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Thinking outside the square.....

Updated: May 28, 2021

In ABA it is known as a ‘task demand’ and it often results in a conflict of some shape or form between the teacher and the student who is not responding to what they are being asked to do. What goes well with a task demand? The opportunity to ‘escape” from whatever you’re being asked to do.

If a student refuses to do a task and is sent to the buddy class or the admin office where they’ve sat and still not completed what was required – they will continue to repeat the behaviour. That behaviour is being maintained by escape from the presented task. Each time the task is presented, the student refuses, they get out of doing it and are then sent to another environment or perhaps the teacher has just thrown up their hands and let them go on the computer.

Descriptions like ‘naughty’, ‘oppositionally defiant’, non-compliant are often put forth as excuses or labels for these students, but is it that simple? Can one of these labels define who they are and therefore the way they are treated in the classroom. Yes, it can, and I’ve seen it often. Escape is a great way for a student to maintain problematic behaviours in the classroom and it reduces or removes the aversive situation (e.g. - being asked to do work they find too difficult). How can we try to break this cycle?

There are a number of considerations for teaching staff and parents to examine:

  • Why is the situation or the task aversive?

  • Is it too difficult or too easy?

  • Do they have difficulty writing?

  • Is seating a problem? Can they see the board at the front of the classroom? Can they hear? Is the person sitting next to them annoying?

  • Are they hungry?

  • What happened before they came to school this morning? What happened last night, yesterday, last week?

  • Is a noisy classroom too much for them?

  • Are they feeling inadequate compared to their peers?

I know there are many questions to consider (and that isn't all of them!) , but they are crucially important to understanding problematic behaviours in the school environment. A great start to understanding is to talk to the student. Some solutions are simple like using noise cancelling earphones, having a snack or quick break before beginning a task or moving desks. Some solutions may not be easy and we often find those students are the ones who need us to understand them and their often annoying behaviours the most.

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