Appropriate behavior is essential in the management of children with Autism. It means any fair and appropriate behavior to towards, or by patients in, a setting which can be dealt with and accommodated by other people in the same environment. It also means any behavior that avoids creating nuisance or unnecessary discomfort to any person in the environment. This also includes any action which creates anger or anxiety in any person. In short it means behaving in a socially acceptable way which will not cause annoyance or create tension among others.
The concept of appropriate behavior is further broken down into two factors; reward and punishment. Relying on punishment to enforce appropriate behavior is extremely ineffective and a clear mistake. The main reason for this is that rewards are given when a specific behaviour is performed. Whilst a reward may sometimes be difficult to come by, constant praise is more likely to keep a patient motivated than constant punishment.
Praise is the most effective form of rewarding appropriate behavior and is an essential part of the self-management techniques used with Autism. With Autism self-management and routine are highly important. By praising patients for good performance, they learn to trust themselves and become more confident. This confidence allows them to learn more complex tasks which they would previously find overwhelming. Positive reinforcement is therefore a vital key in improving self-management skills. When they learn to rely on themselves for successful results rather than having to ask for help, patients improve their self-management and self-esteem.
As an alternative to praise and rewards, some children with Autism are taught to engage. Engaging is about being proactive and taking an active role in an activity or project. If a child is not interested then this is not likely to help with appropriate behavior modification. However if a child is genuinely interested, but is unable to fully participate, then the teacher will give a more appropriate response, such as responding by engaging with the child. The benefit of engaging is that it is a more natural way to interact with peers and teachers.
Teaching Children to Behave Appropriately
Some behaviors are best taught directly by the teacher. These include appropriate behavior in class, taking part in classroom discussions, paying attention in class, staying on task and so forth. If these behaviors are not met directly by the teacher, then an opportunity to reinforce the behavior can be introduced through the use of cues or rewards. An example is when the teacher tells a child to look at a certain thing and to repeat after him or her. Should the child fail to do so, a positive reward can be given.
It is also important to use different types of reinforcement so that the rewards do not become a source of constant reinforcement for inappropriate behavior. For example, some behaviors are appropriate and others are inappropriate. It may be necessary, therefore, to use negative and positive feedback as well as punishment for poor classroom behavior. However, this should only be one strategy among many in creating a more progressive, effective and efficient classroom.
Rewards and punishers should be used with appropriate behavior-specific praise and/or punishment. When appropriate behavior is rewarded with a prize, then it becomes a source of reinforcement for appropriate behavior. When inappropriate behavior is punished with a punishment, it can be used as a reminder or a lesson for following the rules. Also, rewards can be given when the child has done something good or even great, but as motivation for continuing with the task. Finally, rewards can be given when the child needs help and encouragement, when they complete a homework assignment or task, for instance, in order to get better grades, for example.
A very successful form of positive reinforcement is the use of peers. This is done in the playground, at school and so on. Using your peers as a source of positive reinforcement is a key strategy to teach children how to behave in social situations and to encourage the appropriate behavior. When children need to meet their peers, for example, they can take turns being the “inventor” and help each other to do the right thing. This can also provide the opportunity to form cliques and groups who can work together towards a common goal.