Decreasing Off-Task Behaviours in Mild ASD Patients

Modified: 29th Jul 2021
Wordcount: 3012 words

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Statement of Problem

Autism Spectrum Disorder is a developmental disorder affecting multiple behaviors in a child, including but not limited to, social skills and language development. It is a developmental disorder that affects communication and behavior. Although autism can be diagnosed at any age, it is said to generally appear in the first two years of life. Long-term issues may include difficulties in creating and keeping relationships, maintaining a job, and performing daily tasks (American Psychiatric Association, 2013).

These issues transpire to academics as well for children starting at a young age. Challenges such as problematic behaviors, lack of parent involvement or support may arise which can eventually impact their opportunity to succeed academically. Problematic behaviors may be defined in various ways. However, overall problematic behaviors lead to off-task behaviors.

Regardless of the type of problematic behavior that the child is displaying, off-task behaviors indicate disrupted learning. This will eventually impact their opportunity to succeed academically, especially when the behaviors occur often. When a child is actively engaged, it is evident that he or she is participating and trying to learn a new skill, therefore displaying on-task behaviors. Children who are off-task are not gaining any comprehension or meaning to their learning therefore, may contribute to their lack of motivation and self-esteem to try to stay attentive.

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Inattentiveness can be a common symptom amongst children with Autism, ADHD, intellectual disabilities or other learning disabilities. Regardless of the disability, it is essential for educators and caregivers to have concrete knowledge of a range of research-based approaches and interventions in order to expand learning opportunities for all. To determine the appropriate intervention for the child, it is important to understand that these off-task behaviors may be a result of many environmental factors (Colarusso, O’Rourke & Leontovich, 2013).

Some factors may include the general room setting, the time of the day, the noise level in the room or simply to escape a particular task. When an educator or caregiver is focusing on these factors or events that occur prior to the off-task behaviors, they are known as the antecedents. Antecedent interventions emphasizes on structuring the environment in order to avoid the problematic behaviors and increase academic engagement. Replacement behaviors are taught to the child in order to provide more opportunities to reinforce the expected behaviors.

According to Schwartz and Miramontez (2016), some effective physical activity interventions based on research are jogging, roller skating, stretches and playing catch. Another antecedent intervention that has been proven to be effective are social stories. Research on social stories has shown that it has been positively impacting student’s social, academic and communicative skills.

Will the effects of using a physical activity versus a social story decrease off-task behaviors for a child with mild ASD?

I propose to come up with a single subject experimental design using an alternating treatment design between a physical activity and social story in order to answer the research question.

Challenges with ASD

Social skills present the most challenges for individuals with ASD. This leads to difficulties with friendships, romantic relationships, daily living, and vocational success.Many of these challenges are linked to their atypical patterns of behavior and communication. All of these issues stem from cognitive impairments. Difficulties in this thought process is called “theory of the mind” or mind blindness which translates that the mind has difficulty with thought process as well as being aware of what is going on around them (Towle, 2013).  Communication deficits are generally characterized by impairments regarding joint attention and social reciprocity, challenges with verbal language cues, and poor nonverbal communication skills such as lack of eye contact and meaningful gestures and facial expressions.Language behaviors typically seen in children with autism may include repetitive or rigid language, specific interests in conversation, and atypical language development (Spencer, 2008). Many children with ASD develop language skills at an uneven pace where they easily acquire some aspects of communication while never fully developing other aspects.In some cases, children remain completely nonverbal throughout their lives, although the accompanying levels of literacy and nonverbal communication skills vary (American Psychiatric Association, 2013). 

While specific causes of autism spectrum disorders have yet to be found, many risk factors identified in the research literature may contribute to their development. These risk factors include genetics, prenatal and perinatal factors, neuroanatomical abnormalities, and environmental factors. It is possible to identify general risk factors, but much more difficult to pinpoint specific factors. In the current state of knowledge, prediction can only be of a global nature and therefore requires the use of general markers (Flusberg, 2010).

Intervention Using Off Tasks Behaviors

Some disruptive off-task behaviors can be defined as calling out during a task, inappropriate vocalizations, not being engaged on the task or being out of his or her seat. An off-task behavior is not always associated with the term “disruption”. For example, a child can also be off-task when he or she is simply gazing out the window or, “into space”. Disruptive or not, when a child is off-task, it impacts the learning process, reduces instructional time and causes an obstacle for academic success (Arndt, Davies, Hunley & Kraemer, 2012).

According to Coughlin, Kenzer, Mathur, McCoy, and Zucker’s article, while conducting an observation on a work site, participants with disabilities spent 70% of the time engaging in off-task behaviors (2012). Staying on-task may be difficult for many children but especially those with disabilities. According to Clemens and Kern (2007), environmental issues such as noise level can be a factor for a child’s attention span. Decreasing the task length, offering occasional breaks or providing an alternative way to complete a task can adjust the difficult task (Zucker, 2012).

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A study conducted by Schwartz and Miramontez (2016) discussed an effective intervention of using off-task behaviors during a writing activity in a classroom. The purpose of this study was to examine the effects of physical activities that were conducted during circle time during  on-task behaviors of students with Autism Spectrum Disorder during a journal-writing activity that followed circle time. An alternating treatment design was used to measure the impact of three different types of circle activities such as yoga, dance party and listening to a story on student’s on-task behaviors during writing. During the intervention, one of the treatments was conducted during the last five minutes of morning circle time, which led to the immediate transition into writing. The observers used a momentary time sampling, where he or she would record the student’s on-task or off-task within ten-second intervals.  The results of this study indicated that the on-task behavior increased when students participated in the activities that required movement right before a journal writing activity.

Another intervention that can support those children with finding assignments difficult who often display off-task behaviors is by providing them with materials that are within their skills level. In addition, decreasing the task length, offering occasional breaks or providing an alternative way to complete a task can adjust the “difficult” task (Clemens and Kern, 2007). For those with more problematic behaviors, educators and caregivers can design a visual schedule to display a routine for the day. Making a predictable schedule will help children to transition smoothly without any problematic behaviors occurring. To increase engagement, it is important to also incorporate the child’s interests to create more meaning to their learning. Worksheets, math problems or writing tasks can be adjusted by including relevant factors such as images or questions. Including the child’s preferences will help increase motivation to participate and decrease the chances of wanting to escape from the assignment. It is crucial that the interventions emphasize skill building and supporting the expected behaviors in the classroom. By remaining consistent with the implementation of the interventions, it is likely that the new behaviors will generate ongoing and meaningful changes (Cushing, Fox, Lane & Stahr, 2006).

Off-task behaviors are often documented as a foundation for academic failure. It is important for educators and caregivers to be proactive when discovering off-task behaviors in any environment. According to many research studies, off-task behaviors occur for various reasons but can gradually diminish due to the appropriate antecedent intervention. The goal for educators is to create an environment that has children actively engaged in the lesson. Therefore it is crucial for them to acknowledge all of a child’s needs for an increase in academic performances.


Antecedent strategies are preventive strategies that can be implemented in a school, home or centers in order to reduce the occurrence of problematic behavior. Fundamentally, these strategies focus on proactively modifying the environment to remove elements that may increase or trigger problem behavior (Colarusso, O’Rourke & Leontovich, 2013). It can be implemented as a class-wide intervention or individualized when the behaviors persist.  Regardless of whom the intervention is given to, applying an appropriate antecedent intervention that meets the child’s needs creates an environment where children would want to be a part of and are encouraged to learn. There are many antecedent interventions that are considered. In order for these interventions to be successful, it is crucial to remain consistent and apply clear rules and expectations. Educators and caregivers should be actively teaching their children rules that represent the appropriate behaviors in a positive manner such as, “Raise a quiet hand,” as suppose to “Do not call out”.

Physical Activity

 Some children, especially those who are diagnosed with ASD, lack social and communication skills, which can lead to engagement deficits in academic instructions. Therefore, incorporating a physical activity into the routine of a student with ASD has shown to increase appropriate on-task behaviors. Not only does it benefit the child’s engagement, but also it also positively impacts his or her health and happiness. According to Schwartz and Miramontez (2016), some effective physical activity interventions based on research are jogging, roller skating, stretches and playing catch. Although each physical activity has been proven to be effective in increasing on-task behaviors, it is interesting to note that some had a greater impact than others. For example, the exercises that require more vigorous effort had shown to reduce off-task behaviors further than others with less exertion. Implementing a physical activity as an intervention should be carefully planned as it may be time consuming. Physical activities may consist of limitations, however it is evident that it should be applied to student’s schedules, especially those with ASD or other disabilities, in order to maintain high levels of academic engagement and health results (Reid, 2006).

A study was conducted that examined whether a physical activity impacted cognitive outcomes for children with ASD. They took a group of twenty two boys with ASD and underwent a twelve week evaluation determining if table tennis had an impact on their cognition skills. The findings of the study supported evidence that table tennis has a positive impact on cognitive outcomes for boys with autism spectrum disorder.

Social Stories

Another intervention strategy that has been reported to be effective is the use of social stories. Social stories were invented as a tool to help individuals, more so children, who are on the autism spectrum. It was devised to help them better comprehend interpersonal communication with the goal to be more interactive. Originally the format was meant for individuals who were very low level functioning and very poor communication skills. There has been evidence that proves the success of the social story design in enabling individuals with social interaction. Social stories are being utilized and focusing on preparing autistic individuals for public events Hagiwara and Myles (1999).

Research on social stories has shown that it has been positively impacting children’s social, academic and communicative skills. Hagiwara and Myles (1999) stated that social stories are one way to teach children with various developmental disabilities, which can help increase their performance across educational settings. Social stories are highly effective tools that teach social concepts by creating unique stories that address the child’s social needs. It helps children with ASD and other disabilities in understanding situations by describing and explaining appropriate behaviors along with examples for a deeper meaning (McCathren & Wright, 2012). Social stories consist of personalized content that represents the significant routines, expectations and appropriate behaviors in a story format. Reynhout and Carter (2006) discussed the importance of creating social stories that include, “descriptive, directive, perspective, and affirmative” sentences in order to establish comprehension of the expected behavior that is being taught in the story. Through social stories, children can develop a meaningful idea that there are different perspectives, other than their own, in various social situations. Social stories can be easily implemented throughout various settings and with various people and are individualized with the student’s interests and perspective. These advantages of a social story demonstrated successful results that encourage positive behaviors; therefore, increasing attention on learning (Lynch, Simpson & Spencer, 2008).

Off-task behaviors are often documented as a foundation for academic failure. It is important for educators, caregivers and clinicians to be proactive when discovering off-task behaviors in their teaching environment. According to many research studies, off-task behaviors occur for various reasons but can gradually diminish due to the appropriate antecedent intervention. The goal for educators is to create an environment that has all children actively engaged in the lesson. Therefore it is crucial for educators to acknowledge all of a child’s needs for an increase in academic performances. By remaining consistent with the appropriate interventions, it is evident that children can increase their on-task abilities throughout various tasks.


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