Getting Your Child Ready for Primary School – Identify potential triggers

Information provided by: Ms. Catherine Tam (Autism Partnership Behavioral Consultant)

Before a child with Autism joins a mainstream classroom regardless of whether he or she has an aide, the first concern the child’s new teachers usually have is how likely the child will behave disruptively and if they are capable to manage the child’s as well as the classroom’s behaviors. To increase the success of transiting to a mainstream classroom, parents and therapists are recommended to identify potential triggers, increase the children’s tolerance to those identified triggers, and teach replacement skills as well as other essential skills that will contribute to the decrease of the disruptive behaviors.

To identify potential triggers, we should analyze incidents of disruptive behaviors in the past. The process includes identifying the general themes among the events occurred before the past incidents, and then predicting what situations in school under the themes may evoke behaviors. Some common themes are expectations not being met, requests being declined, and corrective feedback from others.

If a child has been showing difficulties to cope with expectations not being met, then he or she may find it hard to be flexible with sudden changes of school timetable, cancellations of activities in short notice, unfamiliar teachers substituting a lesson, or new arrangement or restrictions of school activities and routines, e.g. recess takes place in classroom instead of playground due to bad weather, or teacher changes seat-arrangement in classroom.

If a child finds it less tolerable in situations of others declining their requests or not fulfilling their wishes, one common and frequent trigger to them is not being picked by teacher when they volunteer to answer a question. Other related triggers are not being picked to perform special roles or participate in special tasks in class, not being invited or accepted to join an academic or leisure group activity by peers, or even being made to wait for their turn.

The formats of teacher giving feedback to students are different from those observed at home and in therapy. Children who always look for approval from adults may find it difficult to cope with situations that teacher does not acknowledge their responses immediately or does not give individual feedback at all. Some children may be less tolerant to variant forms of corrective feedback like deduction of marks, crosses and written feedback on their assignments or test papers, while some children refuse to fulfill the demands of redoing or correcting their work.

When a potential trigger is identified, we should test it out several times in simulated scenarios. If a child does react, then we can formulate a training plan that includes tolerance training and replacement skills training.

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