Escape Behaviors {Behavior Week}

Categories: Interventions | 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 Products

Saturday: The Dos and Don’ts of a Token Economy 


  1. Great post!

    Do you have any tips on teaching staff to not give in to work avoidance behaviors?

  2. It’s great to have all these strategies in one place-sometimes I get stuck on the 2 or 3 that are working-until they aren’t-and I have nowhere to go!
    I find the hardest kids are those who are passively resist-who withdraw into themselves, and refuse. I have 2 of these, and they are so passive, and have no consistent strong motivators or deterrents. So tricky. Any tips?

  3. How do I handle my lil guy when he is presented with work, and directed to stay on task, he tantrums and keeps saying “don’t rush me”! I feel like that is one way he avoids having to start a task when he is directed to.

  4. I would write a procedure and go over with them. Maybe they are not identifying those behaviors as avoidance behaviors. Also maybe some role playing or modeling. Have staff identify things you did and why during a modeling event.

  5. I would do a reinforcer assessment and try to find some strong reinforcers and maybe set a time limit (I like using a visual timer) for when work can be completed by. You could also add a time component punishment aspect. Ie. if you don’t complete work in this amount of time – this punishment (loss of high preferred item, addition of work etc). Hope this helps!

  6. I’m a big fan of over correction. It’s pretty effective. I once had a kiddo who loved to destroy his schedule cards, so I made him a task (which he did everyday for a week) for reassembling schedule cards with tape. He HATED it, but never tore a card again. Structuring work (easy, easy, hard) often works too. It’s all about knowing your students and analyzing the behavior.

  7. I love it! Overcorrection can be SO powerful! Thanks for sharing 🙂

  8. What strategies can you use for an autistic child who verbally ( comments out loud) and physically (uses body to show dislike) complains about activities that involve writing and/or reading.

  9. What if the behavior is hurting others physically and the students are non verbal? They refuse even the fun things and cause trouble even during breaks?

  10. I would look at if it really is an escape behavior then. If the behavior is occurring during break time – it may be to gain attention. Or maybe there is something about break that is aversive they are trying to escape from. I would take some observational data and see if you can pinpoint the function of the aggressive behavior.

  11. I am going to try your tip on less work for work completed. I have a kiddo who begins to have behaviors whenever we do language arts, but not for math. Hope this works! Thank you 🙂

  12. Hi Stacy, Hope it is helpful! Thanks for reading 🙂

  13. Great article! It is very helpful reading the comments and the advice you give. I’m working with an 11 year who has avoidance behavior when it comes to transitions to different activities.

  14. Hi Kat, so great to hear it was helpful! Thanks for reading 🙂


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