Teaching children with autism and other developmental delays requires patience and a sound teaching plan. Parents and teachers often encounter instances of disruptive behavior from a learner, and setting behavior goals for autism is essential to the success of the student. In other words, we must understand what motivates disruptive behavior and how to best deal with it in order to ensure that it does not get in the way of the student learning the useful skills they need to be independent. In today’s post, the team here at Partington Behavior Analysts takes a closer look at the topic. Continue reading to learn more.
In trying to understand your learner’s disruptive behavior, you may have found yourself asking, “Why does my child act like that?” Disruptive behavior can have a negative impact on the learner, their family, and others around them. Because some actions can pose a threat to the learner’s safety and their societal well-being, it is important to modify the disruptive behavior as soon as possible.
Understanding Motivation Behind the Behavior
When learners have a pattern of acting in a certain way, their behavior is being maintained by some kind of pay off (e.g., a reinforcer). Some common motivators include:
- Getting attention or reactions. Some children like the attention and reactions they receive for their behavior, and even scolding and other types of negative attention can inadvertently serve as a reinforcer.
- Getting a desired item or activity. A learner may behave a certain way in order to increase the likelihood of getting a desired object, being allowed to do a certain activity, or initiate a change in activity when they are involved in an undesirable task.
- Escaping or avoiding. Some learners may cry, hit, throw a tantrum, or otherwise behave inappropriately in order to avoid having to participate in a task or bring an end to an activity they have identified as unenjoyable.
- Automatic reinforcement. Children may do things simply because they like what happens as a result of their actions. For example, a learner may spit on a window because they like watching their saliva as it drips down the glass.
Other Contributing Factors
Although it is not as common as the motivating factors above, physical issues can be a contributing factor to disruptive behavior. Learners may find that certain actions that reduce pain, distract them from hunger, and alleviate other biological discomforts. Since children with language delays often have trouble communicating their discomfort, teachers and adults should take great care to rule out any physical causes of disruptive behavior when they are trying to determine the motivation behind it. It is also important to understand that there may be multiple causes for disruptive behavior.
Dealing With Disruptive Behavior
Parents and teachers sometimes feel that it is easier to “maintain the peace” to work around disruptive behavior. One example of this is avoiding known triggers and situations when undesirable behavior is likely to occur. However, when teaching children with autism and other developmental delays, it is important for parents to learn how to teach their children to behave in an appropriate manner, comply with requests, and follow reasonable rules and expectations. Therefore, it is important to address disruptive behavior rather than trying to avoid it.
Tips for Eliminating Disruptive Behavior
To encourage and develop cooperation, a child must learn that following directions results in a favorable outcome. As such, reinforcing a learner’s behavior when they follow directions is likely to increase future compliance with instructions. Remember that children are likely to respond differently to various adults, and each teacher must develop their own instructional control to increase incidences of cooperation. In other words, to change a child’s behavior, it is necessary for adults to change their own behavior. We need to teach them that the inappropriate behaviors no longer work and there are other ways to behave to get what they need.
Identify Replacement Behaviors
Another way parents can attempt to reduce or eliminate instances of disruptive behavior is to prompt children to engage in alternative, more appropriate behaviors. Once you have identified the undesirable behavior, determine what type of behavior you would like to see instead. Reinforcing replacement behaviors can actually help adults identify specific behaviors they want the learner to develop. In turn, this makes the adult more attentive to appropriate actions, increasing reinforcement for the desired behavior.
Children want things to go the way they want them to go in the moment, and they often don’t know what is best for them in the long run. It is up to parents to set limits that ensure the child’s safety and reduce undesirable behavior. To begin, determine which limits are negotiable and which are non-negotiable. Then, remember to pick your battles, state the rules in positive terms, remain consistent, and reinforce the child’s appropriate behavior.
Reaching Behavior Goals for Autism
If and when children protest directions given and refuse to comply, remember that the consequences of their actions will either increase or decrease the likelihood of engaging in similar behavior in the future. In other words, if a child receives what he or she wants after protesting or behaving in another inappropriate manner, they are likely to continue using the behavior as a means to get what they want. The following solutions for protesting behavior can be helpful:
- Require the use of existing skills
- Establish and follow through with restrictions
- Devise proactive strategies for difficult situations
- Choose when to ignore inappropriate behavior
You can read more about solutions for protesting behavior in Success on the Spectrum: How to Teach Skills to Individuals with Autism, a resourceful book written by our very own James W. Partington, Ph.D., and Scott W. Partington, M.A.
Major Behavior Problems that Need Professional Help
Finally, there are certain disruptive behaviors that require professional intervention. If your learner engages in behavior that can hurt themselves or others, or acts in ways that can result in major property destruction, it is wise to contact a Board Certified Behavior Analyst (BCBA) for assistance.
Resources for Teaching Children with Autism
When you are teaching a child with autism or another developmental delay, you deserve to have access to tools and resources that make your journey as easy and successful as possible. Partington Behavior Analysts is here to help you understand the motivation behind disruptive behavior, learn how to best handle it, and set behavior goals for autism. Our products and services enable clinicians, educators, and parents alike to elevate their students’ quality of life, and our effective, high-quality interventions can help set your learner on the path for success. Contact us today to learn more about our services.