While it sounds supportive to encourage a student to “make a good choice” whenever they face a moment of frustration, the impact of these words can be quite negative when expressed to an individual with autism. Making a choice implies the ability to be able to choose. When challenged with a potential trigger, what we would consider to be an appropriate behavior may not be in the student’s repertoire at that time. True encouragement of a desired behavior happens when it is first taught, modeled, practiced, reinforced, and reminded. That is the work that needs to come from the educator first, which leads us to the other challenge.
When we say “make a good choice”, we completely remove ourselves from the problem solving process. We hand the demand over to the often ill-prepared student and we can then feel justified in punishing them later because we in fact did remind them of what to do and they just didn’t listen. “Make a good choice” hands the responsibility of behavior change completely over to the student, when in fact it needs to be a dual effort of both the student and the educator. It is a matter of having the right mindset.
Alternatively, what one can say is “use a good strategy”, “use one of your tools,” or if need be remind the student of specifically what to do. This runs with the assumption that the student is well versed in this desired behavior and it is believed that it will steer them away from that which is undesired. You wouldn’t ask a student to get a drink of water if they are becoming upset over a ringing bell, but you might remind them to use their headphones, leave the area, or listen to music. The work that is required to properly support students in tough moments is much more than just a simple statement. If educators wish to be true supporters of behavior change, they themselves must make a good choice to work and think proactively.