Tried & True Strategies for Pesky Escape/Avoidance Behaviors

Everyone is guilty of inadvertently reinforcing attention-seeking behaviors.  We do it without realizing and ultimately pay the price when the unwanted behavior pops up at the most inconvenient times. Have you ever asked your child or a student to stop doing something and immediately get an increase in the behavior?  Have you ever started preparing your classroom for lunch and a student refuses to make the transition to the lunchroom?

The following are clues and strategies to handle those difficult attention seeking and escape-avoidance behaviors.  

General Clues To Any Attention Seeking Behavior

  1. The behavior occurs in the presence of other individuals. (teacher, parent, peers…)
  2. The behavior occurs at times when the child has received little to no attention
  3. The child often engages in various other attention-seeking behaviors.
  4. The child generally likes to be the center of attention or enjoys social interactions.
  5. The behavior increases after continuous reprimands or punishments.
  6. The behavior is usually cyclical.

General Clues To Any Escape Behavior

  1. The behavior rarely occurs when few demands are placed on the child.
  2. The behavior often occurs during episodes of teaching.
  3. The child is often noncompliant during teaching activities.
  4. The behavior occurs in overly crowded, noisy, bright environments.
  5. The behavior allows the child to gain access to a preferred activity.

Interventions are more successful when designed to address both the form and function of the problem behavior than interventions that are designed simply to reduce inappropriate behavior.

Although it is important to appropriately define the behavior, it is also important to form a hypothesis in regard to “why” a behavior is occurring or the possible function of behavior.  Ask questions:

  • Is the student exhibiting the behavior to get access to something:
    • Social attention (teacher, parent, peer)
    • Tangible (object, activity, event)
    • Sensory stimulation (e.g., visual, kinesthetic)
  • Is the student exhibiting the behavior to escape or avoid something
    • Social interaction or attention (teacher, peer)
    • Tangible (object, activity, event)
    • Demanding or challenging activity
    • Environment
    • Internal pain or discomfort

I like utilizing the Functional Analysis Screening Tool (FAST) as a quick way of determining the potential function of a behavior.

functional analysis tool icon

Strategies for Escape/Avoidance of Task or Environment

  • Adjust the difficulty of the task.
    • Provide easier work
    • Decrease the amount of work the student  completes (every other one, first 5 on the page…)
  • Offer a Choice
    • Allow the student to choose between two tasks that must be completed.
    • Allow the student to determine the sequence of how the tasks are completed.
    • Allow the student to use different writing tools (markers, pencils, crayons).
    • Allow the student to determine where he wants to complete the task.
    • Allow the student to choose with whom to complete the task (peer, teacher, SLP)
  • Increase Student’s Interest in the Activity
    • If the student enjoys building (utilize Legos, blocks, magnetic letters/numbers)
    • Utilize technology or interactive systems: Osmo letters/number, iPad…
  • Alter The Length Of A Task
    • The student may request a break. Determine a set amount of breaks the student is allowed per day. Utilize visuals to help the student keep track of the breaks.
    • The student may be given FREE breaks. If the student is on task and working, the teacher may reward him with a FREE break or EXTRA break (to be taken at that time OR as he/she chooses, later in the day).
  • Increase Predictability
    • Continue to provide visual supports as needed (timer, schedule, model each step of the task, a completed task/end result as a model).
  • Mode of Delivery
    • Utilize technology (Osmo for phonics/math support, Ipad apps)
    • Develop and implement an independent workstation. Change independent workstation task often.
  • Differential Negative Reinforcement of Alternative Behavior (DNRA)
    • Allow a break from task or instruction based on the student’s compliance while placing the problem behavior on extinction. (Example: The student is presented with a phonics task. He says, “no thank you” and pushes the task away. The teacher will ask the student to do a simple task or imitate an action. “(Student), clap your hands.” Student will clap and the teacher will allow him to remove himself from the area/table. It can be the simplest task. The goal is to gain compliance. Timer set for 5-10 minutes. Student must re-engage in classroom activity or choose to complete independent workstations.)
    • Pair with a time sampling token economy system to increase positive behavior. Determine the amount of time you would need to reinforce the student to “catch” him/her exhibiting positive behavioral responses. It may be 30s intervals in the beginning. That is okay. You will be able to increase the time relatively quickly if you are consistent in following the token economy system. Reward the student with a sticker, token, check mark…after the interval of time has passed.
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