Expected and Unexpected Behaviors



I asked Madi if there was a more formal way we could teach Cali not to use inappropriate, loud noises in public places. This is typically a problem during moments of panic or worry. She also struggles with other inappropriate behaviors in social settings, but the loud, inappropriate  noises has been specifically on my mind.


Madi brought up a technique she uses with some of her older kids. She teaches them about expected and unexpected behaviors in social settings by giving examples of the two. The idea is to eventually get them to understand these two words without hearing specific examples. For instance, if an 8 or 9 year old kid was in the grocery store with their mom and started asking an older man how old he is, the mom might later ask, “Was asking the older man his age expected or unexpected?” The kid should understand what the mom is trying to teach. He or she should hear the given choices and respond with, “unexpected.” They will answer “unexpected” because he or she understands that asking an adult their age is probably not the most appropriate question to ask. Over time this process of consistently teaching about unexpected and expected behaviors in social scenarios should registered with the child. Hopefully the child will one day be able to regulate their behaviors in social settings by pulling from their learned knowledge about expected and unexpected behaviors and not have to be prompted on what is or is not appropriate behavior.


Cali is still only five. Clearly five years olds, autistic or not, are capable of exhibiting inappropriate behaviors in front of peers, family, and strangers. It will happen, but why not teach Cali at an early age how to control some of her behaviors and interactions in a way that is appropriate.


Madi started teaching Cali about expected and unexpected behaviors today during their session. For an older child she would go straight to using legitimate examples (I.e. “Is going to the bathroom with the door open expected or unexpected?”, “Would talking loudly in a quite museum be expected or unexpected?”) But for Cali, Madi has to first teach what the words expected and unexpected even mean. Instead of starting with social behaviors as examples, she is starting with silly, nonsense situations. For example, “Is it expected for fries to fall from the sky?!”, or “Would it be expected for you to eat worms for dinner?!”. Cali immediately responded to these examples. They were easy to understand.


So for now, we are teaching Cali the easy, simple explanations of what may be expected or unexpected behaviors. Later we can progress to more advanced explanations/situations. And then one day, maybe Cali will be in a grocery store about to ask an old man his age, but voluntarily stop herself because she has learned that may not be an “expected” behavior. What a special moment that will be, especially when I come back to this very post to see where we started!

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  1. These terms come from the “Social Thinking” curriculum by Michelle Garcia Winner. What’s great about the program is that is not only teaches expected/unexpected but it also teaches kids how to develop their “social tool kit” so they can collect clues from their environment to make a smart guess about what is expected and what is not expected. In this way, kids learn the concrete ways to collect information and think about what others are thinking & feeling in order to know what is expected and independently adjust their behavior to the situation. If you have success with the expected/unexpected concepts consider checking out the whole program. I’ve used it with a lot of kids and it is a fun and effective way to teach social thinking.

    This is the social detective book: http://www.socialthinking.com/books-products/social-thinking-products/you-are-a-social-detective-detail

    This is the superflex program: http://www.socialthinking.com/books-products/social-thinking-products/superflex-a-superhero-social-thinking-curriculum-package-detail

    There is a social thinking program for younger kids, but I haven’t had a chance to use it yet. It looks cool though! http://www.socialthinking.com/books-products/the-incredible-flexible-you-early-learners-curriculum

    Here’s a PDF of the superflex characters http://srsp.weebly.com/uploads/7/2/4/4/7244139/appendix_b_-_cards.pdf

    I found a good presentation pdf that explains it in more detail: http://old.csha.org/2013StateConvention/Handouts/FRIDAY/Garcia%20Winner_Fri.SC7_Social%20Thinking.pdf

  2. oh man we are having a hard time with our son “screaming” at home & in public. he is loud & it startles people. thing is he does it as a form of play. he is having a good time running around & screaming & shouting. i try my hardest to get him to stop at home & in public as it is not apporpiate behavior. when we are near people i usually just state that my son has autism (helps other “see” what autism is & i hope that it helps educate them to not judge parents)
    the hardest part about teaching him not to do it is that he is nonverbal & only understands simple commands. i know it will take time & i hope like some behaviors, that it is just a phase. he seems to outgrow all the things that we had hard time correcting. but oh goodness…my ears & my nerves can’t take it much longer :(

    • I would always tell people as well! I think half of my sharing stemmed from a way to cover up my embarrassment and the other half was to inform them, make them more aware. It’s tough!!

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