Undesired and problematic behavior is one of the biggest challenges that parents and educators face when teaching children with autism or other developmental delays. In our previous post, we examined common motivation and reinforcers for disruptive behavior, as well as offered a few tips for eliminating the undesired behavior. Today, our experienced behavior analysts at Partington Behavior Analysts dig a little deeper to identify keys to behavior intervention and recommendations for dealing with specific problematic behaviors. Continue reading to learn more.
Keys to Behavior Intervention
We know that the main goal of behavior intervention is to elicit long-term improvement versus a momentary reprieve. Getting there is the challenging part, but you and your learner can achieve success with the five keys to intervention below:
- Identify when, why, and how often problematic behavior occurs
- Start with easy-to-tackle behaviors first
- Implement behavior modification plan consistently between instructors
- Reinforce the new desired behavior only
- Record how often the undesired and desired behavior occur
Recommendations for Dealing with Problematic Behaviors
“Walking Nicely” Is a Challenge
Children with developmental delays often have a hard time walking nicely with parents and teachers. They may run off, pull and tug at the adult’s arms, or they may not want to walk at all. Since admonishments are often unsuccessful, a systematic approach is usually required to elicit change. First, identify the desired behavior. Next, identify the motivation the learner needs to walk nicely and specify when and how often the desired behavior will be reinforced. Although it may take time, implementing this intervention program consistently can be successful.
Changes in Routine Wreak Havoc
Changes in routine can upset children with autism and other developmental disorders, causing parents and educators to feel like they are “walking on eggshells” lest they trigger a meltdown. For this behavior, it is necessary to systematically teach the learner to remain calm when things don’t happen as they expected and remember that giving into protests only reinforce the undesired behavior. Picking your battles, making small changes at a time with other routines and consistently rewarding calmness can help your learner adapt to change easier.
Waiting Patiently Is a Challenge
Most children can be impatient, but this problematic behavior can be more pronounced in children with autism and other developmental delays. What’s more, parents and educators often reinforce the learner’s protesting by giving in and giving the child what they want. This is something that presents reinforcement for both the adult and the child, as the adult avoids the uneasiness of hearing the child’s protests and the child gets what they want. Intervention for this disruptive behavior requires firm resoluteness and it is critical to deliver the reinforcer for the desired behavior, not for stopping the undesired behavior.
Climbing Keeps Everyone On Guard
Climbing can be dangerous for learners. While they may not understand why you don’t want them to climb, it is imperative for their safety that they learn to comply with your instructions. Intervention for this behavior begins with identifying the learner’s motivation for the behavior and immediately stopping the climbing. This may involve physically stopping the learner and pairing it with a directive such as, “You need to stay down.” It's important to tell the child what you want them to do instead of what you don't want them to do. Offer praise and reinforcement for compliance and teach leisure activities that are safe while remaining consistent.
Shopping in Stores Is Stressful
Shopping can often trigger undesired behavior in children with autism or other developmental delays. They may want to wander around the store or have the things that they see and they may throw a fit when their requests are denied. Avoiding shopping with your child is not only inconvenient, but it also keeps your child from learning the skills they need to behave when shopping in the future. Parents often find success by first teaching compliance with adult instruction at home and then practicing in the store. Store visits may need to be kept short initially, but with consistent reinforcement and appropriate expectations, success can be had.
Trouble Sleeping Keeps Everyone Up at Night
Modifying sleep-related behavior requires a consistent and systematic intervention plan to be successful. Creating a routine is key — set a bedtime and stick to it, reduce activity and mental stimulation for at least one hour before bedtime, and then put the child to bed. If your child wakes during the night, you may need to repeat the bedtime routine and you may need to cut daytime naps if they are happening. If problematic behavior persists or if your child cannot stay asleep during the night despite your consistent implementation of the plan, a visit to the pediatrician may be needed to rule out medical conditions causing physical discomfort.
Other Problematic Behaviors
In addition to these six examples, there are other problematic behaviors that can benefit from implementing a systematic intervention plan. Whether your child rebels when you require them to use their words for communicating what they want, they refuse to eat at the table, or their destruction of property keeps you in “fix it” mode, learning effective intervention strategies are key for teaching your learner appropriate behavior that will serve them well now and in the future. While it can seem overwhelming and challenging at times, working with an expert behavior analyst can help make all the difference.
Need Help Setting Behavior Goals for Autism?
Are you a parent or educator who needs the assistance of an experienced behavior analyst? If so, Partington Behavior Analysts is here to help. We offer tools and resources that can help you understand the motivation behind problematic behavior, allowing you to set and achieve behavior goals for autism and other developmental delays. Our high-quality interventions can elevate your learner’s quality of life and set them on the path for independence and success. Contact us today to learn more about our products and services for clinicians, educators, and parents.