Factors of Behavior

(Supplementary to Chapter 9, Boiling Up and Over, in Autism Spectrum Disorders in the Mainstream Classroom: How to Reach and Teach Students With ASDs)


Factors to Consider in Interpreting Behavior

Factors of Sensory Stress

When the sensory balance of a student on the spectrum is upset, the resultant discomfort can be unbearable and the anxiety unmanageable.  Possible sensory factors include these:

…certain environments feel too difficult, loud, quiet, crowded, smelly, bright, or disorganized
…the label or fabric of his shirt is clawing at his skin
…just the strain of being in the highly stimulating school setting all day is taking a toll….

Factors of Processing

When the pace of instruction is hurtling along, students with processing delays can get left behind and overwhelmed. Possible processing factors include these:

…a particular teacher is giving instructions too quickly
…idiomatic language is being misunderstood
…information is being presented orally without visual supplementation
…too many actions are required at once

Factors of Socialization/Self-Esteem

The demand for socialization is relentless but does not come easily to students on the spectrum. Any number of social pressures can weigh heavily. Possible socialization or self-esteem factors can include these:

…she is being excluded
…she has no idea how to participate in a conversation or activity
…she is being bullied
…she is worn down by failing and making mistakes, being corrected and criticized

Factors of Regulation

Students on the spectrum often have difficulty modulating their moods, adjusting their pace, and calibrating their energy. Possible regulation factors can include these:

…he is unable to settle down after physical or fun activities
…there was an unexpected change (such as a fire drill, a substitute teacher, a schedule change, or an equipment malfunction)
…he has difficulty not getting his own way, accepting no, being flexible
…waiting is too vague and overwhelming for him

Factors of Health

Would students on the spectrum be able to communicate to you if they are over-tired or don’t feel well? Remember that these very special students can also have very run-of-the-mill health issues. Possible health factors can include these:

…she couldn’t get to sleep or couldn’t stay asleep last night
…she is hypoglycemic, lactose intolerant, or otherwise reactive or allergic to certain foods or elements of the environment
…her rigid rules about food limit her to only white foods or only, say, pickles, leaving her depleted
…she is having a reaction to a new medication or a change in her medication

Factors of What’s Missing

Students on the spectrum may depend on certain objects or routines as anchors to provide them local coherence. Possible factors of “what’s missing” can include these:

…his OT session got cancelled
…he left his sticker book at home
…he feels safe only in a blue chair but all the chairs in the lunchroom are red

Factors of What’s Next

Students on the spectrum may exhibit challenging behavior not only because of what’s already happened but because they are nervous about what’s coming later. Consider that challenging behavior could be a way of avoiding a potentially overwhelming upcoming situation. Possible factors of “what’s next” can include these:

…she is anxious about what to expect at an assembly
…she lacks the skills to tackle the next task or activity
…she is worried about getting wet or dirty during the afternoon science experiment

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