Dec 12, 2015

Wandering & Autism: Elopement with in the Classroom

What if?  There are so many students that will try to elope that it is hard to pinpoint one situation or student for an example. So I am going to go with a "What if" question for this post.  What if I have a student who will not leave the classroom, but will not stay with the group in the area where the rest of the students are working or playing?

This "hypothetical" may be true for many. The first thing to do would be to create clear visual boundaries in the classroom.  Areas of the classroom should be clearly divisible and clearly sectioned off. If there are students prone to leaving the area, be sure to have sturdy furniture that can serve as a physical and visual boundary when possible. Place the furniture in such a way that there is only one entry point to that area of the classroom.  This may mean that the group table no longer sits in the middle of the floor.  It may need to be placed in a corner so that partitions can help provide a physical and visual boundary.

Second, pay attention to seating.  Have an adult sit behind the student during the lesson.  Be sure to have yourself be seated between the student and the door.  Rearrange the table if needed, so that the back of the student's chairs are facing the wall (and very close to the wall) and the teacher is looking towards the wall.  This will allow the wall to serve as one of your physical boundaries. Additionally, think about seating the student in the middle of the group with a peer on each side, in addition to having the back of his/her seat face the wall.  This could make it a little more difficult for him or her to elope.

Third, try to establish the reason or function for the behavior. This step is super important because it lets you know what intervention to try.  If you don't have a good "diagnosis" for the issue, you may end up with a treatment or strategy that does not work. You have to know the function of the behavior to come up with an effective strategy. So think about a few of these questions.
Do they want to get out of doing the work?
Does the activity seem to hurt their ears?
Is there something they are trying to get to instead?
Where do they go when they leave?
Do they just want to play and not know how to tell you?
Are they doing this to gain attention?

Don't worry, if you need a little more insight on the functions of behaviors, check out this free ebook on the topic.

Fourth, make coming to the area fun.  Provide a small container (with a tight lid) of 5 small cause and effect toys or sensory items that are available just for that area. Try placing that on the student's desk before that activity begins.  Allow the student access to the toys only if they sit in the area.  Allow them to interact with the toy they pick while the lesson is occurring.  When it is their turn, have them complete a very small amount of the task, then allow them access to the toy again.  What I always do is to focus the first 3 days on having the student stay in the seat and in the area.  I tend to worry about task completion at a later time. At first it will seem as if they are playing more than working, but this will gradually shift to a situation where the toys are available for the first 1 minute then they are put to the side and available after the task is completed.  However, this takes time. 

On the next blog post I will look at strategies for in-class elopement based on the specific function or the specific reason the student is eloping.

See the previous post on Autism & Wandering here.

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