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Traditional behaviour strategies (including ignoring, consequences, counting to 3 and timeout) often don’t work for children with autism, ADHD, ODD and PDA. These strategies are effective for neurotypical children who are better at regulating their own emotions, however children with special needs are often very literal thinkers and struggle with the mind reading and problem solving that these strategies require.

Discussed in this Podcast

✅ Why traditional behaviour strategies don’t work for children with autism, ADHD, ODD and PDA

✅ The Theory of Mind explanation 

✅ My 3 Golden Rules

✅ Alternatives to Using Consequences When Working with Neurodiverse Student

✅ How to focus on teaching replacement behaviours and making adjustments proactively rather than relying on consequence-based strategies alone

✅ How to use social scripts instead

3 Golden Rules

By Sue Larkey

Not every strategy works for every child.

Strategies wear out. Use them until they stop working but be ready to adapt if they stop being effective.

To know someone with autism is not to know autism. Everyone works differently and autism is a big spectrum.

What to do instead

  • Social scripts. (Don’t know what social scripts are? CLICK HERE to find out more)
  • Say “what to do” instead of “what not to do”.
  • Schedules. (CLICK HERE for the number one strategy for creating schedules)
  • Reward behaviour – use their currency/special interest. I recommend using tokens. (CLICK HERE for an explanation of how they work)
  • Your words matter. (CLICK HERE to learn about the power of your words)
  • Timers. (CLICK HERE to buy them or find out how they work)
  • 50/50 behaviour plans. (CLICK HERE to learn more)

Ask yourself:

  • Is what we are doing working? If it is, there’s no need to change!
  • What is the biggest challenge we have and want to change?
  • What do we believe is the cause?
  • What can we replace it with?

Theory of Mind

Quote from ‘The Complete Guide to Asperger’s Syndrome’ by Tony Attwood

“Theory of Mind is the ability to recognise and understand thoughts, beliefs, desires and intentions of other peole in order to make sense of their behaviours and predict what they are going to do next. It has also been described as ‘mind reading‘ or ‘mind blindness’.”

Here are some alternatives to using consequences when working with neurodiverse students:

– Focus on positive reinforcement and rewards rather than punishment. For example, use tokens or rewards based on the student’s interests to motivate desired behaviors (00:18:09).

– Be proactive about teaching and reinforcing replacement behaviors, rather than relying on consequences after the fact (00:20:25). 

– Use visual supports and social scripts to make expectations clear (00:17:02).

– Look for the underlying reasons behind behaviors and make adjustments to accommodate needs (00:32:23).

– Allow sensory/movement breaks to help regulate emotions rather than punishing outbursts (00:07:40).

– Teach calming strategies and provide sensory tools (00:24:13).

– Use warnings, timers, and reminders to ease transitions rather than forcing compliance (00:26:59). 

– Keep expectations and directives clear and positive, avoid vague “no” statements (00:16:26).

– Allow flexibility and pick your battles when possible (00:30:51).

The key is focusing on teaching replacement behaviors, and making adjustments proactively rather than relying on consequence-based strategies alone.

Challenge

Strategies + Time Stamps

Transitions

Use visual schedule (00:21:16) and Give warnings before transitions (00:26:59) and Use routines and structure (00:24:50)

Following directions

Replace “don’t” with positive directions (00:16:26) and Narrate what you are doing (00:17:46)

Impulse control

Allow movement breaks (00:07:40) and Teach waiting/turn taking (00:16:51)

Anxiety

Understand “theory of mind” difficulties (00:04:00) and Use special interests as motivators (00:18:30) and Provide sensory tools (00:24:13)

Social skills

Model and role play behaviors (00:17:46) and Use social scripts (00:17:02)

Behavior escalation

Look for reasons behind behaviors (00:32:23) and Teach problem solving skills (00:15:37)

Motivation

Use child’s interests for rewards (00:18:09)

Communication

Avoid vague language (00:05:05) and Narrate what you are doing (00:17:46)

Frustration tolerance

Allow movement breaks (00:07:40) and Choose your battles (00:30:51)

Task initiation

Use visual schedule (00:21:16) and Give reminders before transitions (00:21:58)

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