteach the appropriate way to obtain these items! It is SO worth the extra effort, for your child, for you and your family! Next week we will look at strategies to deal with negative behavior used to avoid something they don’t want to do!

Work this week on implementing the strategies listed above and share any questions or success stories at


A.M.P It Up!

Tip: A.M.P It Up – Anticipate, Model and Party

Now that we know that negative behavior has a purpose, let’s focus on strategies that we can implement to help decrease these problem behaviors. The most important thing to remember about behavior is that it is a form of communication. However, it is our job as parents and teachers to teach them that their negative behavior (crying, screaming, grabbing, hitting, pushing, etc.) is not an effective method to get what they want or to avoid what they don’t want.

In order to do this, you must first proactively teach and model appropriate methods to communicate. You must look for and maximize the opportunities that your child is required to communicate in order to receive something they want or deny something they don’t want. When working with children with Autism, it is important to anticipate their needs, model appropriate language, then highly reinforce when your child complies and communicates without negative behavior!

For example, your child comes into the kitchen while you are cooking and opens the refrigerator. You know he typically goes to the refrigerator to get juice, so you anticipate his need and walk over to the refrigerator. First, lean down and establish your child’s attention. Then, model the appropriate form of communication for your child (say “want juice mommy”, say “juice”, or use a sign or picture card to communicate “juice”). Have your child imitate your word or phrase, and then deliver the juice cup. If he does this without negative behavior, THROW HIM A PARTY!! You just proactively eliminated an opportunity for negative behavior to occur and at the same time successfully taught your child the appropriate way to attain what he wanted!

Next week we will look at how to handle situations when your child is already exhibiting negative behavior or when they do not comply/imitate our communication model!

Spend time this week looking for opportunities throughout your day to repeat this strategy! The more you can anticipate your child’s needs and wants, the more opportunities you have to teach them how to communicate successfully! The more repetitions, the more natural it will become for you and for your child!! Before you know it you will realize that you are dealing with a lot less meltdowns and challenging behaviors throughout your day! Again, that’s worth a PARTY!

Email pictures or stories of your parties to

What is Behavior?


Through conversations with many families of children with autism, one of the most common questions or concerns I hear is in regard to their child’s “behavior”. Before we begin listing and talking about strategies to address challenging behavior, we must first define and identify what is behavior. Behavior is defined as the way in which one acts or conducts themselves, especially towards others. In other words, behavior is simply anything anyone does; good, bad or neutral. Throughout the next few weeks, we will look more in depth at the reason for challenging or negative behavior and strategies to decrease it.

For young children and children with autism, behavior is communication that is used to meet needs. It’s how they let you know they want something or want to avoid something. All behavior falls into a category of either attempting to get something good or avoid something bad. For example, your child wants you to pick him up so he walks over to you and cries. You pick him up. In this situation, your child has learned that crying is an effective way to communicate to mom or dad that I want to be picked up. At that time your child may not care or may not be aware that their way of communicating is not the “appropriate” way. The reason they continue to display this negative behavior is because it works! By looking at and understanding what your child is trying to express, you can better respond to his or her need and help your child learn more positive ways to communicate.

Take some time this week to identify what happens right before your child’s negative behavior. Write it down. Make a chart. You will probably notice a pattern! This can help you pinpoint the purpose of the behavior. Next week we will introduce strategies to help decrease negative behavior and increase positive behavior! Share any questions or thoughts about this topic at


Tip: Get involved in your child’s education

So, the first 2 weeks of school are behind us and hopefully your child has begun to settle down in their new classroom. The routine has been established and the transition into school every morning has gradually become smoother! Time to relax and take a deep breath, right? Not yet! This is where the job of advocating for your child’s education comes into play! Listed below are some tips for parents to consider implementing throughout this school year to help ensure your child gets off to a great start for this school year:

  • GET INVOLVED – Look for opportunities to volunteer within your child’s classroom or school. Look for chances to support the teacher and classroom by helping plan class parties, organize/prepare activities, or volunteer when needed and available.
  • COMMUNICATE OPENLY WITH TEACHER – establish some method for communicating daily with your child’s teacher about progress and challenges (notebook, email, talk at pick up, etc.). Communication is so vital to consistency between home and school.
  • FOLLOW THROUGH WITH EXPECTATIONS AT HOME– through daily communication you can learn the specific behaviors and skills teachers are targeting within the classroom. This enables you to follow through at home with the same skills utilizing the same strategies to help your child make progress in a shorter amount of time!
  • CELEBRATE EVERY VICTORY/SUCCESS – even the small ones! As your child acquires a new skill or learns to do a skill more efficiently, CELEBRATE and reinforce! A reward/reinforcement for your child’s achievement will increase the probability of that skill/behavior reoccurring.  Have fun with it and let your child know you are proud of their hard work!

By being your child’s advocate, you can work with the school to create an education program that unlocks your child’s full potential! Having a child with Autism demands a great amount of responsibility, but BE OPTIMISTIC and take it one step at a time! Trust that the steps you are taking are making a huge impact on the life of your child!

 Share your questions or success stories at


Tip: Back-to-School Transition

The transition from summer vacation back-to-school can be very difficult for every child. The drastic change of routine and schedule can be especially challenging and tough for a child with Autism and their family! The carefree and laid back routine that has been established over the past 2-3 months is going to quickly change to one of structure and increased expectations. A new school year also brings a flood of novelty, which is many times a source of anxiety and stress for children with Autism. A new classroom, new teachers, new physical space, new friends and new routine and schedule can all be overwhelming to a child with Autism. Knowing these areas are a potential source of anxiety for your child helps you to be aware and proactive in providing strategies and techniques to help ease the stress of the transition.

Here are a few tips to consider:

  • Talk with your child about the transition – prepare your child for the changes in routine by talking about what they will be experiencing. Tell your child about the new classroom. Tell your child the name of some of his/her new classmates (if known ahead of time). Tell your child the name of his/her new teacher. Preparing your child for a major transition can drastically decrease negative behavior and eliminate the stress of novel situations caused by the “unknown”. Driving by or visiting the new school or classroom can also be very helpful.
  • Establish and maintain a morning routine – starting the day off right can make the difference for the rest of your child’s day at school. Establishing a morning routine that is predictable and positive will help eliminate unnecessary struggles and confusion. Make sure the morning routine is clear, understandable and consistent. Allowing for adequate time to complete the morning routine is vital! Running late and having to rush naturally increases stress and anxiety which is detrimental to a positive start. Allow for more time than needed then adjust as necessary.
  • Provide “downtime” for your child after school – even if it is just for a few minutes. We all know that a school day can be very demanding and challenging. Many times the expectations are much higher at school than they are at home. The majority of a child’s day at school is structured and under the leadership and direction of a teacher. Providing a designated amount of “downtime” when the child gets home is a good way for them to unwind and prepare for their afternoon/evening routines.

Back to school is an adjustment for everyone. Stay optimistic. Stay calm. Stay positive. Do everything you can to help reduce the stress level in your home during this transition. Remember, a calm mom and dad is better able to help a child create a smooth back-to-school transition. SMILE and face each day as an opportunity for your child to make progress and grow!! We at Impact Church are praying for you all this week!

Please share your back- to-school stories from this week at


Provide Structure and a Predictable Routine

TIP: Provide Structure and a Predictable Routine

Everyone finds comfort in routine. Structure, schedules, procedures and routine all provide predictability to our, occasionally irregular and chaotic lives.  Routines and schedules help us organize and make sense out of the various random events of our day. Having these routines in place makes events foreseeable, which helps to reduce stress, confusion and anxiety. This need for dependability and routine is commonly even more necessary for children with Autism.  Research has provided evidence that many children with Autism thrive and are most successful when structure and routine are established at home and at school. These strategies can help to eliminate or decrease problem behavior and over-dependency in children with Autism. Here are a few tips to help establish and maintain structure within your home:

1. Develop a consistent routine for all daily activities (waking up, taking a bath, meal times, bedtime, going to school, etc.). Attempt to do the steps of these activities in the same order so it becomes routine and predictable to your child. For example, your bedtime routine could consist of reading a story, singing a song, tucking into bed, kissing goodnight, and then lights out.

2. Create a visual schedule to outline the events of the day. Based on your child’s level of functioning determine whether you should use objects, pictures, words or checklists to cue your child of the daily events. For example, in the morning during breakfast you may provide your child with a written schedule or checklist that says “Play in playroom, work, snack, outside, work, lunch”. This will allow your child to predict the day’s events and mark off each item as it is completed.

3. Provide preparatory commands prior to a transition from one activity to another. For example, if your child is in the bathtub and it is time to get out and get dressed for bed, say “In 3 minutes, we are getting out of the water and putting on our pajamas.” Prepare your child that the next step of their routine is coming.

We all know some circumstances will go beyond your control and will demand that the schedule be interrupted. If the routine or schedule needs to change, verbally prepare your child for that change and return to the routine as soon as possible.

Take it one step at a time. Implementing these strategies will result in your child’s success….and that makes it worth it! Share your thoughts or success at