For Related Professionals: Behaviorism 101

Many times when I am working with a family their child is involved in multiple therapies. I would actually be quite surprised to have a client who receives ABA therapy, and that's it.
These other therapies can include speech therapy, occupational therapy, social skills playgroups, hippo-therapy, physical therapy, etc. Not to mention the many teachers and paraprofessionals at school the child comes into contact with. Sometimes  I get the opportunity to meet and connect with the various professionals and sometimes I don't. When I do get the chance I always am grateful for it. It is always beneficial to know the child's strengths/weaknesses from therapist to therapist.

When I meet with these professionals they usually ask me questions about behavior: How do I get the child to sit and attend? How often should I reinforce? Is the child this aggressive at home? Does the child respond to directions with you? How do I redirect the child away from stimming behaviors?

If you work with a child with Autism as a therapist, teacher, nanny, baby sitter, etc, I hope you find this post helpful. These are simple tips to know and be aware of so you can understand behavior management.

  1. Understand the ABC's of behavior. This is your "detective tool kit" to methodically locate the function of any behavior. A=antecedent, B=behavior, and C=consequence. The antecedent means "what happened before the behavior", and the consequence means "what happened after the behavior". For example, if every time you arrive at the house to begin a session (antecedent), the child begins to cry and run away from you (behavior), and you then spend several minutes chasing the child through the house to have them begin working (consequence), then it is very likely the function of the behavior is escape from demand. To correct the behavior, you would find a new behavior that serves the same purpose. Such as teaching the child to communicate that they need a short break before beginning work.
  2. Learn what incompatible behaviors are, and use them. An incompatible behavior is simply a behavior that the child cannot do at the same time as the target behavior. For example, if you are working with a child at a table and the child  knocks the materials onto the floor a simple incompatible behavior is to say to the child "Hands Down" or "Fold Hands" before you place anything on the table. If their hands are busy they have no opportunity to knock things onto the floor.
  3. Consistency! Being inconsistent in your reactions to the child's behaviors is equivalent to intermittent reinforcement. By "sometimes" being firm, and "sometimes" letting things go, you are intermittently reinforcing the behavior which will cause it to increase. Decide what behaviors are unacceptable and have the same reaction every single time.
  4. Understand reinforcement. Reinforcement is a way to increase behaviors you want to see again. If the child does something appropriate, give them a smile, hug, high five, tickle, etc.  Reinforcement is a powerful way to shape behavior and also has the added benefit of making the child more interested in spending time with you. Over time you will become reinforcing to the child because in the past you have delivered reinforcement.
  5. Always finish out a demand. Do not give any demand to the child that you are not prepared to prompt them through if necessary. If the child is across the room playing don't call out to them "Come sit down" unless you are willing to go and get them if they do not comply. A mistake I see often is a therapist arrives at a child's home and the child is tired or in a bad mood. The therapist then says to the parent "He/she doesn't want to work today, so I'm going to leave because the session would just be a bust". The next time that therapist shows up at the house, the child will just repeat the behavior to get them to leave again. Don't back down from demands or let a child escape from a demand.
  6. Fill the child's time with activities. Children with significant Developmental Delays need active engagement and teaching throughout the day......down time, not so much. In a typical session, the only time the child spends not with me and directly involved with an activity is during short breaks. Other than that we are working on some skill or goal, and constantly transitioning to a new activity. If the child has too much down time this can lead to boredom or distraction which can lead to behaviors. Keep the child busy and engaged with you so they don't have the opportunity to exhibit problem behaviors such as throwing things, crying, elopement, etc.

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