The Creation Station

Question: What are you creating??


I hear statements all the time from teachers, parents, supervisees, etc., that will sound something like "S/he is getting SO aggressive", or "These behaviors came out of nowhere!".

There can be a disconnect in the language used to make it sound as if suddenly, on its own, for some random reason, problem behaviors are rapidly escalating.


Can that happen? Hmmmm, possibly.

*Self-harmful behaviors can have an underlying and undetected medical cause.
*A significant life disruption (change of school, death of a parent) can lead to what most people call "acting out" behaviors, in a child who previously had no history of aggression.
*Sometimes very old behaviors can make a resurgence, for reasons that are not always clear.

However, upon close analysis, systematic manipulation of the environment (controlling variables), thorough caregiver interview, and direct observation, the culprit in these scenarios is often: CREATION.
To be more specific, someone/some variable has created a scenario that is reinforcing problem behaviors. Pretty much 100% of the time no one intended to create the problem behavior, but regardless, the problem behavior is now here. Fully created.


I talk a lot on my blog about how to intervene upon problem behavior, or how to decrease the intensity of problem behavior, but what many people need to know is "What does it look like to actually create problem behavior?" (so one can do the opposite, of course!).

1. Lack of consistency - Want to create some problem behaviors right here, right now? Your 1st step is to be as inconsistent as possible. Inconsistent rules, expectations, consequences, and hearing one thing from mom and a different thing from dad, can all cause problem behavior to rapidly increase. Think of consistent consequences and problem behavior as being like oil & water.

2. Lack of "pay off" for appropriate behaviors - On a different note, let's take the focus off the problem behavior for a moment. When the individual does NOT tantrum, spit, throw things, or kick, what happens?? Do they receive the same (or higher) amount of adult attention when they are quiet, calm, and on task? No? Then that is why problem behavior is going sky high.

3. Response effort is too high - Response effort is a fancy way of describing what I have to do to get what I want. Would you wash my car for $10? Maybe. But I doubt you would wash it for $.10. A dime is likely not valuable enough for you to do the work of washing a dirty car. From the perspective of your child/client, is what you are offering them WORTH what you are asking them to do?

4. Foundational skills are neglected or skipped - Sometimes what looks like problem behavior can actually be a skill-deficit. What in the world am I talking about?? Skill Acquisition. That's what. When your child/client/student does not have the ability to perform a skill, instead of saying "I don't know how to do that, can you help me?", they may be much more likely to break a pencil, run out of the classroom, bite, etc.

5. Function-based treatment, what's that?? - Treatment that is designed based on opinions, non-evidence based interventions, therapist/teacher preferences, etc., is not likely to work. Function-based intervention seeks to understand the "why" behind problem behavior, and then provides the learner/child/client with a more appropriate way to get that "why" met.

6. Wait, and wait, and wait to intervene - I see this one a lot. Maybe the most. Here is a scenario: David is 3 years old. He hates going to Kroger with his parents. If they take him, he will yell, refuse to sit in the cart, and hit his head. Fast forward to David at age 10. He is bigger and stronger now. He still hates going to Kroger, but now he also hates going to Publix or Wal-Mart. If a parent takes him anyway, he falls to the ground and slams his head against the floor. See what happened there? The problem behavior grew and expanded over time, as David learned more effective ways to get what he wanted (to leave the store). It is vitally important to intervene on problem behaviors early, and effectively. The sooner you can address the barriers of problem behaviors, the sooner you can teach new skills and better ways to communicate with others, across settings, and as the individual ages.



*More Resources:

ABA & Reducing Problem Behaviors

Autism & Problem Behavior

Functions of Behavior

Reducing Problem Behaviors

"No More Meltdowns" by Jed Baker







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