Focus on Five: {Unconventional} Behavior Interventions

Categories: Interventions

Welcome to the dog days of summer! And since this pooch is being very unconventional by wearing sunglasses, we are going to talk unconventional behavior strategies!

You’ve collected the data, determined the function of your student’s behavior and determine an appropriate, research-based intervention to reduce a challenging behavior or increase an appropriate behavior. But it does not work the way you thought it would. Or you’ve tried multiple interventions without success. Or one of the interventions did work for a little while, but now it’s stopped working. This can be so frustrating! Lucky for me, my mentor teacher was the Autism Helper herself and was there as my guide the couple of years I struggled with different behavior challenges. I know that everyone who reads this blog is the cream of the crop, but I wanted to advise you to really know your students before attempting any intervention and as always, make sure that your students, staff and you are always safe! Here are five unconventional strategies that I have used in my classroom…

P.S. I used some gorgeous animal pics to illustrate the strategies because…(A) It is hard to take pictures of these strategies, (B) After I complied this list, I thought many of the strategies mimicked animal behaviors and finally (C) Animals are adorable!

1. Change the Routine

While this sounds maybe a little cruel and against best practice for teaching students with special needs, but this can work when an intervention is no longer effective. It also works because maybe a student has associated a behavior with a particular transition or time of day. For example, I had a student that would tantrum first thing in the morning when going up the stairs to the classroom. This student’s intervention was going to the classroom earlier than the rest of the students, but he would still tantrum on the stairs. One morning,  took him on a different route and he did not tantrum. As Sasha explained to me that the tantrum had become part of his routines and the change forced him out of that behavior.

2. Get Quieter

With some students, a louder, firm voice can be effective when reducing challenging or inappropriate behaviors (when used sparingly). However, I have had students that think it’s funny to make you raise your voice, while other students will stop behaviors if you raise your voice (in an firm, authoritative manner, not yelling). I found with multiple students that lowering your voice or whispering can be more effective because it is unexpected and they are forced to listen carefully and when they are engaged in listening, it is easier to redirect them.


3. Take Up Space

I grew up near the mountains, so I learned wilderness survival when I was in elementary school. We learned that if we encounter a mountain lion (wish I could have found a mountain lion pic in the stock photos), to make yourself appear bigger and take up space. This is a body language confidence/power move that can send a message to back down. I do caution you to know your student and make sure that this is something that would not escalate your student and as always, keep yourself, staff and students safe!

4. Move Slowly

They say slow and steady wins the race and in some cases in dealing with behavior interventions, this can be true. I had a student who was always anticipating that I would dart quickly toward him when he was engaging in an off-task behavior. He started to engage in off-task behaviors on purpose to get me to come over quickly. So I started moving more slowly towards him and since he couldn’t anticipate my next movement as quickly, he became more alert and was more likely to start engaging in his task. This is a move straight from the animal kingdom, people! Think about it: if an animal is moving slowly towards you it can be very scary and make you take action fast. I will admit that when I do this, it sometimes creeps out my co-workers, but it can get the job done.

5. Allow Others to Help

I’ll be honest-I don’t like it when I need to ask another adult to step in. I’m a firm believer that if you start with me, then you finish with me. But, sometimes, you do need someone else to step in. For example, I have a student who seems to enjoy making me mad. I tried being calm; I tried planned ignoring, but this student seemed to want to get my goat. So I sometimes I have other teachers step in to redirect. With this student in particular, I would have teachers he is unfamiliar with step in to create an unexpected element that made him pay attention and listen. I make sure I give the other teacher specific directions, so they don’t end up giving them attention for the incorrect behavior. Another form of this is sending a student to another classroom. This intervention is often used incorrectly, but if you know the student specifically wants your attention, sending the student to another environment may help them to understand that their behavior will not take up your time and attention.

Our students are smart. They know if they engage in a certain behavior, it will get a certain response from you. This response will most likely be the same each time since all of us teachers are taught to be consistent. Sometimes breaking the pattern can help to keep students on their toes, and hopefully get the behavior change that makes them successful!

Remember: In order to change students’ behavior, you need to change your behavior!

I hope these ideas are helpful to you in your classroom. I also hope that they challenge you to come up with your own effective, unconventional behavior interventions. As always, share any ideas that you use in your classroom and look for amazing behavior products at the Autism Helper Store on TpT.

Holly Bueb
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  1. I will try to apply this to my learners 🙂 thank you

  2. Hi Holly!

    I read with interest your post as I’m inclined to agree with you. I work with young adults with autism and have had success with an unexpected response to challenging behavior. I no longer take as gospel others advice of ” This is how to deal with that behaviour’
    I work in the UK, so like yourself, I too haven’t taken a picture of a mountain lion.

    Keep up the good work.


  3. As always, thanks so much. I have tried some of these strategies with great success. I did think they were unconventional as well so it feels good to hear you talk about them as well! Keep posting, I love reading about your thoughts and ideas!

  4. Hi Holly. I just found your website this morning. AWESOME. Currently, I work with preschoolers with speech delays, developmental delays, and EXTREME BEHAVIORS.

    When looking at your suggestions, I use 4 out of 5 already. YES!!! It works: Move slowly, take up space, get quieter, and change the routine. After 25 years of teaching students with special needs, I am still working on the concept of allowing others to help. It’s so difficult to get all staff on the same page.


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