Fact sheet: information on creating a behavior self-management program fora child with Autism, a common Autism Spectrum Disorder


Written by Stephen M. Edelson, Ph.D.
Center for the Study of Autism, Salem, Oregon


Self-management is a psychological term used to describe the process of achieving personal autonomy. The goal of self-management for the developmentally disabled population is to shift supervision and control from a parent, caregiver, job coach, or employer to the person him-/herself. A successful self-management program will allow these individuals to live and work independently within their environment. There are three components of self-management.



The aim of self-monitoring is teach the person to become more aware of his/her own behavior. For those with developmental disabilities, a target behavior(s) is selected, such as aggression, making nonsense noises, and staying on task; and the person is taught to monitor when this behavior(s) occurs. One strategy is to teach the person to monitor his/her own behavior at short time intervals. At first a teacher or supervisor may remind the student every 10 or 15 minutes to observe his/her behavior. Later, a kitchen timer can be used to present an auditory signal every 10 or 15 minutes to cue the person to observe whether the target behavior occurred. An eventual goal may be to teach the person to monitor his/her behavior without a prompt. For example, after performing an undesirable behavior, he/she may become immediately aware of what he/she is doing. Such awareness may then prompt the person to stop the behavior before it escalates. Sometimes there is a reactivity effect in which the undesirable behavior decreases merely because of the process of observation.



The person determines whether or not he/she engaged in the target behavior in relation to the goals that have been set. For example, if the goal is to refrain from self-injury for 10 minutes, the person and those helping him/her can reflect over the 10-minute time period to determine if this goal was met. If it was, the person will proceed to the next stage, self-reinforcement. If not, goals may need to be revised and self-monitoring will need to take place again. In order to maximize the likelihood of success, goals should be realistic and attainable; and they should be made more challenging as the person experiences consistent success.



Self-reinforcement refers to self-delivery of rewards for reaching the goals which were set. For example, if the goal is to refrain from aggression for 30 minutes (e.g., three 10-minute self-monitoring intervals) and if the person has met the goal, then he/she would reward him-/herself. Researchers claim that allowing a person to choose from a variety of rewards is more effective than simply making only one reward available. Initially, these rewards may be given to the person immediately, such as eating a food snack; but similar to the real world, it would be best to establish a token economy in which the person receives tokens (e.g., coins, stars) for appropriate behavior, and then exchanges them for a reward at a later time.


Although tangible, external rewards are often quite effective, it would be advantageous to have the person eventually rely on internal rewards, such as knowing he/she performed well. Also, while continuous reinforcement works well when new behaviors are being established (e.g., learning not to be aggressive), the behaviors will be stronger if reinforcement becomes intermittent.


Certainly, self-regulation can be challenging to teach to a person with a developmental disability; but many professionals have been quite successful using simple behavioral techniques to do so. These techniques include: modeling, rehearsal, shaping, prompting, feedback, fading, and generalization. Initially, the individual will likely need close supervision but, over time, such supervision should be gradually removed, if possible. If a self-management program is successful, it is important to develop some type of maintenance program, otherwise the person's skills may deteriorate over time. Such 'booster' training sessions should be integrated into the program.


Self-management may take a great deal of time and energy to implement. However, having an individual actively participate in changing his/her own behavior may be the key to reducing or eliminating behaviors as well as to maintaining appropriate behaviors. Once the person can monitor, evaluate, and reinforce his/her own behavior, everyone benefits.

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Self-management is a psychological term used to describe the process of achieving personal autonomy which can be a useful intervention for people with Autism Spectrum Disorders