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Stop That Seemingly Senseless Behavior!

FBA-based Interventions for People with Autism
Beth A. Glasberg, Ph.D., BCBA

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isbn# 978-1-890627-76-8
5 1/2" x 8 1/2"
150 pages

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Copyright controlled materials. Cannot be reprinted without permission of the publisher.

From Chapter 6: Sensible Intervention for Every Function

You know the function of the problem behavior. You know the basic principles of unlearning behavior. You know the general strategies of behavior change. You now have all of the ingredients necessary to prepare behavior intervention plan for your child or student.

In this chapter, a step-by-step approach will be used to help you create this plan. A menu of suggestions for each strategy type (antecedent-based, replacement skill, consequence-based) is included for each function (escape, attention, access to items and activities, automatic reinforcement). For each problem behavior, you will need to use at least one of each type of strategy. Therefore, every plan will include antecedent strategies, replacement skills, and altered consequences. Not every idea will be a match for every behavior problem. However, there should be sufficient ideas to choose from for each behavior problem you may face. you may choose to modify an idea to meet the needs of a particular problem behavior.

The sections below outline ideas for each main function of problem behaviors. Later in this book, there is a discussion of strategies for combining the ideas presented here in order to address behaviors that serve more than one function.


Step 1: Clarify Understanding of the Function of the Behavior
Be sure that you know:

  • What is the person escaping/avoiding?
  • Why is the person trying to escape/avoid this?
  • Is it too hard?
  • Does she lack prerequisite skills?
  • Is it too easy?
  • Is it too boring?
  • Is it too repetitive?
  • Is there an aversive sensation involved?
  • Does the person exhibit the problem behavior before the activity even starts? As it is starting? At the beginning of the activity? How long does the person engage in the behavior?
You will need the above information to alter the task in such a way that it will no longer create an MO for escape or avoidance. For example, if the person begins the problem behavior as soon as the demand is placed on her, the demand itself must be aversive to her and therefore the demand will need to be reevaluated. However, if the individual complies with the demand for a while before beginning the behavior, then we know we have to either shorten the demand or build up the individual’s endurance. Once you know the answers to the above questions, you are ready to move on to Step 2.

Step 2: Antecedent Strategies
Choose one or more of the antecedent strategies below. An illustration of each strategy follows in italics.

A. Alter the demand. Consider:

  • Incorporating preferred materials into the task (to pair the task with reinforcement). Instead of teaching your child to count using squares or dots, have her count something she loves, such as dinosaurs.
  • Making the task more challenging (if the assessment reveals the demand is too simple). Instead of simply counting, count group members, and add up groups.
  • Making the task less challenging (if the assessment reveals the demand is too challenging). Instead of adding groups, simply count group members.
  • Building fluent prerequisite skills (if the assessment reveals the demand is too challenging). Practice single-digit addition until your child is fluent prior to working on double-digit addition.
  • Offering a choice of tasks to (to follow the individual’s MO to the degree possible). Allow the student to choose what to count, or add.
  • Offering a choice of order of tasks (to follow the individual’s MO). Allow the student to choose what order to complete tasks.
  • Varying demands (to prevent satiation with the task). Do counting one day, adding another day, and sequencing the next.
  • Removing aversive qualities of the task (to decrease MO for escape/avoidance). If the student does not like to be touched, use gestural prompting (e.g., pointing) rather than physical prompting (e.g., hand-over-hand guidance) to indicate the correct response.
B. Eliminate the discriminitive stimulus escape or avoidance (i.e., the stimulus that prompts the student’s behavior) by:
  • Completing the task in a new setting. Work outside at a picnic table.
  • Changing task materials. Use blocks instead of tokens for counting.
  • Changing the wording used for the task. Instead of saying, “let’s count the ladybugs,” try,” “How many ladybugs are crawling on our picnic blanket?”
  • Changing people involved with the task. Switch instructors. Consider having peers give instruction to one another with a parent or professional facilitating.
C. Add predictability to the demand by:
  • Preparing the individual for the upcoming demand. Tell the student, “Counting is coming up next.”
  • Letting the individual know exactly what will be required. Tell the student, “We will count trucks and racecars, and then we will be done.”
  • Helping the individual see where the demand fits in the day’s routine. Use an activity schedule to indicate when the task will be coming up and what will follow. Try to have a preferred activity follow a challenging or no preferred demand. A sample schedule might alternate between a challenging academic task, a preferred task, and a social task.
Step 3: Replacement Skill

Choose one or more of the strategies below to teach a replacement skill. An illustration of each strategy follows in italics.

A. Teach the individual to make an appropriate request for a break. Teach an adult with autism to sign for a break. Be sure to reinforce appropriate behavior immediately at first.
Note: Even speaking individuals with autism may need practice requesting a break or ending a task appropriately because someone can physically ask for a break does not mean that she will do it. The only way to ensure that your child or student will “use her words” is to prompt the person to ask for what she wants, when she wants it, and to reinforce this request immediately. For example, if a group home staff member asks a resident to do the dishes and she says, “I’d rather not,” this statement must be honored if we want it to replace a more serious behavior. She can be taught to delay gratification and accept “no” at a later time, once she has a fluent requesting repertoire. Alternatively, if a resident really hates doing the dishes, maybe she can be assigned to cook or do laundry instead.

B. Teach the individual to communicate that she will do something later. Teach an adult with autism to sign, “Later.” Be sure to reinforce immediately at first and systematically introduce a delay to reinforcement. See note above regarding the need for immediate reinforcement.

C. Teach the individual how to put demands in an order. That is, if the person needs to do several tasks but the order of completion is not important, let her select the order. Use a picture schedule with Velcro-backed pictures so that the individual can select the order. Be sure to reinforce her.

D. Teach the skills needed to tolerate a demand. Teach an adult to listen to music on headphones while completing vocational responsibilities to make the task more palatable to her. Teach a child to find the answers to challenging homework questions in her notes.

E. Teach endurance and build tolerance. If an adult is beginning a job in the laundry room of a hotel, require her to fold only one towel at first, and then gradually and systematically increase her rate to the amount required by the job. If a child has difficulty staying near others to work in a group at school, gradually have her move closer to the group while she works.

Step 4: Consequence-based Strategy

Choose one or more of the consequence-based strategies below.

A. Use one of the types of reinforcement discussed in Chapter 4 (DRA, DRI, DRH). Provide an adolescent with a three-minute walk through the hall each time she makes an appropriate request rather than arguing with the teacher to escape the classroom. Consider using a DRH to systematically increase the amount of classroom required to earn reinforcement. Similarly, a child who gets out of her seat at dinner to escape the demand of eating might be reinforced for taking a designated number of bites by being by being allowed to leave the table.

B. Use an extinction procedure to ensure that problem behaviors no longer lead to escaping the task. If a student yells in class to escape the class and is typically taken to time out, bring the student out of the room to prevent further disruption, but have her complete the class work in the hallway.

C. Use a punishment to ensure that the problem behavior will result in a response that will discourage the individual from doing the behavior in the future. For example, a student who makes wisecracks in math class in order to try to escape doing a long division might earn an extra division problem to solve for each wisecrack.

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