Thursday, November 7, 2013

It should be more than reacting

“Billy, stop”; “Billy, quiet mouth”; “Billy, no hitting”; “Billy, sit down”; “Billy, stand in line”; Billy, quiet hands.”
Although this reacting mode (intervening after the behavior to stop it) is part of our repertoire of tools as behavior intervention professionals, it shouldn’t be the only part, or even the larger. As “experts” on behavior management, our larger repertoire of strategies should be teaching appropriate, functional equivalent (serving the same purpose as the challenging behaviors) behavior repertoires. We should be behavior teachers.
Behaviors have a communicative function. The individual is conveying needs and wants. For example, when the student engages in dysfunctional self-stimulatory behaviors (tapping, self-talking, flapping hands, giggling and laughing with no reason, jumping, moving around constantly, getting out of seat, touching others, body rocking, etc.) in the absence of demands, he is telling us that he needs sensory stimulation. Thus, the recommended treatment in this case is (a) Increase/Provide Access to Alternative Sources of Stimulation: Sensory Diet: various sensory-based activities visually scheduled into the child’s daily routines; (b) Teach replacement behaviors: acceptable methods for gaining the same type of stimulation; (c) Interrupt and Redirect Behavior; and (d) Reward the replacement behaviors: use rewards that provide preferred sensations.
Sitting/standing next to student or behind him and telling/modeling him "stop", "quiet hands", "quiet mouth", etc. is not enough and should not be the only intervention.

Different treatments would be recommended if the child engages in the behaviors to escape non-preferred activities, or to obtain attention.
To summarize, the intervention should focus on teaching appropriate, functional replacement behaviors to communicate desired objectives, thus eliminating the need to engage in the problematic behaviors.
As stated in the textbook Applied Behavior Analysis, by John Cooper, Timothy Heron and William Heward, chapter 3, page 60, “A practitioner should never plan to reduce or eliminate a behavior… without (a) determining and adaptive behavior that will take its place and (b) designing the intervention plan to ensure that the replacement behavior is learned. Teachers and other human services professionals should be in the business of building positive, adaptive repertoires, not merely reacting to and eliminating behaviors they find troublesome (Snell & Brown, 2006).”

And this applies also to teachers, parents and every adult who interacts with that child.
For more information and tips, check out our blog “Responding vs. Reacting” at 

Be a teacher, a behavior teacher and you will be not only eliminating/reducing problematic behaviors, but you will give that child the tools to be independent in life.

Daniel Adatto, BCBA.


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