Last modified at 1/4/2013 4:07 PM by System Account

Behaviour Support Strategies


Behaviour management strategies can be used to foster academic engagement and reduce overt behavioural symptoms of ADHD. In this section we discuss both antecedent-focused and consequence-oriented strategies that teachers may use to manage behaviour.

Antecedent-focused behaviour support strategies

In addition to making instructional choices that optimize student learning and engagement, children with ADHD also benefit from a proactive approach to social skills and behaviour management. Positive teacher practices are related to increases in task engagement and prosocial behaviour in students.1 For example, it has been suggested that teachers can do several things in the classroom to develop a proactive approach to developing students' social skills and positive behaviours.2 These incluce:

1. Creating an environment in the classroom that is positive, encouraging, and supportive:

  • Provide students with more encouragement and positive feedback than negative feedback.
  • Have positive and high expectations for each student.

2. Teaching rules and reminding students of key rules and classroom expectations frequently:

  • Make sure that students understand what appropriate behaviour looks and sounds like (for example, explain to students what they need to say or do when they require help)
    • Be explicit, model the behaviour, give guided practice, and provide reinforcement when the student exhibits the behaviour.
  • Provide students with visual cues (e.g., poster) to remind them of rules and state rules in a positive manner ("Please walk" vs "Don't run").
  • Use preventative strategies such as positive reminders (that is, cues) of appropriate behaviours and/or expectations for a given situation, rather than providing negative feedback once the misbehaviour has already occurred. For example, before beginning a small group lesson, remind all the students to raise their hands when they wish to speak so that only one student talks at a time.

3. Provide students with positive and specific feedback regarding their ability to show appropriate behaviour in the classroom:

  • Provide specific feedback about student actions and performance (for example, "Thank you for walking to the door quietly" vs. "Good job!").
  • Help students demonstrate appropriate behaviours by giving them cues and prompts. Reinforce the behaviour with specific feedback (for example, "Remember, put your hand up to ask for help. Thank you, John, for putting your hand up to ask for assistance.").

4. Setting up classroom routines for various classroom tasks or actions. Students with ADHD may need to review routines frequently and have picture cues illustrating key steps (younger students) or checklists guiding actions (older students):

  • Create predictable schedules and routines for:
    • transitions
    • turning in homework
    • asking for help
    • getting supplies or materials

Consequence-oriented behaviour management strategies

Students with ADHD also tend to respond positively to consequence-oriented behaviour management techniques, but these should be accompanied by proactive strategies designed to increase academic success and prevent or reduce inappropriate behaviours.

A number of excellent resources exist that provide clear descriptions of more consequence-oriented behavioural management techniques such as token economies, response cost procedures, and behavioural contracts.5 The important thing to remember when using such types of management techniques is that they do not teach more appropriate skills or behaviours, but either positively or negatively reinforce existing actions and behaviours. By combining an instructional approach (for example, teaching an organizational strategy, providing student with instructional supports, teaching a specific social skill, modelling how to ask for help) and behavioural management techniques, a teacher helps set up the student for success.

It is important for teachers to remember that the frequency and timing of feedback and reinforcement for students with ADHD is important. That is, children with ADHD often need more frequent and immediate feedback than their non-ADHD peers. For example, a non-ADHD student may be reinforced by a weekly or monthly reinforcement schedule (for example, earning points for an activity reward at the end of the week), whereas a child with ADHD will respond better when reinforcement is provided on a daily schedule.


Behavioural management systems that provide consistent and immediate rewards to children with ADHD have been found to be effective in reducing the severity of symptoms of ADHD and increasing productivity.5 These techniques can be used with the instructional adaptations to further support the child's goals. Before implementing one or more of these programs, however, it is necessary to ensure that students have the skills and the instructional supports they need to accomplish their goals.

Here are brief descriptions of three types of behaviour management programs.

1. Token economy

Token economy management systems provide students with "tokens" or secondary reinforcers when students demonstrate a specific target behaviour.5 The steps for setting up a token economy reinforcement system are:

  1. Decide on goals to be met (for example, completion of independent seat-work).
  2. Decide on the type of secondary reinforcer (token) to be used (for example, poker chips, check marks).
  3. Decide how many tokens are to be earned by demonstrating target behaviours (teachers can break more complex tasks down into component parts and give tokens for each part).
  4. Student and teacher work out the types of activities that the tokens could be exchanged for (for example, five tokens equals five minutes free time at the computer).
  5. Students are taught the value of the tokens (model what has to happen to earn a token).
  6. Students can exchange tokens for activities on a daily basis.
  7. The intervention should be monitored to assess its effectiveness — are there increases in appropriate target behaviours?


Behavioural contract


a behavioural contract, the specific or target behaviours are outlined (for example, number of math questions completed accurately during seat-work assignment). Of course, it is important that the target behaviour that is outlined is achievable. The student should be receiving work in reasonable quantities (remember the slow processing speed of many students with ADHD), the work should be well within the child's instructional level, and the student should have a clear understanding of how to do the assignments (for example, double-checking that the student understands the directions or providing the student with a worked example).

The steps for setting up a behavioural contract are:5

  1. The teacher and the student identify the target behaviour(s) on the contract.
  2. Begin the program with a focus on a limited (for example, two or less) number of target behaviours. The behaviours should be specific, observable, and positively stated.
  3. The goal each day is to have the student reach a specified criterion regarding the target. The criterion that is initially set should be attainable by the student. For example, at the beginning of using a behavioural contract for math, the student may select an activity reward if the student completes 50% of the assigned problems.
  4. Give the reinforcement either at the end of the class or at the end of the day.
  5. The criterion to meet is then increased steadily as the student is able to meet each new goal level.

The student can also chart progress across the week using a graph. This visual depiction of improvement can help the student see that progress is being made


The typ

es of reinforcers can be varied and should be developed with the student's preferences in mind. The student may have preferred activities that he or she would like to use as rewards for successfully meeting the goal(s). Activity rewards might include:

  • free time on the computer
  • caring for an animal
  • selecting a book to read with the teacher
  • drawing
  • playing a game

3. Using self-monitoring to help students improve behaviour and academic productivity

Students can be taught how to self-monitor (observe and record) their own behaviours.5-7 Older students can use checklists or forms to monitor task completion, accuracy, or engagement.7 Younger students may benefit from a "countoon" with which they can monitor their actions.6 Countoons are used to record instances of appropriate and inappropriate behaviours. If students meet the criterion for both types of behaviour (that is, increases in one and decreases in the other) then they receive the identified reinforcement. The teacher decides the specific criteria with the student ahead of time. For example, in Figure 7-1 the student needs to complete at least six math questions and not be off-task for more than five times.

The purpose behind the countoon is to help the student identify desired behaviours that should occur rather than other, less desirable behaviours. The desired behaviours could be social (working cooperatively with small group on a project) or academic (for example, counting the number of questions completed accurately).6 Signals to record observations can be teacher-initiated or the student can monitor independently.

At the end of the session or class the student can be praised for his or her hard work recording and the student and teacher can determine whether the criteria were met. If the goals were met, then the student can have the reward or contingency. Once the student earns the reward with consistency, gradually fade the use of the countoon but increase the use of oral praise (specific to the actions you want to see).

Figure 7-1: Example of Typical Countoon


Modifiying the countoon

We decided to modify a typical countoon (see Figure 7-2) to reflect our ideas regarding instructional language and working memory. In the revised countoon we have made an explicit link between the desired behaviour and the reinforcement by using a when... then statement. In addition, we have included only a picture of the desired behaviour, but not a picture of the inappropriate behaviour. This means that we are highlighting a behaviour that is not compatible with the undesired behaviour. That is, if the child is displaying criterion levels of productivity, then he or she is not likely to be off-task.

Prior to using the countoon, the teacher would identify the criteria to meet (for example, complete six questions) and the amount of reinforcement (for example, five minutes on the computer).

Figure 7-2: Example of Modified Countoon


There are several advantages of using countoons with students.6 First, students have a clear picture of what it is they are supposed to do. Countoons provide visual support that may help students keep in mind what the goal is and facilitate appropriate actions. Self-monitoring also provides the student with specific and immediate feedback regarding their behaviour. A third advantage is that students feel that they are important to the change process and have a key role to play. Fourth, students can use the countoons to help communicate their actions to their parents.

It is very important that teachers begin using a countoon program with criteria that are achievable by the student. If the goals are too difficult to reach, the program will likely not be successful. However, as the student becomes more able to meet the criteria, the criteria can be slowly raised.

1 Beyda, S.D., Zentall, S.S., & Ferko, D.J.K. (2002). The relationship between teacher practices and the task-appropriate and social behavior of students with behavioral disorders. Behavioral Disorders, 27, 23


2 Darch, C., & Kameenui, E. (2004). Instructional Classroom Management: A Proactive Approach to Behavior Management (2nd ed.). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson-Merrill Prentice Hall.

3 Brophy, J.E. (1996). Teaching Problem Students. New York: Guildford Press.

4 Walker, H.M., Colvin, G., & Ramsey, E. (1995). Antisocial Behavior in Schools: Strategies and Best Practices. Pacific Grove, CA: Brooks/Cole.

5 DuPaul, G.J., & Stoner, G. (2003). ADHD in the Schools: Assessment and Intervention Strategies. New York: Guildford P



6 Daly, P.M., & Ranalli, P. (2003). Using countoons to teach self-monitoring skills. Teaching Exceptional Children, 35, 30-35.

7 Rock, M.L. (2005). Use of strategic self-monitoring to enhance academic engagement, productivity, and accuracy of students with and without exceptionalities. Journal of Positive Behavior Intervention, 7, 3-17.