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Positive Behavior Supports

Problem behaviors have a reason for occurring. There are four functions for why they may happen- Sensory, Escape, Attention, and Access to Tangibles. For short, we call them SEAT. Read blwo to learn more about each function and how to react to them.

Best Practices for Students with ASD in the Classroom

   Problem behaviors are challenging, especially for students with autism. It is often difficult for teachers and families to know what they should do, or how to handle certain behaviors that are displayed in various settings such as the classroom or at home. Evidence-based research has shown that the use of positive behavior support (PBS) in the classroom has been proven effective in helping to decrease unwanted or challenging behaviors.

      PBS is a community-based approach that involves learning more about the environment in which an individual lives, and working collaboratively with everyone in that setting to design strategies for promoting positive social and communication skills. Preventing problem behavior becomes the focus of planning for larger groups so that everyone within a setting is interacting in positive and meaningful ways. PBS refers to a set of research-based strategies that are designed to help decrease problem behaviors by designing effective environments and teaching students appropriate social and communication skills.


These strategies utilizes a three-tier platform that is designed to provide an increased level of intensity and support from one tier to the next:

  • primary (universal, school-wide), 

  • secondary (targeted group), and 

  • tertiary (individual support) levels or tiers of intervention, each level providing an increasing level of intensity and support.


Classroom Strategies to Decrease Problem Behaviors

Students with ASD face many barriers and challenging behaviors. Learning what triggers those behaviors is key in how to handle those behaviors; therefore it is often necessary to conduct a functional behavior assessment (FBA) to determine certain triggers for the individuals with more severe behaviors. Effective prevention of challenging social behavior can be addressed in ways as simple as arranging the classroom environment to decrease or eliminate overstimulation, and even modifying the curriculum and allowing alternative time to complete assignments will often alleviate certain behaviors. Teachers can incorporate social stories into their curriculum that address appropriate social skills as well as teach functional communication skills, which are appropriate replacement behaviors. These are beneficial skills for all students; therefore making the strategies inclusive and collective so as to not target any particular student in the classroom. Teachers can model, demonstrate, coach, or role-play the appropriate interaction skills. They can teach students to ask for help during difficult activities or negotiate alternative times to finish work. Encouraging positive social interactions such as conversational skills will help students with challenging behavior to effectively obtain positive peer attention.


Below are some examples of strategies and interventions that have been proven effective in the classroom:​


Set clear rules and routines for everything you would like students to do in your classroom.  - Do not assume that students know the expectations for your classroom. Provide a visual list of classroom rules and go over them daily. Give students multiple opportunities to practice classroom routines; provide ongoing support for routines and behaviors; reinforce expected behaviors and explain the consequences if the expectations are not met.

Use gestural prompts or silent signals. - Create gestural prompts to let students know when to be quiet or not interrupt. You can make it fun and let it be the class secret code, or you may consider using American Sign Language as your silent signal.

Stay Close. - Make it a habit to circulate throughout the classroom often. It is easier to keep the students on task when you are close. If you notice a student having off-task behavior, it is easier to lean in and whisper and get them back on task with minimal disruption when you are within close proximity. This also allows for quiet corrections for those students who are seeking attention. The teacher can administer a warning and a consequence if necessary and remain in control of the classroom without bringing shame or humiliation to the student. 


Give tasks - If you notice that a student is having similar negative behaviors during a certain time of day, then give them a task to do; such as take a note to the office or give another teacher a message. This will help them to reset and be more likely to be compliant when they return. 


Take a break. - It is important to allow for a quick break (no longer than 5 minutes) before transitioning, or even after tedious activities. Breaks help students to reset, which may make all the difference between compliance and a meltdown. 


Positive phrasing - Focus on the positive aspects of the behavior instead of the negative. This could take some time and training to break old habits, but it is effective. For example: Negative statement - If you don’t do your work, then you won’t get to go to recess. Positive statement - If you finish your work you will get to go to recess. 


Emphasize the behavior you want to see - Encourage students to carry out the rules and procedures by positively stating the expected behaviors. For example: If the students are being loud and not sitting in their seats you could say, “Oh look at little Johnny and Little Sally! They are sitting so nice and quiet in their seats!” The other students hear the expectation and then scramble to do what Little Johnnie and Sally are doing to get that social approval. 


Tangible reinforcers - Rewards are an effective way to encourage positive behavior. Rewards can be edible treats, toys, or a desired activity. Be sure that you set clear guidelines for how to earn rewards. Set realistic goals so students can earn the reward consistently, to maintain motivation. Do fun polls with the students as an assessment tool for what may be motivational reinforcers. 



Alberto, P., & Troutman, A. (2006). Applied behavior analysis for teachers (7th edition). New York, NY: Prentice-Hall.

Crone, D. A., & Horner, R. H. (2003). Building positive behavior support systems in schools: Functional behavioral assessment. New York: Guilford.

Dunlap, G., Iovannone, R., Kincaid, D., Wilson, K., Christiansen, K., Strain, P., & English, C., (2010). Prevent-Teach-Reinforce: A school-based model of positive behavior support. Baltimore: Brookes.

Horner, R. H., Sugai, G., Todd, A. W., & Lewis-Palmer, T. (2005). School-wide positive behavior support. In L. Bambara & L. Kern (Eds.), Individualized supports for students with problem behaviors: Designing positive behavior plans (pp. 359-390). New York: Guilford Press.

Sprick, R.S., & Garrison, M. (2008). Interventions: Evidence-based behavioral strategies for individual students. Eugene, OR: Pacific Northwest Publishing.

Vaughn, B., Duchnowski, A., Sheffield, S., & Kutash, K., (2005). Positive behavior support: A classroom-wide approach to successful student achievement and interactions. Department of Child and Family Studies, Louis de la Parte Florida Mental Health Institute. Tampa, FL: University of South Florida.

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