Monday, July 25, 2016

Mini-Series: Strategies to PREVENT Elopement #1

No....this mini series isn't about getting the special ed world, we know that elopement is just a fancy word for running away.  This is one of the most challenging behaviors to deal with in a school setting as it is disruptive and can be very dangerous.  As a consultant in a school district, this is one of the most common issues I get called in to help with.  As some of you may already know from reading my blog, I do not like to be put in a position where I have to be re-active on the fly to challenging behavior.  I would rather PREVENT the behavior from occurring in the first place...and then if the behavior still occurs (which it most likely will), I want a specific plan laid out so everyone in my classroom knows what to do.  This mini series of posts will cover identifying function/replacement behavior for elopement, simple to implement prevention strategies, and creating a safety plan.

As with any other challenging behavior, the first thing we need to think about before we can prevent the behavior from occurring is, What is the function?  In order to figure this out, we can look at antecedents and consequence (what is happening before and after the behavior occurs).  You can use an ABC chart such as the one below to take this type of data.

I think it is important to note the time of day the behavior occurs as well so you can see if there are any consistent patterns.  If we notice the behavior happening at 12:00 everyday right before a transition to lunch, we may be able to zoom in and problem solve what we can change about the environment or what skills we need to teach the student for that specific time of day (i.e. maybe the cafeteria is too loud, so we could try having the student wear noise-reducing headphones as a preventative tactic and teach them to request a break when they become overwhelmed as our replacement behavior).

Some examples of what the same behavior (elopement) looks like when serving different functions:

An attention function may look like a student running away from the class after a period of time without attention.  It may also look like the student looking back and laughing as an adult chases him through the hallway.  Being chased is fun...and us adults usually look pretty ridiculous while running after a kid.  The problem is, this behavior often warrants attention from adults for safety regardless of the actual function, it can often look like this is the consequence maintaining the behavior.

Students may also run to get access to something.  I had a student who would run out of the room and across the school to find a piano to play on (when we got there, he would just be plunking away on the keys and then walk nicely with us back to the classroom).  I worked with another student who would get lured into classrooms with treats and fun activities when he was found in the hallways because people were trying to keep him safe.  Great intentions, but we just taught this student that when he runs out of his classroom, he gets treats and to play on the computer.

An escape function may look like a student running away whenever a demand to work is placed. It may also occur before going to certain classes or working with specific adults the students seems to have challenges with.

An automatic function may look like a student running away after a longer period of time being expected to sit still.  It may also be more common in students who are fidgety or seem to need more movement in their day.

Once we have figured out the function, it is important to identify a replacement behavior that meets the same function.  If your student is running for attention, teach them to appropriately request attention.  If your student is trying to escape from work, teach them to appropriately request help or a break.  If your student is running due to an automatic function, then teach the student to request a movement break (maybe even to request the use of a track or a treadmill if you have one available).

In the beginning when you are teaching these skills, it is extremely important that you honor the replacement behavior (i.e. give them attention or let them take a break when they request it)...if not, they can easily go back to running and get what they are looking for.  I also find it helpful to give students visuals (velcroed on their desk or right by the doorway) to help them make these requests.  This can help reduce the effort involved in making a verbal request as well as serves as a visual reminder of the expected behavior.

Make sure to stop back later this week for the other 2 posts in this series: 
simple to implement prevention strategies  
tips for writing a safety plan for elopement

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