Meeting the Basic Needs of Teenage Students with Autism, Brain Injuries and FASD: How One Classroom Team Uses the "HALT" Strategy to Increases Staff's Empathy and Ability to Support Students
Our classroom team consists of a teacher and two Educational Assistants who work with a dynamic group of teenagers with diagnosis that include Autism, FASD and acquired brain injuries. Consistent communication between staff and students in this classroom is challenging. Communicating and understanding the students’ feelings and needs is an essential component of success. Implementing the Zones of Regulation helped the students with expression of feelings when willing to share how they are feeling upon arrival and during the school day. We found that an additional strategy was needed to more fully understand what students needed in order to be successful. The “HALT” strategy has helped increase staff empathy for students’ basic needs in order to meet them and build a relationship of trust.
The HALT acronym represents a list of questions staff can ask themselves or the student to uncover how the student is presenting and what she/he may need to be successful. The word itself also helps staff to “halt” and take a moment and pause to ask these questions and not rush into the classroom activities that are on the daily agenda. The success comes when all of the school staff uses the same strategy and language to assess and engage the student to uncover what they need in that moment.
H – Hungry?
A – Angry?
L – Lonely?
T – Tired?
Based on the answers from the student, staff can then take immediate measures to connect the student with the resource they require to be successful in the classroom. The adoption of the “HALT” strategy enhances the use of the Zones of Regulation at the school which empowers students to express their feelings. HALT empowers the classroom team to identify and respond to the basic needs of each student.
|Student Need||Examples of Staff Responses|
|Hungry||Allow student to eat some or all of their food as needed. We are able to source additional food for snacks.|
|Angry||Offer the gym, ride stationary bike, play sports or play a relaxing game.|
|Lonely||Provide opportunity for social interactions/games (Ex. Rainbow Loom, floor puzzles, or Lego with a classmate).|
|Tired||Offer rest in bean bag chair or on a mat to reset the body to move forward.|
Here is a recent classroom scenario in which staff employed HALT to understand and meet the student’s immediate needs:
A student with Autism arrived off of his bus. He was non-responsive to staff’s inquiries and greetings. Upon arrival in the classroom he began yelling and swearing at people. Staff asked him, “Why are you upset?” He continued to yell and berate a nearby classmate. All other students were removed from the room to reduce the audience and stimuli of having more noise and bodies around. Next, the student was given space and time. He was left alone for two minutes without engagement of any kind. After this two minute reset, staff followed the “HALT” line of questioning:
Staff: Did you eat breakfast? Do you want to have your snack now? (Hungry)
Student: No! They didn’t let me and I didn’t finish my game!
This is always the first question and the student is allowed to eat all of his lunch if necessary. Our classroom team would rather the student eat all his food and be full and have to source extra food for his lunch later in the day, than regulate how much he eats while he is displaying anxious and aggressive behavior. After he has eaten, staff reassesses his ability to move on with classroom activities. HALT plays a vital role as staff ask questions to uncover more information regarding his presentation and needs.
Staff: Why are you angry? What happened last night/this morning? (Angry)
Student: I couldn’t finish my game. They took all my toys away.
Staff: Did you sleep last night? (Tired)
Student: No…I didn’t sleep all that much.
Knowing that this student is hungry, sleep deprived, and has had a conflict at his group home, staff can then offer him time to self-regulate by allowing him to rest and offering food. There is no point in engaging in a tug of war, trying to get the student to work on curriculum tasks until his basic needs are met. In this scenario staff provided a bean bag chair for the student to rest on while staff read a tale from a Greek Mythology book (student’s preferred book). These two calming activities allowed for the student to get the rest he required and engage in a story. After one hour the student was able to refocus and continue on with his regular programming.
HALT is a simple strategy that can be implemented in the daily routine of a classroom. This strategy has increased staff awareness of students’ needs. Once these needs are recognized, staff empower students to verbalize what they need and utilize available resources to meet those needs.
Sue Thomas is an Educational Assistant with over twenty five years experience. She has a passion for working with children and adults with Autism. Gerry Gabrielle is an Educational Assistant with a dynamic background, working with special needs children and adults in the classroom setting and in care facilities. Myles Bingham is a classroom teacher with a Master’s of Education Psychology with a focus on Special Education. As a part of Institutional Services Schools within the Edmonton Public School Board, this team works to support positive behavior and build life skills for success in school and in the community.
The Autism Speaks Canada blog features opinions from people throughout the autism community. Each blog represents the point of view of the author and does not necessarily reflect Autism Speaks Canada’s beliefs or point of view.