Getting Ahead of the Game: Changing Behavior and Family Life
Changing Behavior and Family Life
Amy was five years old, an only child living with both parents. Although Amy had some wonderful strengths, moments of thoughtfulness and calm only punctuated her otherwise difficult-to-manage behavior. Amy ignored instructions, made unreasonable demands, invaded other people’s personal space, said inappropriate things, and hit, kicked, and screamed when angry. Her behavior problems were much more serious and frequent than other students in the exceptional education preschool she attended.
Her parents and teachers tried repeating instructions and warnings, removing privileges, pleading or negotiating, and time-out to no avail. When these approaches failed, and Amy’s parents saw her in distress, they would often eventually give in and provide Amy with affection, comfort, and reassurance. Because of Amy’s behavior, her parents avoided most social settings because they tended to prompt altercations with peers and adults. Despite impressive academic improvements within the exceptional student environment, Amy’s teacher could mainstream her only for short periods of time. Her chance for succeeding within a general education setting in first grade was in doubt. Her mother said it was as if Amy was fighting her way through each day and all they could do was to react to problem after problem.
Creating a Support Team
Amy’s parents sought help through a variety of sources, including doctors and educators. Finally, they were introduced to a program designed to guide parents through a positive behavior support process and give them the skills to resolve their own difficulties. When first starting the process, Amy’s parents recruited people key to Amy’s daily routine to work together with a common goal: helping her succeed behaviorally. Their team was made up of Amy’s parents, teacher, teacher assistants, bus driver, grandmother, and extended family and, of course, Amy herself. The team developed goals for Amy that included completing simple daily routines in a timely fashion, following instructions and accepting limits, and improving her academic performance. They wanted Amy to develop meaningful friendships and for the entire family to enjoy community outings. All members of the team were committed to improving Amy’s quality of life and joined forces to address the challenges facing Amy, her family, and the professionals working with Amy.
Figuring Out Why
Amy’s team was guided through an informal functional assessment involving interviews and observations. This information gathering was designed to pinpoint triggers and outcomes of Amy’s difficult behavior. The specific patterns the team identified were:
When adults were occupied with activities like talking on the phone or working on the computer, Amy engaged them by interrupting with requests, taking the object with which they are working or physically invading their personal space. This escalated to more physical contact; climbing onto laps, or a hit or kick – each time with a response from the parent. Soon thereafter, Amy lost privileges or got physically restrained. Once Amy calmed down, the adults sat down with her to discuss the incident.
When Amy was asked to do something, especially during preferred activities or if the adult’s tone was overly directive, she complied briefly. She then disregarded the request by mocking, making strange noises or expressing affection. The adult persistently repeated the request, providing more detail or demonstration until the task was accomplished.
At school when Amy was in an unstructured environment such as recess or a group activity, she would refuse to comply with requests from adults by mocking or yelling. When adults were at a distance, Amy corrected classmates– often children smaller than her. She would also hit, kick, and push them. This pattern of behavior resulted in Amy being removed from the activity and being placed in time-out. While in time out Amy received individual attention and counseling regarding the incident.
The information, or data collection, made it clear that Amy’s behavior was effective and efficient in producing extended 1:1 attention.
The Plan After acknowledging these patterns, Amy’s team agreed to make specific lifestyle changes. Instead of being ready to react to disruptive behavior, the team would proactively prevent problems. Before any potentially difficult routine, Amy’s parents and teachers would offer clear explanations of the events that would follow and precisely what kind of behavior was expected of her. When Amy behaved as planned, the adults enthusiastically rewarded her and withheld their attention for disruptive behavior.
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