Monday, October 7, 2013

PREVENTING Problem Behavior

Wouldn't it be amazing to prevent problem behavior from occurring?  People often come into my class to observe and ask what my behavioral intervention strategies are.  I have such a hard time answering that question, because the way we do everything in my room is "an intervention" of some sort.  I spend a lot of time setting up my classroom and putting structures in place so that we can be PRO-ACTIVE in preventing problem behavior, and so that I can spend less time later on being REACTIVE to problem behavior.  It is so much harder to deal with problem behavior in the moment...I would much rather prevent it in the first place.  

Throughout the rest of the week, I will be sharing some techniques for preventing problem behavior (also called antecedent interventions).  Antecedent interventions allow you to spend more time teaching (and kids learning) while spending less time dealing with classroom management and problem behaviors. 

The main preventative strategies I will discuss are:
Structured Environment
Reinforcement Systems 
Functional Communication Training

Today, I will be discussing some basic behavioral principals to guide us through the preventative strategies. 

The ABCs of behavior
I'm sure you've heard this one before... 
A=Antecedent (events that occur before a behavior) 
B=Behavior (the behavior itself occurring), and 
C= Consequence (what occurs after the behavior). 
These 3 terms are so important because by altering the antecedents and consequences, we can change our student's behaviors. 

Diagnosing problem behavior
In order for you to know what strategies to put in place, you need to first know the function of the behavior.   Knowing the function will help you arrange antecedents and consequences in the most effective way.  You probably already go through some or most of these steps on your own, I just find it helpful to have them all listed in one place.  This can be helpful when explaining problem behavior to parents and/or teaching assistants as well.  First of all, with any behavioral problem, we want to figure out the function of the behavior.  Some questions that can help you with this are:   
  1. Does the student actually know how to do the behavior.  We call this a "KNOW HOW" problem.  For instance if you are requesting a student to tie his shoe and he engages in the problem behavior, is it because he physically can't do the behavior?  If so, we need to back up and work on teaching more simplified or pre-requisite skills.
  2. Does the student have all the resources necessary to complete the task?  This can be referred to as a "CAN DO" problem.  For instance, your non-verbal student is proficient in PECS (already has the skill), but throws a tantrum every time he wants to go to the drinking fountain.  Maybe he is just missing the necessary resource (i.e. a picture of drinking fountain).  So this type of problem exists when a resource is missing, but the skills are already present.
  3. Does the student have the resources and the skills, but still won't complete the task?  We call that a "WANT TO" problem.  Behaviors occurring under these circumstances usually have to do with an issue of motivation. Something else in the environment is competing with the desired behavior or reinforcing the inappropriate behavior.
When we talk about functions of behavior, we usually refer to 3 general types.
  1. Escape/Avoidance.  These behaviors result in a termination or complete avoidance of something.  These behaviors can also occur to avoid work, certain activities, and/or people.
  2. Attention/Access to Tangibles.  These behaviors result in the student getting attention (remember…positive or negative attention can both be reinforcing) and/or accessing a tangible (i.e. to get a certain toy or food).  I have had students engage in head banging to get Cheetos, pinching to get a sucker, or screaming to get access to an iPad.  Often, people in our student's lives give in to these behaviors to help put an end to them…however, this just teaches kids that if they engage in the behavior long enough or hard enough, they will get what they want.
  3. Automatic reinforcement.  This is a tricky one.  These behaviors will usually occur even when the child is alone.  It may be to relieve some internal discomfort or add some sort of sensory stimulation.
Let's look at an example of how the same behavior (hitting oneself in the head) can serve all 3 functions.  

Escape:  While working, your student hits himself in head.  Work is delayed/or student is given a break to calm down.  
Result: Student avoids and/or escapes working.

Attention/Access tangible:  While working, your student hits himself in head.  Teacher says "Don't do that" or "Are you ok?"  or "Here's an iPad to hold to keep your hands busy" or "maybe you are hitting your head because you are hungry…here's a snack"  
Result: Student gets attention (negative or positive) or gets access to tangibles (toys/food)

Automatic:  While working, your student hits himself in the head.  This could be because it helps relieve the noise of a loud classroom or because it feels good/calming.  This is harder to know exactly what is happening since it has more to do with the internal workings of a person and not necessarily as much with the environment around the child.

Sometimes a behavior can also serve multiple functions.  I had a student who shouted inappropriate phrases to get attention but also to escape social demands.  For instance, when he was alone, he would shout "FIRE DRILL" and look at other kids with a smile on his face while he waited for their reaction.  Then, when we were working together, I would say something like "How are you?"  Since he didn't know how to answer this question, he would shout "FIRE DRILL" to avoid/escape the social interaction.  
A lot of the ideas I will suggest over the next week will be general strategies you can implement into your classroom to prevent typical problem behaviors that children with autism usually engage in.  Other strategies will be more specific to your individual students.  And of course, you will come up with many other ideas that I have not shared, based on the needs of the students in your classroom! 

Well that was a lot for one day!  Tomorrow we will be onto the nitty gritty of antecedent interventions!

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