A Parent’s Roadmap to Improving Challenging Behavior With Positive Behavior Support
Positive behavior support transformed the life of our son, Richie, and our family as a whole. This article will share our experiences as we developed a better understanding of Richie’s behavior and created an effective plan for addressing it.
A Little Background
Richie is 14-years old. He is affectionate, attractive, energetic, and has a contagious laugh. Richie also has autism. Richie uses only a few words, expressing his needs through facial expressions, gestures and leading. He is delayed in his ability to care for himself and his surroundings. We have always tried to stay engaged in family and community life, but Richie’s challenges have made this difficult at times.
Recently, Richie’s challenging behaviors began to escalate. He was hurting himself and others and damaging property. He would bang his head and bite himself, scratch, hit, kick, and pinch others, and slam or break items. The people who love Richie most – his family (from two different households since his father and I are divorced) and educators – decided to initiate a process of positive behavior support to resolve these problems.
Our Goals for Richie
Although we clearly wanted to decrease Richie’s problem behaviors, we were even more interested in improving his quality of life. We used a tool called the PBS Quality of Life Assessment to guide us and gained consensus on our vision for Richie. These goals provided the focus for our efforts.
- Go to sleep and remain in his bed at night
- Communicate clearly and efficiently to meet his needs
- Develop more choice and independence in daily activities
- Engage in sustained, positive interactions with others
- Become more independent in self-care routines
- Complete chores to contribute to the household
- Participate in a wider range of leisure activities
- Learn to tolerate circumstances (e.g., waiting)
We realized that, although we had thought long and hard about what was affecting Richie’s behaviors, we were operating on assumptions rather than facts. Therefore, we began recording what happened before (antecedents) and after (consequences) Richie’s behavior both at home and school. We filled out interview forms with questions that would help us more objectively evaluate what was occurring. Based on this process, we determined that the following patterns were affecting Richie’s behavior.
Patterns of Behavior
Richie’s behaviors were consistent regardless of the circumstances. He would moan, pace, and/or shriek and then proceed to aggression, property destruction or selfinjury if his needs were not immediately met. These were the four patterns that contributed to his behavior:
Richie is told to put away or denied access to his iPad – his behavior results in the iPad being returned, sometimes after a brief delay or redirection.
Richie is asked to perform a task (e.g., self-care, initiate a new activity at school) – his behavior results in him being removed from the situation, the task being delayed, demands reduced, or him getting help with the task.
Richie is exposed to sounds that bother him (or possibly a repetitive activity) – his behavior results in sensory stimulation as adults try to soothe him (e.g., with singing) or engage him other activities in an effort to calm him down.
A preferred adult’s attention is focused elsewhere or Richie is not socially engaged – his behavior results in attention (or a preferred activity or item until their attention becomes available).
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