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Developing Important Behavior Patterns

A child with autism must learn cooperation, receptive language, and other critical skills in order to live their life to the fullest. Developing certain patterns of behavior is equally as important to a child’s learning process. When a child develops certain response patterns, it becomes easier for parents and educators to teach the child a wide range of specific skills, which can increase the effectiveness of your teaching plan.

At Partington Behavior Analysts, we are here to help you teach your learner these important behavior patterns. We promote high-quality, effective interventions for those with autism or other developmental disabilities, and we offer a wide variety of autism assessment tools, services, and resources, including Success on the Spectrum: How to Teach Skills to Individuals with Autism authored by our very own James W. Partington, Ph.D., and Scott W., Partington, M.A. Let’s review seven behavior patterns that you want to help your learner develop.

Critical Patterns of Behavior

Remaining Calm

Children are incredibly active. They love to explore their surroundings, investigating and manipulating objects as they go. A parent can often ask a typically developing child to remain calm in certain situations when physical activity is inappropriate, such as while sitting in a waiting room or waiting in line at the grocery store. However, parents of children with autism often report difficulty in getting their child to remain calm when the circumstances call for it, even with the assistance of sedentary distractions, such as toys or tablets. In order to develop critical skills, a child must learn how to sit, stand, or walk quietly and calmly when they are not being entertained by someone or something.

Flexibility with Routines

Life is full of unpredictability. While adults and typically developing children can often adjust their actions and activities to adapt to the change, this behavior may not come so easily for a child who has a developmental delay. Changes in routine can trigger disruptive behavior in a child with autism or another developmental delay, and many parents go to great lengths to avoid situations they know will upset their child. This avoidance strategy may be effective for the short term because the child is not exposed to a change in routine. However, avoiding the disruption may actually further the child’s inability to cope with change in the long run. Children must learn to adapt to change and react appropriately to changes in routine.

Sustained Focused Attention

Children must be able to maintain focused attention in order to carry out a sequence of responses. The child may need to demonstrate an intellectual sequence of responses, such as answering questions about a story that was read to them. Alternatively, the child may need to rely on a physical sequence of responses to complete tasks such as folding a towel, making a bed, tying a shoe, and other similar activities. This focused attention may not come as easily to a child with autism or another developmental delay as it does to a typically developing child. However, it is critical to following instructions that have multiple steps, participating in discussions, learning from lectures, and other tasks that require focused attention.

Joint Attention

A child who has developed this behavior is able to attend to another individual’s observations of an item or event as well as their own, and joint attention is an important behavior that enables a child to develop many critical skills. Additionally, seeing that others are observing a similar item or event is critical to developing advanced social interactions. For example, a child may observe another child’s reaction of excitement to a pleasant event, or they may observe a reaction to an unpleasant or unexpected event. Both instances allow the child to learn about other children’s reactions. Joint attention also allows the child to learn more about the likes and dislikes of peers, which can help them develop predictions about their peers’ behavior in similar future situations.


Being able to use acquired skills in a spontaneous manner is important for children’s development. When the behavior pattern of spontaneity is learned, a child will be able to use their skills without the need for prompts or direction from others. Parents and educators often use prompts and directions when teaching a child a new skill. Over time, the use of prompts and direction should ultimately be eliminated. Failure to do so could cause the child to become “prompt dependent.” Likewise, a child must develop the motivation to use their skills spontaneously. Reinforcers, such as praise and tangible items, may be used to help the child develop their skill initially, but these should also be eliminated over time.

Fluent Responding

In addition to learning a skill, children must have the skill so well developed that they can use it when they need to without delay. The learner must also be able to use the skill in a wide variety of contexts, including learning more complex skills that require basic skills and using the skills in everyday activities. If a child is unable to use their skills fluently when necessary, their ability to grasp new concepts that build upon the original concept may be affected. This can create a hindrance to the child advancing in their learning plan. Parents and educators should take steps to ensure that the learner is not only developing the critical skills they need, but that they can also use them fluently.

Persistent Responding

Another important behavior pattern for a child to learn is that of persistent responding. In other words, a child must learn to continue working on a task until it is complete. When children are learning a task that requires multiple steps, parents and educators should place an emphasis on the child continuing their attempts until the task is completed. If a child has difficulty developing this skill, we must not assume that it is due to the child’s personality. Rather, one should ensure that the teacher directed the child to complete the task, that prompts have been faded or eliminated, and that praise is delivered upon completion of the task. By learning persistent responding behaviors, children can develop the intellectual endurance to learn critical skills.

Help for Developing Critical Behavior Patterns

With the assistance of autism assessment tools like the ABLLS-R® and the AFLS®, you can begin to determine the critical skills that your learner needs to develop to lead a life that is full and independent. When your learner develops the behavior patterns that we reviewed in today’s article, you may find that it is easier to teach your child these critical skills. Partington Behavior Analysts provides resources for clinicians, educators, and parents to help individuals with autism and other developmental disabilities, and we would love to partner with you in your journey. Contact us today to learn more about autism assessment tools, online courses, and more.

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