April 15, 2024
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April 15, 2024
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Making Problem Behaviors Inefficient, Ineffective and Irrelevant

Before implementing any intervention to change behavior, we need to understand what function the behavior serves. Once we discover (through a process of functional assessment and functional analysis) which situations or what events trigger the behavior, and what consequences maintain the behavior, we will be able to develop a hypothesis about the function of the behavior. Our next step will be to implement an intervention that competes with the function of the behavior. For example, if screaming out loud in class results in attention, intervention would focus on giving attention only when a student raises his/her hand, and no attention when he/she screams. If ripping worksheets results in time-out and therefore escape from a difficult task, the student will only be allowed to escape the task by asking for help or for a break. The student receives the same reinforcer, but the reinforcer is only available for an appropriate, functionally equivalent behavior.

As mentioned previously (last week), the four main functions of behavior are (1) attention, (2) access to a tangible (an object), (3) escape from a non-preferred task, person and/or situation and (4)sensory regulation/sensory stimulation or automatic reinforcement. We will review a basic set of common strategies that may be used within each function.

Some Helpful Tips When Dealing With Behaviors Maintained by Desire for Attention or Access to a Tangible

• Provide more and better reinforcement than the child receives for the problem behavior. For example, if a child receives a reprimand from mom every time he grabs a toy from his siblings, and no attention when he plays quietly, and it seems that he grabs the toy in order to evoke a response from mom, mom should provide praise when the child plays nicely with his siblings, and no (or minimal) attention when grabbing toys.

• Provide positive reinforcement to siblings or peers who engage in the appropriate behavior.

• Teach functional communication in how to request attention or an object. For example, if a child has poor verbal abilities and pulls hair to attract attention or whines when he wants food, teach him to tap an adult’s hand rather than pulling hair to get attention, and to ask for food using words, pictures or signs instead of whining.

Tips When Dealing With Escape-Maintained Behaviors

Escape behaviors include avoiding tasks, materials and activities that are difficult, disliked or associated with previous failure, adult-directed activities, unwanted attention from peers or adults and specific seating or location.

We will divide strategies into two categories. The first category addresses situations where it is okay to avoid or escape a task, and the second where it is not okay to avoid or escape the task.

If you determine that the activity can be avoided (it may not be so important for your child to play with play dough, which may be highly aversive):

• Teach your child a more appropriate way to stop the activity, or to request an alternate activity.

• Teach your child to request “finish” or “no more” using words, gestures, picture cues or sign language.

When activities cannot be avoided, such as completing homework, going to speech therapy or joining in a group lesson:

• Shorten the task.

• Make the task easier.

• Provide choices. “Do you want to want to do math or spelling first?”

• Make the task more interesting.

Tips When Dealing With Behaviors Maintained by Sensory Regulation or Automatic Reinforcement

Challenging behavior may occur when there is a mismatch between the type and level of stimulation required and the type and level of stimulation currently available to the student. Some students require more stimulation than is currently available in the environment and may engage in inappropriate behaviors such as hand mouthing resulting in large blisters and infections, running around the classroom during group instruction, rocking or flapping hands. Other students may need lower levels of stimulation than are currently available in the environment. For example, a student may cover his/her eyes and ears or run out of a classroom with bright lights and loud noise.

Depending on the individual needs of the student:

• Provide activities that either increase sensory regulation such as a short walk during group lessons, access to a trampoline, chewy food or the opportunity to manipulate small items such as a Koosh Ball or Play-Doh.

• Allow student to wear headphones or move to a quiet area or engage in relaxation exercises.

Remember, these strategies will only be effective if the new behaviors become more effective and functional for the child, thereby making problem behavior inefficient, irrelevant and ineffective!

Etti Parnes, MS BCBA is a behavior consultant in the Kiryas Joel Public School in Orange County. She is the owner of Monsey Licensed Behavior Analyst Services PLLC providing ABA services in the home and in school. She is a co-instructor in the ABA Professional Development Program at Florida Institute of Technology. She can be reached at [email protected].

By Etti Parnes

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