Running is a scary behavior and potentially dangerous behavior because your student could get outside of the school. He could get lost, hit by a car, or walk into a stranger’s home. If your child or student has these types of behaviors, your mind has definitely gone to these worst case scenarios. I remember losing sleep regularly thinking about a student who had high frequency running behavior and stressing like crazy over what would happen if he ever got out of the school.
Keep them in your class. This is really the golden rule when it comes to runners. Do whatever you can to keep them in your room. Once that foot gets one inch outside your door, all bets are off. Once they are outside your room, you are chasing them and they are loving it. You’ve completely reinforced the inappropriate behavior but you had no choice. You had to keep them safe. Some schools may have systems set up with different staff at different spots in the hallway or building so you can avoid that. But unfortunately many of our classrooms don’t have that much staff to do that. The number one goal is keeping them safe, so do whatever you have to do to get them once they leave your room. But the goal is avoiding that. The goal is keeping them in your room where you can be teaching replacement behaviors.
In the effort to keep them in your room, think obstacles. Go through your student’s schedule and make sure that at every single point of the day there is not a direct pathway to the door. When I do behavior consults, the teacher and I literally do this together. We walk around the room and go to every single spot the student will be at. Sometimes you forget about a specific center or time of day when the student is very close to the door. You classroom may look like a maze. That’s okay. That’s actually good. A maze means it will take your student 4 seconds instead of 2 seconds to get to the door and the extra 2 seconds may be enough to prevent that escape. Use furniture and dividers to create zig zag pathways around your room. I know it’s tempting to do something potentially unsafe like put a lock on the door – but it’s majorly breaking fire code so steer clear of that. If you have two doors in your room, block one up completely so you only have to worry about one.
Have a super clear and straightforward schedule of who is in charge of this student at all times of day. Make sure the transition handoff is clear. Clarify with staff what they should do if they need to go to the bathroom or get up to get a pencil when working with this student. Make sure the goal is clear to everyone – keep him in the room.
If they do get out – minimize the attention component. Sometimes we are doing everything right, working on analyzing the function of the behavior, teaching a replacement response, added in loads of preventative interventions keep the student in your classroom – and life happens and you blink and your student is halfway down the hallway. As we talked about, yes you are going to run after him to get him because above everything safety is important. But minimize the attention that goes into this. Picture two scenarios: 1 – Johnny runs down the hallway. Three adults start running after him, one of them yelling. They catch up to him. One adult yells to the other, “got him.” Another adult, starts lecturing Johnny on we he shouldn’t be running. The three adults walk him back together talking amongst themselves about how fast they are getting. They re-enter the classroom and announce to everyone in the room loudly, “he one got to the end of the hallway.” Basically it’s a circus. I see this ALL the time. And it’s unintentional. None of those adults wake up thinking let’s turn Johnny’s behaviors into a parade today, but it happens. We get scared, adrenaline is rushing, and we don’t have a clear plan in place. Let’s rework this scenario. Johnny runs. One adult makes eye contact with another adult in the classroom and says, “I’m on it.” One adult runs after him, another waits in the doorway of the classroom to watch. When the adult gets him, she says nothing and walks him back to the classroom. He goes back to the exact task he was doing before without any eye contact or talking/lecturing. Attention was minimal. Attention may be a function for many of these behaviors so even though we have to give attention by chasing we can minimize the magnitude of the attention.
Know where all the school exits are. Seems obvious but I worked in a school for ten years and honestly still didn’t know where all of the exits are. Really old buildings have a seemingly endless amount of hidden doors to the outside. I finally had the school engineer walk me around the basement so I could find them all. Once you know where the main exits are, you can divide and conquer with staff. If your student is running the direction of an exit, one staff member can run ahead to that door or go meet him where the door opens outside. #themoreyouknow
Have a plan with the security guards for the worst case scenario. You guys know I’m all about having an emergency plan in place and you likely already have one with your classroom staff (if you don’t – make one!). But take that emergency plan beyond just your classroom staff. Work with your school’s security guards to get them in the loop. If that horrible worst case scenario happens and your student does somehow get out of the building, what is the plan? We tend to avoid making a plan for this because we think it never will happen. Agreed, plan for it never happening. But just in case at the rare, rare, rare chance it does – you will be much better off with a plan in place.
Use Walkie Talkies with key people through the school. Walkie talkies can be your saving grace here. Many schools already have a system of walkie talkies in place and if you aren’t part of – get part of it. If you student has left the classroom, you will be much more efficient getting him back to the class if you can alert 8 people throughout the building of it versus doing it yourself. If you school doesn’t use walkie talkies, approach your admin about getting a set for your classroom staff and a few key people through the building (security guards, secretary, etc.).
This piece was originally posted at The Autism Helper.
About The Author
Sasha Long, BCBA, M.A., is the founder and president of The Autism Helper, Inc. She is a board certified behavior analyst and certified special education teacher. After ten years of teaching in a self-contained special education classroom, Sasha now works full time as a consultant, writer, and behavior analyst. Sasha manages and writes The Autism Helper Blog, as a way to share easy to use and ready to implement strategies and ideas. Sasha also travels internationally as a speaker and consultant providing individualized training and feedback to parents, educators, therapists and administrators in the world of autism. She is currently an adjunct professor in the school of Applied Behavior Analysis at The Chicago School of Professional Psychology. Sasha received her undergraduate degree in Special Education from Miami University and has a Masters Degree in Applied Behavior Analysis from The Chicago School of Professional Psychology. Contact Sasha at firstname.lastname@example.org.