Thursday, February 7, 2013

Understanding Applied Behavior Analysis

Behavior disorders in children are common and could be the result of a variety of causes. We, Applied Behavior Analysts, sort those causes and develop individualized treatment plans. We will evaluate your situation and work with you to develop a treatment plan. We believe that every child is unique and deserves an in-depth look into their particular situation. Each treatment plan we develop is tailored to meet the needs of each individual child.  Not all challenging behaviors in children are cause for concern but if you have any doubt, it is always best to have a professional assess your child.

The process starts with a comprehensive evaluation: The Functional Behavior Assessment. 
Functional Behavior Assessment is a process for gathering information to understand problem behaviors and develop effective behavior intervention plans. Functional Behavior Assessment is a set of methods for defining the environmental factors that contribute to, reliably predict, and maintain challenging behaviors. Understanding why a behavior occurs directly leads to how it can be changed. “By determining the contingencies that maintain problem behavior, functional analyses allow the development of effective function-based treatments.” (Iwata et al.,1994).

According to E. Cipani and K. Schock, “a function-based diagnostic does not presume that challenging behaviors are driven by characteristics inherent in the person, which is a sharp contrast with the traditional psychiatric approach to diagnosing clients’ behaviors (e.g. DSM-IV-R).” “In a function-based diagnostic, the form of the behavior (how the behavior looks like) does not dictate the function.”  This has significant implications in designing effective behavior interventions. If behaviors are identified according to their form, each and every behavior would require a different plan. When behaviors are assessed according their function, one intervention could be prescribed for different behaviors that serve the same function. As an example, a child that engages in hitting, kicking, throwing objects, crying, and screaming in order to avoid non-preferred activities (negative reinforcement function), would be prescribed with one intervention rather that five (one for each behavior).

Therefore, when trying to understand problematic behaviors in children it is important to consider the many different variables that could be playing a role in the behavior.  Every child throws tantrums. But each situation is different and there are countless motivating factors that could be causing the tantrum. Evaluating the environment in which the tantrum occurs, understanding the child's motivations, and assessing how the adults and caregivers in the child’s life react to the behavior are all factors that help us develop a strategy to treat the behavior disorder.  To give us the complete picture, we look at all the possible reasons why a child is behaving a certain way. We include interviews with the family as well as all those who interact with the child, such as a teacher or relative, to give us a more in-depth look at the child’s life.
We observe the child in different situations, including when and where the behaviors are less likely to occur, because those situations give us an insight of what works for this child. We analyze the variables that contribute to the occurrence and non-occurrence of the challenging behaviors, and develop hypotheses about their functions, the why this child engage in these behaviors? What is the child trying to obtain or avoid?

We manipulate those variables to prevent undesired behaviors and trigger desired ones, thus confirming or ruling out our hypotheses.
And we develop behavioral plans that match the functions of the behaviors.

In sum, by taking an individualized approach, we maximize the chance of success of the treatment plan.

Daniel Adatto, MA, BCBA

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