Behaviour help for teachers of students with autism

Griffith University's Professor Jacqueline Roberts, pictured with the CEO of Autism South Australia, Mr Jon Martin. Professor Roberts says schools need to improve their capacity to meet the needs of students with autism

The number of students with autism in mainstream schools has risen dramatically over the past decade. Schools report that students with autism usually comprise the largest group of students with disabilities needing ongoing support. One of the key areas teachers and schools consistently seek help with is behaviour management.

Autistic children often do not react to stimuli in the same way as non-autistic children. Consequently their responses can sometimes be erratic or unusual resulting in unexpected language, sounds and body movements. Without a good understanding of their autistic classmate the teacher and students may feel their class is being disrupted, while they lack the tools they need to adapt.

Griffith’s Autism Centre of Excellence (ACE), led by Professor Jacqueline Roberts, is working with the Queensland Department of Education and Training to develop a professional online tool for conducting Functional Behaviour Assessment (FBA). The tool will assist schools to proactively support students with autism who display complex and challenging behaviours, and increase staff capability and capacity to ensure students achieve quality academic and social outcomes within a whole-school approach.

“Anecdotal evidence suggests that a large majority of teachers feel that they don’t have the support or skills to deal with behaviours that challenge them. There are resources available (such as online education modules, professional development training and workshops) however, it is debatable how much information is actually taken away from these and applied to practice in a classroom setting. This is the reason for us focusing on a problem based approach that has immediate application” Professor Roberts said.

“Without well designed FBA often teachers and other stakeholders ‘guess’ at what might work well. While this sometimes works, a trial and error process can be time consuming and inefficient. This can lead to an increase in inappropriate behaviour and frustration on the part of adults and students alike. If behaviour is not addressed effectively, it can often escalate and cause possible further disruption or even harm.”

The web-based tool will include a decision-making assistance model that provides guided assessment and matched interventions appropriate to the student, to develop an individual behaviour support plan for the student.

“The tool has 2 goals. Firstly, to assist teachers to produce and design effective intervention strategies … Secondly, provide a relevant educational component to skill teachers in this area so they can become more effective in dealing with behaviour concerns in the future,” Professor Roberts said.

“Basically, the more data and the more people collaborating to assist the student will increase the effectiveness of the tool to produce effective interventions. There will also be an educational component to the tool to assist teachers to design effective interventions on future students of concern.”

Canberra-based Griffith Enterprise Senior Commercial Projects Officer, Erinn Stanford Warren, has been working with ACE and DET for over twelve months, refining the scope of this project using results from a pilot project conducted with DET in Far North Queensland.

The tool being developed will also have a wider application than in assessing the function of behaviour for students with autism, however autistic students are most at risk of having their intentions or symptoms misunderstood so it is these students that will reap the greatest benefit from the online tool.

The online tool will be ready for the school year in 2017.