Tier 3: Fostering Feelings of Safety

Minimize contact with people, places, or things that trigger behavior problems

A young man travels to the gym using a route where others are not crowding him.
A young man travels to the gym using a route where others are not crowding him.

If a certain situation routinely leads to problems, do not continue to expose the child to that situation. For example, if a child becomes distressed every time she travels down a busy hallway, develop a plan to avoid the hallway during school-wide transition times. This may require changing travel routes or class schedules to ensure that the child can transition without becoming distressed.

Alter materials or the environment to discourage less appropriate behaviors

Make it harder for the child to engage in these behaviors by using safe materials or by physically blocking potential problem areas. For example, strategies such as using metal instead of glass cups that don’t break when thrown, placing an extra chair between an aggressive child and classmates, or arranging the furniture so it is difficult to run out the door, can prevent recurring problems.

Alter activity schedules to reduce stress.

When faced with a difficult or dreaded activity such as preparing our income taxes, most adults will take short breaks or “treat” themselves to mini-rewards. Some of us even avoid the task by employing tax accountants to do the work for us. Children who are deafblind or have visual and multiple impairments can also benefit from similar strategies.

Alternate difficult activities with enjoyable ones. Other activities may need to be entirely changed or completely stopped. It may be necessary to provide periods of rest or less simulation at various times in the day. Including the child with sensory loss and other significant disabilities in all of his or her peer’s activities may not be important if it causes problems for the child. Consider using these times for building other skills or engaging in one-on-one activities with a trusted adult.

Be aware of signs that indicate potential problems and make necessary modifications

Children usually show some subtle signs that they are becoming frustrated or distressed about something they did or something they are anxious about doing before more significant expressions of distress occurs. It is important that people interacting with the child can recognize precursor behaviors and take data on these behaviors to fully understand their meaning. Staff must remain flexible and make necessary modifications or adjustments in schedules or activities that prevent escalation. Helping the child retain a feeling of safety, security, and success is always the most important outcome of any interaction, routine, or lesson.

Make sure there is structure, routine and predictability throughout the child’s school day

When a child is unsure of what is about to happen, where it will be happening, and with whom it will happen, he usually will not act with purpose and independence for any other reason than to get out of the task or environment.  Make sure the child has a highly predictable structure to the day and that it is reflected in his calendar system.

Create highly structured routines with clear beginning, middle, and end steps so the child is able to anticipate each step in the process. The ability to anticipate is required for the child to take an independent initiative within the structured activity. To reduce stress, it is also necessary to keep the location, sequence of steps, materials, partners and their actions, and the expected role of the child as consistent as possible.