Behavior Week: Escape Maintained Behaviors (behaviors to get OUT of work!)

Categories: Resources

Next up on behavior week – escape maintained behaviors! These are behaviors that are used to get out of something. To get out of what you ask?

  • work – it could be certain types of work tasks, too difficult work, or some kiddos just avoid any type of demand
  • social situations – for kids with autism socializing can be SUCH a struggle and something to avoid!
  • sensory experience/environment – some activities or settings might be too overwhelming for some kids with autism; environments with extremely loud noises, flickering flourescent lights, or too much activity could be quite aversive for some kids with autism
Many children (with and without autism) have misbehaviors that are used to get out of work. These bad behaviors can continue for a long time because guess what? They work! When a child acts out in class and gets time out, gets a lecture from the teacher, gets taken to the principal, gets given a break etc. – they aren’t doing class work! They got exactly what they wanted – escape from the task! So you better believe they will keep those bad behaviors up! So here’s the conundrum – we come to school to work so we have to figure out a way to get rid of these behaviors and get some work done!
Here are some strategies:
  • access to breaks: There are a lot of ways to provide access to breaks. You could provide a regular access to breaks non-contingently – so on a time schedule, no matter what the child is doing. The idea behind this intervention is that since the child is getting regular breaks, he will not have to misbehave to get one. You could even use a visual timer to show when breaks are coming.
  • teach to ask for breaks: Some of our kids might not know how to ask for a break! You can use a social story, verbal prompts (“You can say – I want a break please – if you need a break”), or a script (typed out quote of how to ask for a break). For students who are nonverbal you can use a break card. When you start this intervention, give them the break every time they request it! I know – crazy talk! You need to build this skill at first and then you can working on limiting it. For example you can use a visual to show how many breaks you have. Once you ask for all of them you are done. 
  • make tasks easier: Maybe the tasks are too hard? Try making tasks easier and building up to more challenging work.
  • shorter work sessions: Have the student complete shorter work sessions. You can include more work sessions – just shorter ones!
  • present tasks less quickly: If you are like me, you are trying to make the most of every minute if your classroom. We have so much to work on and I’m always struggling to fit it all in. I am guilty of throwing too many tasks too quickly at my kids. The second we are done with one task BAM onto the next. This could be overwhelming to some students. Consider reducing the speed you present work.
  • choice for tasks or choices for task order: This is a super easy to implement and effective strategy – ask the students which tasks they want to work on. Or you can ask them to choose the order of the work they are doing. Do you want to work on math or reading first? Do you want to do this worksheet or work in this workbook? Show me what you want to work on first. I have seen this greatly decrease behaviors! It makes sense – don’t we all like to pick the order we do things? Sometimes I like to get the annoying things out of the way first (argh… laundry) and other times I prefer to procrastinate a little and do the things I like first.
  • demand fading: Some of my students escape demands. For some of my students, complying with requests are difficult. Start small. Today provide reinforcement for checking your schedule. Tomorrow provide reinforcement for sitting at the table for 1 minute. The next provide reinforcement for opening your binder. The next reinforcement is for completing the first page – you get it. It’s a gradual process but is a good way to build up to completing a whole task. This especially great for kids who have a lot of problem behaviors and who are far from completing the whole task.
  • easy, easy, easy, hard: Start with several easy tasks and then switch into the hard task. For example – for a student who struggles to vocalize/imitate words – “touch you eyes, clap your hands, do this (imitate touching head), say ‘hi'” – delivered in rapid succession. The student gets caught up in complying with the easy requests and then comply with the difficult request.
  • breaks based on work completion: Give breaks when specified tasks are completed.
  • less work based on work completion: For example – If you complete these two worksheets, you don’t have to have to do these few worksheets. Students may be motivated to complete work if they know it will get them out of other work!
  • visuals to show amount of work: Using schedules and visuals to show how much work the student needs to do can be a successful intervention. Sometimes students get upset because they cannot receptively understand how much work they have to do. The surprise factor can be upsetting. Imagine if at the end of your work day when you are all ready to go home, your principal came over and asked you to teach for 5 more hours. You’d be pissed right? Consider using visuals and schedules to show how much they have to do.
  • overcorrection: When a student has an inappropriate behavior – they need to complete an effortful behavior to fix the damage caused by the inappropriate behavior. Overcorrection can also involve extra work. For example – if a student rips up a worksheet, he needs to sweep up the floor and clean all the tables. If they knock over a bookshelf in a tantrum, they need to clean the books and clean the break area.
  • response block/hand over hand: This is probably only applicable with younger children (try hand over handing a 14 year old to complete a work task – yea right). But with little guys – hand over hand prompting is an effective strategy. Basically any way of ensuring that the student completes the task at hand. Either use hand over hand prompts or block any attempts to escape the work time. If a child is trying to get out of doing a puzzle, – you can sit right behind them, move their hands to put puzzle pieces in the board, physical guide the student back to their seat if they run away, block attempts to get out of chair, etc. This prompting procedure may be punishing for some students and could encourage them to do the work on their own next time.
In addition to any of these strategies, it is ESSENTIAL to make sure that the inappropriate behaviors your student is doing does NOT result in getting out of work. Or they will keep doing it!! I know this can be difficult but as much as possible, make sure these behaviors don’t provide a break. Don’t use time out, breaks right after a bad behavior, long lectures, etc. – make sure that the student is only getting a break when using an appropriate way of asking (okay I’ll get off my soapbox).


Monday: Identifying Target Behaviors and Function (you gotta know where to start right?)

Tuesday: Attention Maintained Behaviors (every classroom has some of this… you now who I’m talking about)

Wednesday: Escape Maintained Behaviors (what crafty and clever things are you students doing to get out of work and how can we stop it?)

Thursday: Sensory Behaviors (let’s delve into the whole wonderful world of scripting, stimming, and more)

Friday: Behavior Management Freebies and more!


  1. Sasha,
    I have an 8th grade student who is diagnosed bipolar, has a speech impediment and is cognitively at a kindergarten level. His behavior has gotten progressively worse each day since school has started. He cannot take any type of corrective comments, teases other students, cannot be told no (ever), avoids work, and has learned that he can walk out of the classroom at any time because someone will follow him and give him the attention he is indirectly asking for. When he is followed or spoken to during this time, he will swear at me or anyone who crosses his path at that time.
    He has been playing this “game” for two years prior and I am onto his game and have begun ignoring his non-compliant behaviors. The problem is that he is walking out of the building half of the time and we have to follow him or find him to be sure he is safe (and he knows this). Today, he left the classroom bc I told him he can’t eat the lunch he brought in the middle of reading class. I told him he needs to put the lunch away and save for lunch time. He immediately said ” I’m outa here” and walked out of the classroom. I had to use my walkie talkie and notify the security guard who was doing lunch duty (lol) and he couldn’t help me. So I had to leave teaching (again) and make sure he didn’t leave building. The second time he left my room bc I was ignoring his disruptive behavior, he left the building and walked to a nearby park 5 blocks away.
    I am starting the contingency behavior plan (purchased on TPT) Monday and am going to guard my door so he can’t walk out at his liberty. I will also shorten his tasks to 10 min intervals and then give a break. The problem is that it’s difficult to keep my eyes on him every second. Even the breaks he takes are disruptive. If he goes in the sensory corner, he’s touching other kids, calling names or only spending a few minutes there until he’s walking around the classroom getting into things or bothering other students.

  2. Ahhh Kim, I feel ya!!! He knows exactly how to escalate his behaviors to get what he wants. Sounds like his behaviors are both attention and escape maintained. A few ideas: I would look at identifying reinforcers. Find high powered reinforcers that only you have access too (iPad, food, special treats, etc). Make getting those reinforcers contingent on appropriate behaviors. The only way he can get those things is by engaging in appropriate tasks. Make the behaviors and tasks short so accessing these reinforcers is doable and slowly (sloooowly) increase the work load/behavioral expectation. Make it harder for him to leave the room (have him work far from the door, make your room more have like); so you can have a chance to get to him before he walks out. If he does walk out, make sure you aren’t engaging in giving unnecessary attention when walking back to the room (i.e. no eye contact, talking, etc.). What does he consider aversive? It may be appropriate to add some type of aversive consequence for the walking out behavior? Email me at to talk more about this! 🙂

  3. Can you please email me a generic data sheet for behavioral data? I work in Life Skills/Autism room and would like to have basic form we can tweak to make specific to each student.

  4. Excellent and very helpful tips!

  5. So great to hear! Thanks for reading 🙂

  6. I enjoyed the article and learned a few things to practice in class . thank you

    • Wow Kim, this student gives you a run for the money! Since he is used to walking out of class and ultimately the school as well, this needs to stop. It is too dangerous. I would suggest creating a visual schedule specifically for him. This way he would know exactly what needs to be completed and when he will earn a break. The use of visuals (pictures or icons) should make it accessible since cognitively he is at a kindergarten level. At the same time, I would recommend giving him a choice of two activities (ones which he loves) for when he earns his break time. He must be told explicitly that he may not leave the classroom alone! Pair him up with another student. Let him know that if he completes X number of tasks, he and his peer can walk to the office to see the principal (or other adult) to let that person know he is working. You might even prepare a little card with his name and a ‘thumbs up’ on it. He could bring that card when he goes to the office. I hope it helps. We all face challenging students.

  7. Hi Angel, that’s great to hear this was helpful! Thanks for reading 🙂

  8. Hi Sasha, Interesting, I read the questions and found similar situations faced by me. Learned the tips and some details about dealing the situation. I can practice some of them in my class. Thank you!

    • Hi Lata, I’m happy to hear this was helpful for you. Thanks for reading 🙂

  9. Great strategies!
    Very helpful ideas that I can use in my classroom.
    Thank you!!

    • SO happy to hear this was helpful for you! Thanks for reading, Laura! 🙂

  10. The whole idea is to find a way ( a connection or correction ) that allows the student to still complete the work without sacrificing his character and exposing his childish flaws and defiance. . .Thank you all for the share-out. . .We always have to circle back to instruction, progress, and comprehension.

  11. Excellent comments , I can understand so much easier with these real world examples. I can definitely use these strategies with my ASD students

    • Great to hear this was helpful! Thanks for reading 🙂

  12. Excellent strategies.

    • Happy to hear! Thanks for reading 🙂

  13. I love these strategies. Thank so much for sharing.

    • Thanks for reading 🙂


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