November 3, 2017

middle schoolThe school year is in full swing and fall weather is in the air. This can be a wonderful time for families who enjoy the consistency the school year promises. This may be particularly true for families with children with special needs.

Have you noticed that our children with special needs often appear to thrive when involved in the routine of the school year? The notion that children with special needs crave the consistency of the school year routine may also support other productive outcomes of adhering to a schedule, such as reducing incidence of off-task and non-functional behavior in the home. For example, by scheduling fun gross motor activities in a systematic way throughout the day hyperactive behavior may be focused effectively and maladaptive behavior may simply have less opportunity to occur.

This idea is based on an important principle in behavior analysis and is applicable to our everyday lives; if we are engaged in favorable behaviors our time is less available to engage in other less favorable behaviors. What are some ways we can utilize this concept to discourage non-preferred behavior in children with special needs?

  • Plan ahead – compile a list of activities that you believe your child finds motivating. It is easier to plan a day’s activities or find alternate options if needed when you have a ready-made list of options at your fingertips.
  • Structure your child’s free time – allow a schedule that rotates between exercise-based and quiet, relaxing activities. Allowing your child the opportunity to exert physical energy in activities like swimming, walking, running, bike riding, and other high-movement exercises will provide physical stimulation productively and may reduce the need for your child to seek physical stimulation in an aggressive or inappropriate manner. Also, interspersing “low-key” activities allow opportunities for relaxation, rest, and focus on table tasks such as homework assignments.
  • Accept set-back – realize our lives become busy and full of demands. Don’t let disappointments and natural interruptions derail your attempts to keep your child on a healthy activity schedule for the majority of his or her time. Remember, interruptions will happen and the best schedules allow flexibility for your child to explore new things that pop-up like participating in a new after school interest or attending a birthday party. Deviations from routine are sometimes very healthy and can spark new motivation and improved mood.
  • Reliably meet the physical needs (exercise, rest, and nutrition) of your child. Always rule out medical issues first when your child’s behavior appears different and of concern. Seek the opinion of your medical provider to look at the most simple possible contributing factors for significant behavioral disturbances prior to examining more abstract causes of behavior.
  • Enjoy your child! Have fun taking part in at least a few activities with your child. When children see their parents having a good time, they are often more motivated to continuously participate in those activities and demonstrate sustained interest and personal fulfillment in positive activities. Leaving less time for non-preferred activities can be a fun experience together!

Melissa Reilly | Board Certified Behavior Analyst
Clinical Supervisor New Jersey