Sunday, June 24, 2012

Behavior IS Communication: 5 Guidelines for Responding to Challenging Behavior

Behavior IS Communication: 5 Guidelines for Responding to Challenging Behavior

taken from

If your child is exhibiting challenging behavior, these 5 guidelines will help you to respond appropriately. When you begin looking at behavior as communication, you are able to determine what your child is saying and teach them appropriate ways to get what they want.

1) Be a behavior detective: Quickly determine WHY you think the behavior is occurring: Is it to get attention? Get food or a toy? Get out of something you asked them to do? What happened directly before the behavior? The answer to the WHY question is called the antecedent and can often be helpful when determining a behavior’s function, or why it’s occurring. What is your child trying to tell you? Did you just ask your child to do something? Even asking a child to communicate for what they want can be a trigger for challenging behavior. Remember, communication is a core deficit in Autism and is probably work for your child. That does not excuse challenging behavior but may give you insight into the behavior.

2) Formulate an action plan!

If you think the behavior is occurring:

a. To get something. Withhold the item! This is important. Wait until your child is NOT exhibiting challenging behavior before giving them the item. It’s ideal to have at least 10 seconds of NO challenging behavior before prompting your child for the correct response, whether that is with PECS, sign, or vocal language. Say, “You want, movie?” And fully prompt (if needed the correct response. THEN deliver reinforcement. If challenging behavior continues, remove reinforcement and walk away. Do not make eye contact.

b. To get OUT OF something- Require that the child complete the task. Even if you have to fully prompt the task, physically hand-over-hand getting your child to do it, it’s very important that they know they cannot “escape” a task with challenging behavior. When they have finished the task and are quiet, prompt them to respond with the correct sign/phrase for “break”, “finished” or “all done”.

c. Because it feels good:
Ignore the behavior (no eye contact and turn away) and remove reinforcing activities. One way to replace this behavior is to give your child more functional ways to get the same effect.

For all behaviors, PLEASE avoid any affection. We want to teach children that crying, screaming, whining are NOT appropriate ways to get our attention, toys, etc. Often, I see parents rub their children’s back while they are tantruming. They begin asking the child, “what’s wrong, why are you crying?” not realizing that they are accidentally reinforcing this crying behavior. Like I mentioned, it might seem cold, but our goal is to teach children appropriate ways to get what they want.

3) Stick to it! Even though behavioral techniques can at times seem harsh or cold, they will work if you implement them correctly and consistently. If your child knows they can sometimes get away with challenging behavior, they will keep trying to pull that lever till it works. They may even try new behaviors.

4) Be prepared for things to get worse before they get better. The classic example is the vending machine. When a vending machine is not working, what do you do? You begin pressing buttons harder, thinking maybe I didn’t do it correctly. Then you begin changing your behavior- you start shaking, kicking the machine or trying other buttons. Your child will do the same thing if you begin behavior interventions, (often called an extinction burst) but it’s imperative that you be consistent! You will see results if you are consistent.

5) Always look for ways to teach your child to communicate what they want. Once you figure out the why of behavior, you can work with your child’s teacher to teach alternative, appropriate responses. You might teach the sign for “break” to give your child a break, or the sign for “up” if they want to be held, “movie” if they were tantruming for a movie.

When we begin looking at behavior as communication, you can understand your child better and as they learn new ways to communicate.

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