Challenging Behaviour Series: Escape Behaviour

Posted on: November 28th, 2014 by SAAAC No Comments

As published on masalamommas

In the autism field, when we refer to “behaviours,” we refer to actions and skills. It is important to understand that behaviours are a form of communication. They have a function, and each behaviour, no matter how mild or extreme, are always trying to tell us something. The purpose of our challenging behaviour series is to understand what certain challenging behaviours are trying to tell us. By learning what these behaviours mean, we can then create strategies to help decrease these behaviours.

Escape behaviours can be diverse: they can range from self-injurious behaviour with the student hurting themselves to running away from an activity. Even though the actions of these behaviours are different, they have the commonality of trying to escape from a certain situation, task or person.


child does not want to do puzzle activity

Often once the child learns to use these type of behaviours and is successful in escaping, it can quickly become an automatic response when faced with situations of distress, so it’s important we address these behaviours as soon as we can. When trying to reduce escape behaviours, we first need to ask ourselves a few questions:

  • Why does the child feel the need to escape?
  • What is it about the situation that is causing distress?

When we ask these questions, we are encouraged to change the conditions that lead to such escape behaviours. There are many reasons why such behaviours are occurring:

  • Our demands are too high
  • Trying lowering the demands within the situation. When your expectations for a result are too high, you might push your child towards frustration or high anxiety 
  • Try fading the child into the situation slowly and progressively. For example, if the child does not like circle time, maybe you can only bring them in during the last two minutes and slowly increase the minutes they are part of the circle. Fading a child into an activity acclimates the child more with a foreign concept, progressively making them comfortable.


Child begins focusing on puzzle activity

Child begins focusing on puzzle activity with prompting (teacher does not force child to get back to desk – learning can take place anywhere!)

Taking a Break

Much of the escape behaviours we see can be attributed to children not knowing how to communicate when to stop or take a break, which usually leads to escape behaviours.

There are a variety of ways to teach your child to request a break or to stop:

  1. You can ask them to use a picture to state stop or break
  2. You can ask them to use hand gestures to communicate a stop or break

If your child is verbal:

  1. Remind them at the start of an activity that it’s ok to ask for a break (“If you need break, say ‘break’”)
  2. Have breaks at predictable times and insert into your visual schedule (learn about visual schedules)

When your child uses any of these methods during an activity, reinforce them right away by stopping the activity and honouring their request for a break. Initially, they may ask for breaks a lot and at inconvenient times. It is still important to honour those requests as much as possible during the teaching phase.

student completes puzzle

student finishes puzzle activity

Remember there are a lot of strategies you can use to help decrease inappropriate behaviours but the key is to be patient and consistent. With time, you will see a difference.

Special Thanks 

Homes By Theepan

We want to sincerely thank Theepan Balasubramaniam of Homes By Theepan for bringing this project to life by becoming our Community Partner.  SAAAC is incredibly grateful to Theepan for wanting to develop this project. We hope this initiative not only helps SAAAC families but families across the globe.

Theepan Balasubramaniam – I’ll Move You!
Real Estate Sales Rep | Century21 Titans Realty Inc Brokerage
416-317-2986 |
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