Here's a common question: "What should I do when my student/child ________ (fill in the blank with your favorite problem behavior)?" It is human nature to think that there is some consequence that can be administered to stop problem behavior and prevent it from happening again, but that is typically not the case. In fact, if you administer negative consequences during or following problem behavior, it is likely that the child will actually increase the use of that problem behavior. This is because what we think of as "negative" consequences often serve as positive reinforcers for students with ASD and other disabilities (or typically developing kids for that matter). So, instead of asking what you can do WHEN or AFTER a child engages in problem behavior, ask what you can do BEFORE the child typically engages in problem behavior to prevent the behavior from occurring. These things you can do before a problem behavior occurs to prevent it from happening are called antecedent interventions, and they are very powerful when it comes to preventing challenging behaviors and increasing desirable behaviors. You must first determine the function of the problem behavior before selecting antecedent interventions so that the interventions selected address the problem at hand. Here are some examples of antecedent interventions that can be selected for specific functions of problem behavior:
- If a child engages in problem behavior to avoid repetitive tasks, the antecedent intervention can be to provide much more variety of tasks and more interest-based activities.
- If a child engages in problem behavior when the teacher selects the schedule of activities, allow the child to set the schedule of activities by giving the child choices.
- If a child engages in problem behavior to avoid uncomfortable social situations, use a social story or video modeling/video self-modeling to teach the child the social expectations.
- If a child engages in problem behavior to avoid tasks that are too difficult, adjust the tasks so that they are developmentally appropriate (easier).
- If a child engages in problem behavior to seek adult attention, increase the amount of attention you give the child when the child engages in appropriate behaviors to reduce the need for negative attention.
- If a child engages in problem behavior to seek attention from peers, use peer-mediated interventions to teach peers how to engage in positive social interactions with the child so that the child gets positive attentions from peers and thus has less of a need for negative peer attention.
- If a child engages in problem behavior when eating in the cafeteria because of the noise levels and smells, allow the child to eat in another location such as the classroom or an outdoor picnic table.
- If a child engages in problem behavior when transitioning to art, music, or p.e. because of difficulty shifting attention and/or anxiety, use a transition object that the student can bring to the art, music, or p.e. teacher to help the child shift attention to the activities that will take place in the next class (ex. Have the child carry a ball to p.e., a tambourine to music, a paint brush to art).
- If a child engages in problem behavior when asked to write because of fine motor impairments, allow the child to type on the computer or dictate to a scribe.
- If a child engages in problem behavior because the child does not know how to ask for help, teach the child to ask for help using words, pictures, symbols, or voice output devices.
Written by Deb Leach, Ed.D., BCBA