Saturday, October 27, 2007

Education Technique #2: Taking a Break

Starting about the 1st grade (ages 6-7) the general pattern in a classroom is work….. then recess. This often works well for both typically developing student and student with autism. Sometimes however, it just doesn’t shake out. The student does alright for the first little bit, but eventually they start to go down hill. Maybe this happens during a particularly hard activity for the student, or a particularly long one.

One of the ways I think is beneficial to work with this situation is to re-think my approach to breaks. I find that allowing the student frequent small breaks, is often more meaningful in terms of preventing tantrums and maintaining the student’s contentedness, than infrequent large breaks, such as recess.

If a teacher or parent decides that this plan is appropriate in a specific child’s case, then the first step would be to determine when the problem occurs. Is it perhaps that Sue doesn’t like her reading program where she has to speak out loud? Or maybe John starts to head downhill when he has to sit more than five minutes?

If we know when the problems occur, we can make a plan. For a stressful program, brief breaks where the student can get up, walk around a bit, maybe go get a drink of water in the hall, both before and after the program, often can prevent the issue from arising. Sometimes if the aversive program is highly aversive, or if it is really long, breaks can be added within the program itself. Another strategy would be to break up the aversive program into very small chunks and intersperse them into other activities.

Dealing with a longevity based issue is usually easier. If you know that John has issues if he has to work for more than 5 minutes. Then the solution is usually is to pick a point a bit before the 5 minutes and give the student a break. In this case I would probably choose 4 minutes. But if that didn’t work, then I might bump it down to three minutes.

I might deliver the above non-contingently. In other words no matter what John was doing when the three minutes were up, I would give him the break. Or I might make it contingent. I would start the timer only when John was working. I would pause the timer if he went off task, and restart it when he went back to work.

There is a third option and this is the one I typically use. It is also the easiest to use, but it involves careful monitoring and awareness of how the student is holding up. I informally keep track of time. I make sure that roughly every five minutes John gets a break. However, I observe if John is showing signs of fatigue, loosing interest, or stress. When I observe this, I ask for one more correct response, and when I get it I offer the break. But I would be careful to always get a correct response before I give the break.

Using non-contingent breaks are usually done if the student has a sever tantrums, or if the break program is first starting out, or if the teacher does not know much about the student yet. Using contingent formally timed breaks are useful when the student is doing independent seat work. If a teacher is roaming between several students and can’t give total attention to the student. The third option works very well for 1:1 work, where the teacher is very familiar with the student.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

I just became keenly aware of this needed "break" time this week. We can push our student's over the edge, and ask more than they are capable of giving.

10:41 AM  

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