Identifying the Problem Behavior

Hold on to your beach towels – our Summer Series is officially under way. This summer we will be delving into Reducing Problem Behaviors. This is inarguably, the hands-down most important issue in your classroom. No matter how perfectly organized your classroom is and how many resources you have – when you are getting bit that doesn’t freaking matter. Aggression and highly disruptive behaviors need to be reduced immediately and you NEED to dedicate the time to making that happen.

The key to utilizing this system in a way that is successful and effective you have to follow the steps. It’s not one of those skim the first few chapters kinda deals. You have to put in the leg work in a real way. So let’s start with the most basic part – identify the problem behavior.

Yes these seems stupidly obvious but first things firsts – you need to prioritize. Big time. If you are targeting reducing biting and self-injury, let’s let the nose picking and swearing slide for a little. I know, I know. But then they will be “getting away” with it. Simmer down. We will get to that later. But trust me – you cannot target 50 behaviors at once. If someone tried to change each and every of your behaviors, you would flip out. Prioritize within each student and within your class. In the same way you can’t target every single behavior, you also can’t target every single student. So prioritizing time.

Seems easy enough but here are a few considerations you must examine.


What behaviors are potentially dangerous?

  • These are priority number one. You do NOT want to make that dreaded phone call. If you’ve have to make it – you know what I’m talking about. Calling a parent to let them know that their son or daughter was injured while they were under your car. There is literally nothing worse.

How long have these issues been a problem?

  • Consider how long these problem behaviors have been occurring. Some of these behaviors have been functioning (yes I said functioning  – because if these behaviors weren’t successful they wouldn’t be occurring)

Will changing this behavior provide more opportunities for functional independence, inclusion, or socialization?

  • This is key!!! What’s the end goal? Be ready for the – what are you gonna do next step. In an ideal world – if this problem behavior were gone – what will you be doing with this student?

Will changing this behavior improve the child’s quality of life?

  • Yes, I know, I know. You want to improve your quality of life. I get it. There is no shame. But it’s your student who is number one in this game and you need to make sure that this behavior is a problem for him (and you) but not just you.

Which behavior is the most disruptive to class/other students?

  • These behaviors we will be talking about this summer don’t need to necessarily be aggression but let’s chat about major disruption. Disruption that effects all of the other bundles of love in your classroom. You just can’t get anything done. That is disruption that needs to be targeting.


What is the cost-benefit of improving this behavior?

  • Does the time (ie. cost) of reducing this behavior equal to the benefits of reducing this behavior? This answer is usually yes if you’ve gotten this far. But something to consider.

This post is part of Summer Series: Reducing Problem Behavior. Click here to see more in this series!

The Autism Helper - Summer Series



  1. I will be following your summer series. Thank you for this helpful information. I have a high functioning autistic student (age 11) and wish I had a magic mirror that would let me peer into his regular ed. classes. In the resource setting, he rarely has any trouble. My fear is that I baby him or cause others to baby him because they come to me for advice and follow what I recommend. When he is stressed out because of a sensory issue is it okay that I find an alternate activity for him to do (example: play on ipad instead of going to P.E. or pep rallies)? Getting hot and sweaty stresses him out and so does the loud screaming at pep rallies.

  2. I think that if that prevents problem behavior than go for it! You can always try to build up to going to those events a little bit at a time later. Hope this summer’s posts are helpful for you!

  3. I will be following this series too. I’ll be interested in your thoughts on self-stimulatory behaviour as they are the behaviours I find hardest to deal with for my son.

  4. I am so excited to follow this series. I was a para in a self contained autism and pdd-nos middle school classroom and the classroom teacher used a lot of your organizational strategies. This year I will be the teacher at elementary level K-2 so behavior strategies are invaluable to have. Thank you so much for this website.

  5. They are tricky! We will definitely get to those! 🙂

  6. Good luck in your new position! Hope this series is helpful to you!

  7. I’m reading a book about the Son-rise method. What are educator’s thoughts on the method?

  8. The son-rise method is not an evidence based practice and I try to make sure strategies I use are evidence based. 🙂


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