Preparing for Winter vacation

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Preparing for Winter vacation
Tip of the Month:
December, 2017

As winter vacation fast approaches, it might be a good idea to start preparing our students for the transition between school to holidays. Research has shown that individuals with ASD transition better if they are informed ahead of time and if they can predict what is coming.

One way to support the transition is through the use of calendar (see Winter Vacation Calendar TEMPLATE). Using a calendar that shows when the student is going to school and when he or she is not presents a visual prompt to let the student know of what is happening the next day. The calendar can also go to the parents so they can use it during the holidays to prepare the students for returning to school.

Using the calendar with the student (see Winter Vacation Calendar EXAMPLE)

1. At the end of the day, show the student the calendar and inform him/her of what it is for (e.g., “Let’s look at how many more school days before holiday”).
2. Prompt the student, if necessary, to locate the day’s date
3. Have the student mark off the date (e.g., using a marker, put a sticker on it, etc)
4. With the student, count out the remaining days until the holiday begins
5. Show the student of what is the plan for the next day (e.g., “Look at the calendar. Are we coming to school tomorrow?”)
6. Continue doing so until the last day of school
7. Send the calendar home and demonstrate to the parents how to use it to prepare for coming back to school in January

Winter Vacation Calendar EXAMPLE.docx32.6 KB
Winter Vacation Calendar TEMPLATE.docx24.33 KB

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Transitioning from an iPad

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Tip of the Month:
November, 2017

With the increasing popularity of iPad and Apps, students with ASD are given access to more technologies than ever before. One of the challenges that parents and teachers face is to successfully transition the students off the device and on to another activity. It is well documented that individuals with ASD struggle with transition in general (Hume, 2008). This can be due to their needs for predictability, lack of understanding of what is going to happen next, or challenges when their pattern of behaviours is disrupted.
There are many transition strategies out there that can help make these transitions more successful.

Visual schedule
A visual schedule showing the student the sequence of events that will happen can help build predictability for the students. This can be as simple as a First..Then.. visual.

  • At the start of the first activity, show the visual and go through the visual with the student.
  • As the first activity is done, inform the student that the activity is “finished” or “all done” and direct the student to look at what is the next activity going to be.
  • Praise and reinforce the student for successful transition.

Timer & countdown
A timer can provide a visual cue for the students of how much time remains in the current activity. Be aware of your student’s sensory profile to determine the type of timer that works best for your student.

A countdown can serve as a warning signal to prepare our students for the end of an activity. The length of the countdown (seconds or minutes) will vary depending on your student’s ability and the activity itself. A countdown can be presented in various ways:

  • Vocal countdown (e.g. “iPad is done in 5, 4, 3, 2, 1, all done”)
  • Countdown using fingers
  • Countdown strip (see attached)

Guided access
iPad and iPhone has a built-in feature that will enable you to control access to the iPad including setting a timer and locking a screen that can be monitored using a passcode. Please see attached handout on how to enable and set up Guided Access for your iPad/iPhone.

Hume, K. (2008). Transition time: Helping individuals on the autism spectrum move successfully from one activity to another. Retrieved from

Countdown Strip22.59 KB
FirstThenVisual21.15 KB
iPad Guided Access3.24 MB

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Building Rapport

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Building Rapport
Tip of the Month:
October, 2017

Presession pairing refers to a procedure used to establish a relationship between the instructor and a student, where the instructor is viewed as a reinforcer by the student (Kelly et al, 2015). Developing a good rapport with a student can often be essential in decreasing problem behaviours and increasing engagement in learning.

How to pair with a student

1. Create a preference profile of the student. This includes selecting toys, books, foods, activities, games, videos, and other things that the student enjoys doing. NOTE: you want to collect enough items to continue the pairing session if the student is bored with one item.
2. Present one item/activity at a time to the student and allow the student to interact with it
3. As the student is interacting with the item, join in with the student to ‘enhance’ the experience. The idea is that things are more ‘fun’ with you, the instructor, around than without
4. Follow the student’s lead. As the student loses interest, introduce new activity/item for him/her to interact with.
5. Minimize demands/instructions during pairing activity until rapport has been firmly established.
6. Once a rapport has been established, began introducing small demands/instructions. Start with demands/instructions that the student is most likely to respond before moving to the more difficult instructions.

Notes about pairing

  • Pairing is a gradual process. It is unlikely to happen in just one day so be sure to run the session for a long enough period.
  • Pairing is an ongoing process. Instructors should continue to pair with the students throughout the year to make sure the rapport is vmaintained.


Kelly, A. N., Axe, J. B., Allen, R. F., & Maguire, R. W. (2015). Effects of presession pairing on the challenging behavior and academic responding of children with autism. Behavioral Interventions, 30, 135-156.

ABA Teaching Ideas. (2017, September 11). Manding, pairing, and fun activity ideas. Retrieved from

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Teaching Sexual Health

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Tip of the Month:
September, 2017

Why teach sexual health to students with ASD?
People with Autism are like all people and have the right to learn all they can to enable them to become a sexually healthy person. However, because of to the social challenges a person with autism faces, learning about sexual health can be even more important. Many individuals with ASD do not have even basic knowledge about sexuality. Many individuals with ASD do knot know when and whom to ask questions with regards to sex and sexuality. Teaching sexual health is important to help prevent the spread of STD’s, unwanted pregnancies, and abuse. Many young people with ASD or other disability are at an increased risk of sexual abuse. Many young people do not know the difference between an appropriate and inappropriate touch. Often sex and sexuality, as serious topics, are ones many of us would rather avoid than address. This may be more so when the issues is sexuality and students with ASD. Individuals with ASD may have sexual feelings that are “out-of-sync” with their level of social development and awareness. As children grow, their social and sexual skills sets are likely to become different to their chronological age and appearance. Other people, however, will base expectations on their chronological age, and NOT their developmental age.

How to teach sexual health:
Start earlier rather than later! Preparation is key! It might take our students with ASD to understand and process information and thus starting earlier gives them more time to come to terms and understand important skills and concepts. TEACH (Treatment and Education of Autistic and Communication related Handicapped Children) suggest that parents and professionals begin the discussion about sexuality at around the age of 10 which is (two-three years before the average child enters puberty. Students with ASD can be reluctant to change, so it is important to give them plenty of notice regarding what will happen when they enter puberty.

Be clear, direct, and honest!
It is important to answer your child or student’s questions about puberty, their body and sexuality. This helps the student understand that puberty and sexuality is not something to be embarrassed about and that they can trust you. Using clear and correct terminology to describe body parts is also essential and is the most effective approach when teaching sexual health. Using visual supports is a key strategy for students with ASD. You can use visual supports to explain basics of development, such as showing the student photos of themselves as babies and toddlers, and of other children at different ages to help your student to understand about when puberty happens in life.

You can also use a body outline, labelling all of the body parts and pointing out how each part will change and talking about what fluids come from each part (sweat, tears, urine, semen, menstrual blood).

Teach private versus public!
It is vital to give students guidelines about the difference between private and public. Some topics that can be covered are: What parts of my body are private? Who can touch certain parts of my body? What body parts can I touch on other people? What is a private room and what can I do in that room (Masturbate, undress)?

Resources list
• Making sense of sex by S.Atwood and J.Powell
• A 5 is against the Law! Social boundaries straight up! By K.D. Buron
• Intimate relationships and sexual health: A curriculum for teaching adolescents/adults with high functioning ASD and other social challenges by C.Davies and M. Dubie
• (go to teacher’s portal- lesson plans- lesson by grade-differing abilities)

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Supporting Literacy Skills

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Tip of the Month:
August, 2017

According to the article Autism, Literacy, and Libraries (Akin and Mackinney, 2004) “research yields a link between increasing literacy efforts, such as guided reading and improved skill levels in autistic children”. Research also indicates that read-alouds show that autistic children benefit from oral readings and may be able to uncover story structure. Repetition is a key strategy to support students with autism’s literacy skills. In repeated storybook readings, the story provides a venue for joint attention and turn taking. Engaging, colourful picture books can help a child learn to focus on the pictures and narrow the avenue of referents (Akin and Mackinney, 2004). It is important to have the word and picture near so that the student will begin to associate the word with the picture. Some students with autism may become fluent readers but struggle with comprehension. The student may acquire reading ability without fully understanding the process. The student may be very good at reading because they have good visual learning skills. However, some students can decode words beyond the level of their comprehension. As educators, it is vital to examine how much of the material the student with autism is comprehending when they are reading. Comprehension can be difficult for some students with autism because they struggle with ‘Theory of Mind’. ‘Theory of Mind’ relates to a person ability to interrupt and understand the motivation and intentions of others. Students that struggle with ‘Theory of Mind’ find it difficult to understand and relate to characters in the book. They may understand the facts of the story but are unable to answer deeper ‘why” questions.

Along with reading and comprehension difficulties, students with autism often struggle with creative writing due to lack of imagination. They may find it difficult to get started and organise their thoughts in a coherent sequence. The student may not be able to write about anything outside of their own personal experience.
How can you support literacy?
• Use a student’s special interest in all aspects of their literacy. If the student likes things related to construction/trucks use words associated with that topic for spelling and reading.
• Create your own storybooks- books with familiar photos and stories about the student’s family, pets and activities can be more meaningful
• When expecting a student to do a creative writing piece give the student some specific story starters. Students can waste a lot of time trying to think of a story topic. Also allow the student to write about personal experiences. Then to develop creativity ask questions like. “What would happen if…?” and have the student write an alternative ending.
• Once a student knows a book by heart, create sentence strips from the book and ask the student to put them in the right order to help develop comprehension skills.
• Practice sequencing using pictures that show a sequence of events. Get the student to retell the event in their own words. This will help the student understand preposition in stories such as what happened before/after/next.
• If a student struggles with organizing their creative writing task or getting started ask them to draw a picture first to aid in organizing their thoughts.

Akin, L. (2004). Autism, Literacy, and Libraries. Children and Libraries, 35-43.
Gateways Support Services,

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Supporting numeracy skills

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Tip of the Month:
July, 2017

Students with autism vary greatly in their strength and weaknesses within academic skills. Some students with autism have a particularly difficult time developing numeracy skills. Traditional methods of teaching math are through language and this is problematic for many students with autism as many struggle with weak language skills. “Some of the most difficult aspects of math for ASD students are language of math (words describing mathematical concepts), work problems (accurately translating from language to mathematical problems), estimation and prediction (Bell, January 2002). Many students with autism find it easy to learn by rote, so you may find they are very good at reciting times tables; however, can not answer more complex word problems.
• Some students with autism like the rigidity of math, working though the same problems over and over and getting the same answer
• Some students will quickly grasp the math concept after doing one or two questions and then they will not see the point of doing an entire page of additions and may refuse to do so
Strategies to support numeracy
• Concrete to abstract- start with concrete examples to help the student understand abstract concepts. Giving the student examples they can touch, see, or feel (blocks, objects, toys, abacus).
• Use examples from everyday life- everywhere you look, everywhere you go, you can always find something related to math. Ex- if you have 5 cheerios and you eat 2 how many are left?
• Use the students special interest to help motivate the student to learn mathematics. For example, if the student likes Thomas the Tank, use pictures of Thomas for counting.
• Create with the student a dictionary of math words and have it accessible for the student
• Computer or iPad math games/programs can help with motivation. Many students with autism are very good at using computers and they like the fact that computers present information in a logical, predictable sequence.
• Reduce the amount of work the student must complete
• Use simple language
• Present shapes e.g. rectangles in different forms with bases in different places (point out that the refrigerator is rectangle)

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Supporting Functional Communication in students with ASD

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 Supporting Functional Communication in students with ASD
 Supporting Functional Communication in students with ASD
Tip of the Month:
June, 2017

Communication is the process by which we assign and convey meaning to create a shared understanding. Communication should be viewed as a 2-way process in which there is an exchange of ideas, thoughts, and feelings. A significant number of students with autism are non-verbal and therefore it is important to encourage functional communication, regardless of approach. Students with ASD often use less-conventional means to communicate. Auditory information may not be the most to meaningful way for them to learn and communicate.

Functional communication has three key components:
Function- what is the purpose of the communicative exchange (e.g., comment, request, reject)
Example of Functional communication:

  • A student says truck while looking towards the person who is holding the Thomas truck.
  • A student gives teacher a pic symbol with a picture of a cookie on it to request a cookie for snack.
  • A teacher gives a student a sticky note/white board that says “Open Math textbook, turn to page 12 and do questions 4,6,8. The student then does what is asked on the sticky note/white board.
  • Form- what means or mode works best? (e.g., pictures, photos, objects, sign, verbal)
  • Fit – does the communication mode suit the student’s needs in a variety of different environments and contexts
  • Communicative Functions:

  • Behavioural Regulation- requesting, protesting
  • Social interactions- greetings, requesting permission, engaging with peers
  • Joint Attention- commenting, requesting information, providing information
  • Expressing emotions, thoughts, and feelings
  • How to help students with little or no functional communication

  • Present the student with a desirable or interesting object (e.g truck, food item, bubbles)
  • Create familiar routines and situations and structure the communication interactions around those times (snack time, during centers time)
  • Wait expectantly for the student to indicate their desire for more
  • “Tender loving sabotage”- sabotage the environment (e.g. move desired item out of reach of the student, forget to put out a spoon for their soup or paintbrush for art)
  • Initiate and direct the students behaviour towards other people (e,.g, getting the students coat and giving it to the E.A. to request going outside)
  • Use consistency- people have the tendency to just give the student what they want because we know them well. However, this will create dependency and will stop the student from gaining better functional communication skills with a variety of different people in a variety of different settings.
  • Use fewer gestures and more symbols to request, respond and reject
  • Focus on teaching joint attention skills
  • Provide the opportunity and need for the student to request in a wider variety of situations and activities
  • Expand their symbolic repertoire (look at communication programs such as Picture Exchange Communication Systems)
  • Use social scripts and rules for conversation
  • Use visual supports; which can include
  • Body language (e.g. gestures)
  • Tools for organization/giving information (e.g. calendars, schedules)
  • Use environmental cues ( e.g., objects, signs, labels,)
  • Social scripts, choice boards, reinforcement
  • Visual Support Examples, top right:.
    This picture board was made to accompany a student when they go out on Community Based Instruction trips or when at home. This sample shows one for shopping so that conversation can be generated while the student is engaged in the activity. Questions are posed such as, “Where did you go?” and the varying responses are located on the right.
    Conversation starters are listed on the left and possible remarks are on the right. This board was made to expand and expect language and participation from all students.

    a simple printed/laminated request board and is printed on both sides to make communication quick, easy and efficient. You can use this method by placing boards in the areas where they will be used by attaching a plastic bag to the side of a table or on the back of a wheelchair, wherever the child will need it to communicate. One side has the carrier phrase, “I want” or I need” and then the desired items are pictured on the right.

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Is Bullying an Issue for Students with ASD in Your School?

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Tip of the Month:
May, 2017

Most research suggests that bullying is an under-reported event in schools today. Bullying frequently occurs in areas of minimal supervision and victims may fail to report the bullying incident because of a fear of reprisal, a fear of not being believed, or a belief that reporting the incident won’t help.

Students with ASD, particularly those with Asperger’s Syndrome or High Functioning Autism (HFS), are thought to be at much higher risk for being bullied than more challenged students with ASD or than their typical peers because of their social difficulties, specifically a failure to accurately read social signals and a tendency to struggle with emotional regulation.

We’ve written tips of the month on the topic before, but the recent media focus on bullying brought the topic to the forefront yet again.
A recent visit to an intermediate classroom provided a very typical example of a school team struggling to support a student with ASD who was a victim of bullying. The student was being consistently ignored, teased or berated by his classmates, usually without the knowledge of the teacher. The victim was a kind and socially interested young boy who often acted impulsively and attempted to get the attention of his peers in ways they perceived as socially immature. The student who sat next to him often tried to re-direct the student with ASD but was not very assertive himself and on the playground backed away from physical play or conflict.

The teacher was extremely concerned about a couple of past incidents and had talked to her class about being kind to the victimized student on previous occasions. She modeled respect and understanding in her interactions with all the students, but the classroom had several needy students, including another student with Asperger’s Syndrome. The learning assistance teacher had created a social skills group with two supportive peers and the victimized student in which she tried to help the victimized student develop strategies to avoid bullies.

There was a strong element in her lessons of improving his social thinking so that he could understand why his behaviours were making him a target for bullying, but the primary strategy taught was to teach him to “walk away” (which, of course, left him with no social interaction).

The student with ASD tried very hard to be included but his efforts frequently failed. He was frustrated and sad that others didn’t like him or were mean to him even when he tried. More and more he was resisting coming to school, or was avoiding social situations by hiding in the washroom or retreating to the The problem was clearly multi-faceted and was not being successfully remedied by trying to improve the social skills of the student with ASD or by reminding his classmates to be kind.


How common is this picture and what can we do as teachers and parents to make a difference?

How do you know if there is problem in your school?

ask the kids!

Research suggests that other students are often the most reliable judges of who are bullies and victims in their peer groups. Teach the difference between “ratting” and reporting. Remind bystanders of their role and encourage reporting to a designated adult such as the school counsellor.

listen to concerns expressed by parents, students and colleagues.

If anyone notices a change in the behaviour or attitude of the student with ASD, it can be a sign that bullying or being ostracized is taking place. Take the concerns seriously and investigate! You can read about some of the common signs of bullying in Barbara Coloroso’s Bully Handout for Teens.

what makes a difference?

Here’s what the research shows:
positive behaviour supports
Model and reinforce the concepts of support, kindness and acceptance. Adults should never ignore unkindness or bullying in their presence as that sends a message that these behaviours are tolerated or condoned.
school wide behavioural expectations
Implement programs that provide clear consistent messages about how students are expected to treat each other, and that reward these behaviours.

peer sensitivity training
Encourage empathy in peers by teaching them about ASD and explaining why students with ASD behave as they do. Provide positive information about Asperger’s and HFA rather than focusing only on weaknesses. Help peers understand that students with ASD struggle with social and communication skills and ask for their help in redirecting their classmate.

peer mentoring programs
Train and assign peer mentors who share similar interests with the student with ASD (strength based approach). Provide opportunities for the individual with ASD to use their strengths and affinities.

address the issue of bystanders
Promote a culture in which bystanders are rewarded for stepping up to defend a victim. In Barbara Coloroso’s book, The Bully, the Bullied and the Bystander, she states, “a potent force is kids themselves showing bullies that they will not be looked up to, nor will their cruel behaviour be tolerated or condoned.”

So we say… take it seriously.

The attitude of “kids will be kids” should be relegated to history when it comes to bullying behaviours. With increased awareness, many schools have made great inroads in reducing overt school bullying and violence.

We recommend the following resources to help your school understand how to more effectively deal with the issue of bullying, particularly with regard to students with ASD:

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Setting Up Visual Schedules

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Setting Up Visual Schedules
Setting Up Visual Schedules
Setting Up Visual Schedules
Setting Up Visual Schedules
Setting Up Visual Schedules
Tip of the Month:
April, 2017

As the school year is well under way, we want to make sure that all of our students are set up with visual schedules that will support their learning and facilitate independence.

What are visual schedules?
Visual schedules are any form of visual representation that portrays a sequence of tasks or events. For example, many of us might use calendars, day planners, and timetables. We use these tools to support our personal organization and memory and to help us remember and be better prepared for upcoming events.

How do they support our students with ASD?
Most students with ASD have strengths in visual processing relative to auditory processing. This means that they are better able to process and understand information that they can see (e.g., pictures, text, diagrams) than information that they hear (e.g., lectures, verbal instructions). Additionally, a common area of difficulty among students with ASD is executive functioning, which includes sequencing, organizing, and planning, and impacts activities such as transitions. With visual schedules, we support transitions and student preparation by showing them what is finished, what is coming up, and when a change is going to occur. By using visual schedules, we are supporting our students by taking a load of the brain and putting it on paper.

What should they look like?
When designing visual schedules it is important to use an appropriate level of symbolic representation for your particular student. Symbolic representation refers to your student’s level of understanding of visual symbols representing concepts. Listed below are different levels of symbolic representation from most basic to most complex.

Real objects → miniature objects → photographs → coloured drawings → black line drawings → written words
Some students will need real and personally relevant objects (e.g., their own glove to know that it is outside time). Others may be able to use related objects (e.g., a small wooden spoon for cooking time). Photographs might include pictures of the student, activity, or place where the activity occurs. Drawings may take the form of coloured drawings or more abstract line drawings and may be generated from the computer or hand drawn. Reliable readers will use written schedules, which is likely more similar to what is used by peers. However, some students may require more detailed written schedules than what is included on the classroom schedules; specific times, room numbers, and materials needed may be helpful to have on their schedule.
Remember, the level of symbolic representation that you choose will depend on what is meaningful to the student. It is important to choose the level that is most abstract but that your student can easily and reliably understand.

Tips for using visual schedules:
• The use of visual schedules must be directly taught to students. Initially students will need prompts to refer to the schedule and match activities to their representation on the schedule. However, visual schedules are intended to foster independence so prompts should be faded as the use of a schedule becomes more familiar.
• Be sure to involve you student in the set-up of the schedule. Once in place, be sure to review it at the beginning of the day. Sometimes, you may only present part of the schedule at a time – some students may find too many items on their schedule to be overwhelming.
• Be sure to include an activity completion symbol – cross out, take off, remove object, or turn over photograph/picture. This will help students remember where they are in their day and see what is coming up next.
• Always have a way to indicate a change. Be sure to build flexibility into visual schedules by teaching your student that change is ok and having a symbol to indicate when a change in their schedule is going to occur.
• Expect visual schedules to grow and change over time. As your students’ skills improve and environments change, so will their symbolic understanding and daily activities. Make sure their visual schedules utilize their most complex level of symbolic understanding and accurately reflect their school day.

Bottom line:
Setting up effective visual schedules requires an understanding of your students’ needs and symbolic understanding. Using visual schedules not only adds consistency and predictability to students’ days but teaches a functional life skill that students with ASD can use throughout their lives.

Cohen, M.J. & Sloan, D.L (2007). Visual Supports for People with Autism: A Guide for Parents and Professionals. Woodbine House Inc., Maryland, USA. ISBN: 978-1890627478

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Using Consequences to Manage Behaviour

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Tip of the Month:
March, 2017

A consequence is any event that occurs immediately after behaviour. Consequences can be used to reinforce and increase behaviours (e.g., giving a student a high-5 for finishing a math assignment) or to punish and decrease behaviours (e.g., telling a student to “quiet down” after talking out in class).

Behaviour management both at home and school often focuses on consequences intended to punish or decrease undesirable behaviours. Common punishments include response cost (e.g., losing privileges), time out, or reprimands. Punishment can be effective in that the challenging behaviour may immediately stop; however, this type of consequence is unlikely to be effective in changing behaviour over the long term.

Why do we rely on punishment?

  • Punishment is quicker and easier to deliver (e.g., telling a student to leave the room).
  • Punishment often has an immediate effect in that the student will stop the challenging behaviour.

Problems with punishment:

  • It focuses only on stopping behaviour at the surface level (e.g., a quick fix).
  • It does not teach students appropriate replacement behaviours (e.g., telling students to “quiet down” in class does not teach them to raise their hands instead).
  • It may not address the function or purpose of the behaviour. For example, if a student talks to peers during math class to avoid doing the work, sending him or her out of the classroom only reinforces that avoidant behaviour. Similarly, if a student calls out in class to get adult attention, telling him or her to “quiet down” reinforces that attention-seeking behaviour.
  • Punishments may be applied continuously over time, and the student may develop negative associations with the adult delivering the punishment.

How to use consequences more effectively:

  • Gather information on when and where the challenging behaviour is likely to occur and what purpose it may serve.
  • Focusing on delivering reinforcement for desirable behaviours will lead to a better pay off long term.
  • Ensure that the consequence delivered is instructional.
  • Take time to reflect on your own practice as a teacher or caregiver, switching from punishment-to reinforcement-based consequences takes time and thoughtful effort.

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