BEHAVIOR MANAGEMENT STRATEGIES
The most effective model for managing behavior
is the ABC approach which underlies interventions such as Applied
Behavior Analysis, the Lovaas
program and Positive
A - Antecedent
What usually happens before the behavior, and
may set off the behavior?
B - Behavior
What actually happens during the behavior?
C - Consequence
What immediate and delayed reactions follow from
the individual, other people and the environment?
This is a very effective technique for taking
the emotions away from challenging
behaviors and analyzing behaviors with a view to creating strategies
to manage them. When creating a behavior management program, it
will be important to work out which strategies you will use. These
strategies are not to be used occasionally but will need to be applied
consistently by everyone who has regular contact with the child.
While difficult at first, your chosen techniques will eventually
become second nature.
some thoughts before choosing behavior management strategies
• Effective behavior management needs to be applied
consistently across all areas of your child's life
• Focus on one or two of the major behaviors first
- the rest can wait for later
• Be enthusiastic and let your child know you
love them and approve of their positive behaviors
• Be patient - the longer the behavior has existed,
the longer it takes to modify
• Choose 'rewards' carefully and don't provide more than required
• Get informed on all aspects of behavior management
before choosing your strategies
• Consider the involvement of a behavioral specialist
with autism experience.
The following strategies are grouped under changing
the antecedent, behavior or consequence.
Changing the antecedent (the 'trigger')
How can parents change what usually happens before
the behavior, and may set off the behavior? The aim here is to recognize
the antecedent to the behavior, and either remove it or prepare
your child for it. Parents will often have to play 'detective' to
find these triggers to a particular behavior. Examples of antecedents
• An unwanted hug or cuddle due to sensory
• Too much visual and auditory stimulation in
• An unpleasant texture from clothing or furniture.
Avoid the antecedent
In some cases, it is easiest to simply avoid the
situations that cause the behavior. If ocean waves or eating carrots
causes violent outbursts, it may be best to simply avoid these.
However, in many cases the child may have to adapt to these antecedents
as part of their development, so other strategies are required.
Graduated exposure to the antecedent
This also called desensitization, and with time
and patience, it can be a powerful technique. For example, a child
may scream uncontrollably in supermarkets. The parent will explain
to the child that they will stand outside the supermarket for 30
seconds then go home. The next time, it may be explained that they
will go in for 30 seconds then go home. Time spent in the supermarket
is gradually lengthened until the child has adapted to this environment.
This technique is usually best paired with positive reinforcement,
such as praise "You did so well in the supermarket" or
a special treat upon leaving the supermarket.
Distraction from the antecedent
In some cases, a simple distraction is all that
is required. If a child is obsessed with playing with the telephone,
then offering to read a favorite story may be all that is required.
Preparing the child for the antecedent
An extremely common feature of autism and Asperger's
syndrome is in coping with chaos, unpredictability and lack of routine.
All of these are antecedents that are very likely to result in behavioral
Changing the behavior
How can parents change what actually happens during
Shaping alternative behaviors
An example here is a young boy who only engages
with the pet dog by hitting it. Although time consuming, the parents
intervene every time he interacts with the dog, grab his hand and
turn the hit into a stroking motion. This is paired with positive
reinforcement "It's great when you are gentle with Pooch!"
and doing a favorite activity immediately afterwards as a reward.
Helping a child to internalize external messages
An example here is a young girl who becomes very
anxious when other children involve her in loud play and suddenly
lashes out or starts screaming. Her parents help her to recognize
the feelings "Are you feeling anxious?" When she acknowledges
this, they suggest "You need some quiet time". Over time,
parents move to asking "How do you feel?" and "What
do you think you should do?" Eventually she gives the answers
herself: "I feel anxious" and "I need quiet time".
This is similar to 'shaping alternative behaviors' but the child
has also internalized the important messages. This can be a powerful
technique as a child may generalize this to other situations eg.
"This loud music makes me feel anxious. I need some quiet time".
Changing the consequence
How can parents change the immediate and delayed
reactions follow from the individual, other people and the environment?
Consequences can be pleasant, or unpleasant. It follows that:
• A behavior followed by a pleasant consequence
is more likely to reoccur
• A behavior followed by an unpleasant consequence is less likely
A consequence in this context is not punishment.
It is a carefully thought out strategy to help change a child's
behavior and maximize their social development.
Ignoring the behavior
In some cases, behavior occurs as a way of getting
attention so the best strategy may be to ignore it. The pleasant
consequence of the behavior is getting attention. When this is removed,
the behavior will eventually cease. It should be noted that in these
cases, the behavior will often worsen temporarily as the child realizes
the attention-seeking behavior has stopped working.
As with many of these techniques, tactical
ignoring is best linked with positive reinforcement. An example
is a child throwing a tantrum to seek attention. In this case, a
comforting hug or even a scolding gets the attention desired. However,
the parent ignores the tantrum. When it has stopped, the child is
immediately rewarded with praise, a treat or favorite activity.
It pays to be very specific with positive reinforcement: "It's
great when you are quiet" instead of "Good boy!"
Always label the behavior you are praising. “Good
girl” is very vague; “I like how you picked up your jacket” is specific.
is removing the child from any positive stimulus. In brief,
the idea is to keep the child isolated for a limited period of time,
intended to allow it to calm down, learn coping skills and discourage
inappropriate behavior. It is also a time for parents to separate
feelings of anger toward the child for their behavior and develop
a plan for discipline.
reinforcement is generally the most effective behavior management
strategy, as it underlies the majority of all human behavior. We
act in a certain way to obtain desirable consequences.
Positive reinforcement is an incentive given to
a child who complies with some request for behavior change. The
aim is to increase the chances the child will respond with the changed
behavior. Positive reinforcement is given immediately after the
desired behavior has occurred so that it will shape the child's
The difference between reinforcement and bribery
is that reinforcement comes after a task is completed whereas bribery
is offered before. That is not to say that you can’t show your child
the reinforcer he or she is working for during trials. In this case,
it would be a visual cue. If you offered a treat before even making
a request, you would be using bribery.
When choosing reinforcers for people, remember
that each individual will respond to different things.
• Looking at what has motivated the child in the
• asking the child what they like and dislike
• Look at their deprivation state – what do they want, that they
cannot easily get?
• Try to make sure the reinforcer is practical, ethical and valid
for the behavior being targeted.
Timing is critical to the effectiveness of positive
reinforcement. It is important for an individual to feel that the
goal is achievable and that reinforcement is attainable.
end difficult days on a positive note
Set your child up for success. When your child
is having a difficult day, be sure to end on a positive note. You
can do this by requesting a skill the child has already mastered,
then deliver some nice verbal praise. Both you and your child can
do with the encouragement of knowing how far you have come!
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