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5627 Portraits of Autistic Spectrum Disorder: Stop Disruptive Reactions by Creating Positive Behaviors

Friday, July 8, 2011: 11:00 AM-12:15 PM
Miami 2 (Gaylord Palms Resort and Convention Center)
Theories about autism are important to understand… but what should be done about hitting, screaming, disruption and other behaviors? This workshop focuses on actions that can be taken immediately to change disruptive behaviors and create adaptive ones. The presenter will provide a variety of composite examples representing individuals with autism engaging in disruptive behaviors, and how specific techniques can reduce those incidents and slowly adapt them into functional behaviors. Professionals focus too much energy on attempting to stop the disruptive behaviors of individuals with autistic spectrum disorder (ASD).  The implication is that the individual with ASD has a clear understanding of what it means to be neuro-typical and has “chosen” to engage in the inappropriate behaviors labeled as autistic.  Instead professionals need to consider that people with ASD are completely clueless on what “normal” is and are usually very content to stay in their world of autism.  Punishing individuals or focusing on consequence-based programs to change their behaviors often backfires.  As it teaches the ASD person to be fearful of the real world, resulting in their further withdrawal into the autistic world.  The threat of punishment also assumes that the individual with ASD knows the appropriate behavior to display.  When in fact that person probably needs to be taught the skill or taught how to generalize the appropriate skill s/he learned elsewhere into a new environment/situation.  The following examples show that targeted behaviors can be successfully replaced or adapted to make them functional:

1.  If a person perseverates on a topic often the solution suggested is to create methods of stopping the person from becoming involved in the perseveration.  Yet, many higher functioning individuals with ASD have become successful when they have been encouraged to learn more about their perseveration.  Temple Grandin is an excellent example of someone who was encouraged to turn her high interest in cows into a very successful career.  It was that career that caused Ms. Grandin to become socially aware, since she needed those skills in order to become employed and work with cattle.

2.  Elopement is one of the most common targeted behaviors that providers report needs to be stopped.  Professionals state with great concern how the person “runs off” without any reason or awareness of the dangers in the environment.  Often staff use fear to try to stop the behavior from continuing, and are very confused about the behavior’s origins.  Developmentally, the answer should be obvious!  When teaching someone (whether on the spectrum or not) to walk, especially if they have motor coordination delays, experts encourage people to play the game of “chase” with them.  The result is the person’s muscles are strengthened and their coordination improves with practice, meaning they can walk/run better.  The neuro-typical person continues to develop normally and soon finds the game of chase boring.  While the person with a developmental delay may continue enjoying the game of chase, even after they can run faster than the people around them.  If the function of the behavior is to have fun, professionals will have greater success if they replace fun with fun.  Therefore, teaching the runner the game of STOP will usually be much more successful then punishing someone for playing the game of chase, especially if the runner cannot be caught!     

3.  Children and adults on the spectrum often are reported to talk “nonsense” especially when placed in a new environment or stressful situation.  This “nonsense” talk can become loud and disruptive to others, especially in an inclusive classroom or location.  Adults, and sometimes children are diagnosed with schizophrenia along with ASD because of the bizarre comments they make.  That is because most neuro-typical people assume that talking means someone is attempting to communicate.  However, people on the spectrum also “talk” because they find the words calming, enjoy how the sentences sounds, the repetition, or they just like the control they have when they ask a question and have the power to know what the answer is going to be in advance.  In other words, the person engages in self-talk because they like it, not because they want to communicate with anyone.  It also may be possible that the person with ASD is engaging in self-talk because it helps them process information, thus making it easier for them to learn.  When an individual with ASD is talking to loud the professional can teach the person how to whisper or talk softly.  That way the individual with ASD can continue to engage in a behavior that s/he often finds calming and fun without disrupting the environment.   

This workshop will offer a variety of composite examples representing individuals with ASD engaging in disruptive behaviors and how specific techniques can reduce those incidents and slowly adapt them into functional behaviors. 

Learning Objectives:

  • The participant will be able to identify different techniques that can change a disruptive behavior into an appropriate positive skill.
  • The participant will be able to match a positive technique that can be implemented to replace an atypical behavior.
  • The participant will be able to list at least three reasons why positive interventions have a greater chance of success with individuals within the spectrum of autism.

Content Area: Behavior


Larry Lipsitz, M.Ed.
Director of Intensive Services and Educational Supports
Family Services Foundation

Larry is the Director of the Intensive Positive Training Program, LLC, which provides consultative services to school districts and human services agencies, including the Kuwait Centre for Autism. His expertise is in the field of Positive Behavioral Supports, autism, and behavioral programming.