Showing posts sorted by relevance for query behavior problem. Sort by date Show all posts
Showing posts sorted by relevance for query behavior problem. Sort by date Show all posts


Identifying the Underlying Causes of “Difficult Behavior” in Kids on the Spectrum

"As a teacher, I would like to ask you what method you use to find the real reasons [or triggers] for behavior problems in students with high functioning autism?"

In order to identify the underlying causes of difficult behaviors in children with Asperger’s (AS) and High-Functioning Autism (HFA), a Functional Behavioral Assessment (FBA) must be performed. An FBA is an approach that incorporates a variety of techniques to diagnose the causes and to identify likely interventions intended to address difficult behaviors.

An FBA looks beyond the actual problem behavior, and instead, focuses on identifying biological, social, affective, and environmental factors that initiate, sustain, or end the problem behavior in question. The FBA is important because it leads the researcher beyond the "symptom" (i.e., the behavior) to the child's underlying motivation to escape, avoid, or get something (i.e., the cause of the behavior). Behavior intervention plans stemming from the knowledge of why a child misbehaves are extremely useful in addressing a wide range of issues.

The “functions” of behavior are not usually considered inappropriate. Rather, it is the behavior itself that is judged appropriate or inappropriate. For example, getting good grades and engaging in problematic behavior may serve the same function (e.g., to get attention), but the behaviors that lead to good grades are judged to be more appropriate than those that make up acting-out behavior.

As an example, if the IEP team determines through an FBA that a child is seeking attention by misbehaving, they can develop a plan to teach the child more appropriate ways to gain attention, thus fulfilling the child's need for attention with an alternative behavior that serves the same function as the inappropriate behavior. By incorporating an FBA into the IEP process, team members can develop a plan that teaches “replacement behaviors” that serve the same function as the difficult behavior.

==> Parenting System that Significantly Reduces Defiant Behavior in Teens with Aspergers and High-Functioning Autism

Before an FBA can be implemented, it is necessary to identify the behavior that is causing problems, and to define that behavior in concrete terms that are easy to communicate and simple to measure and record. If descriptions of behaviors are vague (e.g., child has a “bad attitude”), it is difficult to determine appropriate interventions.

It will be necessary to observe the child's behavior in different settings and during different types of activities, and to conduct interviews with parents and teachers in order to identify the specific traits of the behavior. Once the difficult behavior has been defined concretely, the IEP team can begin to devise a plan for conducting an FBA to determine the functions of the behavior.

Since difficult behavior stems from a variety of causes, it is best to examine the behavior from as many different angles as possible. The IEP team should assess what the "pay-off" for engaging in problem behavior is, or what the child escapes/avoids/gets by engaging in the problem behavior. This assessment will enable the team to identify workable techniques for developing and conducting an FBA and developing behavior interventions.

When carrying out these tasks, the IEP team should find answers to a few critical questions. Addressing these questions will assist the team in determining the necessary components of the assessment plan, and will lead to more effective behavior intervention plans. Questions to ask include the following:
  • Are there any settings where the problem behavior does not occur?
  • Does the child find any value in engaging in appropriate behavior?
  • Does the child have the skills necessary to perform expected behaviors?
  • Does the child realize that he is engaging in unacceptable behavior, or has that behavior simply become a "habit"? 
  • Does the child understand the behavioral expectations for the situation? 
  • In what settings is the problem behavior observed? 
  • Is it possible that the child is uncertain about the appropriateness of the behavior?
  • Is it within the child's power to control the behavior, or does she need support? 
  • Is the behavior problem associated with certain social or environmental conditions? 
  • Is the child attempting to avoid a demanding task?
  • Is there a more acceptable behavior that might replace this behavior? 
  • Is there evidence to suggest that the child does not know how to perform the skill – and therefore can’t? 
  • What activities or interactions take place just prior to the behavior? 
  • What current rules, routines, or expectations does the child consider irrelevant?
  • What usually happens immediately after the behavior? 
  • Who is present when the behavior occurs?

Interviews with the child may be useful in identifying how he perceived the situation and what caused him to act in the way he did. Questionnaires, motivational scales, and checklists can also be used to structure indirect assessments of behavior. For example:

1. Hypothesis statement— Drawing on information that emerges from the analysis, school staff can establish a “working hypothesis” regarding the function of the behaviors in question. This hypothesis predicts the general conditions under which the behavior is most - and least - likely to occur, as well as the likely consequences that serve to maintain it.

2. Direct assessment— Direct assessment involves observing and recording situational factors surrounding a difficult behavior (e.g., antecedent and consequent events). A member of the IEP team may observe the behavior in the setting that it is likely to occur, and record data using an Antecedent- Behavior- Consequence (ABC) approach.

3. Data analysis— Once the IEP team is satisfied that enough data have been collected, they should compare and analyze the data. This analysis will help the team to determine whether or not there are any patterns associated with the behavior. If patterns can’t be determined, the team should revise the FBA to identify other methods for assessing behavior.

After collecting data on a child's behavior, and after developing a hypothesis of the function of that behavior, the IEP team should develop the child's behavior intervention plan. It is helpful to use the data collected during the FBA to develop the plan and to determine the discrepancy between the youngster's actual and expected behavior.

==> Parenting System that Significantly Reduces Defiant Behavior in Teens with Aspergers and High-Functioning Autism

Intervention plans emphasizing the skills that AS and HFA children need in order to behave in a more appropriate manner will be more effective than plans that simply serve to control behavior. Interventions based upon “control” often fail to generalize (i.e., fail to continue to be used for long periods of time, in many settings, and in a variety of situations). Control measures usually only serve to suppress behavior, resulting in the youngster meeting unaddressed needs in alternative, inappropriate ways.

It is good practice for IEP teams to include two evaluation procedures in an intervention plan:
  • one designed to measure changes in behavior
  • one designed to monitor the accuracy with which the plan is implemented

In addition, IEP teams must determine a timeline for implementation and reassessment, and specify the degree of behavior change consistent with the goal of the overall intervention.

To be meaningful, plans need to be reviewed at least annually and revised as needed. However, the plan may be reviewed and re-evaluated whenever any member of the youngster's IEP team feels that a review is necessary. Circumstances that may warrant a review include the following:
  • It is clear that the original behavior intervention plan is not bringing about positive changes in the child's behavior.
  • The situation has changed, and the behavioral interventions no longer address the current needs of the child.
  • The youngster has reached his behavioral goals and objectives, and new goals and objectives need to be established.
  • The IEP team makes a change in placement.

If done correctly, the net result of an FBA is that school personnel are better able to provide an educational environment that addresses the special learning needs of the AS/HFA child.

CLICK HERE for an example of a completed Functional Behavioral Assessment (FBA) form…

CLICK HERE for a blank FBA and Behavior Intervention Plan (BIP) form…

More resources for parents of children and teens with High-Functioning Autism and Asperger's:

==> How To Prevent Meltdowns and Tantrums In Children With High-Functioning Autism and Asperger's

==> Parenting System that Significantly Reduces Defiant Behavior in Teens with Aspergers and High-Functioning Autism

==> Launching Adult Children with Asperger's and High-Functioning Autism: Guide for Parents Who Want to Promote Self-Reliance

==> Teaching Social Skills and Emotion Management to Children and Teens with Asperger's and High-Functioning Autism

==> Parenting Children and Teens with High-Functioning Autism: Comprehensive Handbook

==> Unraveling The Mystery Behind Asperger's and High-Functioning Autism: Audio Book

==> Parenting System that Reduces Problematic Behavior in Children with Asperger's and High-Functioning Autism


The Functional Analytic Approach to Behavior Modification for Kids on the Autism Spectrum

A “functional analytic approach” to developing effective behavioral modification in children and teens with ASD utilizes a process known as “functional behavioral assessment.” 
Functional behavioral assessment involves employing a variety of strategies (e.g., child-centered planning, treatment team meetings, systematic interviews, direct observations, etc.) to formulate hypotheses about why a child behaves the way she does.

In order to accomplish a functional behavioral assessment, several assumptions about behavior must be regarded as valid:

• Behavior has communicative value. Though it is generally accepted that all behavior has communicative value, it is important to remember that children with ASD generally do not have a behavioral intent to disrupt classroom settings, but instead problematic behaviors may arise from other needs (e.g., self-protection in stressful situations). Although children with the disorder typically have excellent language skills, their ability to use communication effectively in a social context may be limited. Inappropriate behavior may be the only available communicative response to difficult situations until other options are learned.

• Behavior is context related. All children demonstrate some level of variability in behavior across different settings. This is just as true for children on the autism spectrum. In fact, understanding how the environment impacts a child is one of the chief outcomes of a functional behavioral assessment. This information has particular value for preventive methods or to set the stage for teaching alternative skills. Effective behavioral support is contingent on understanding the child, the context in which he operates, and the reason(s) for behavior.

• Behavior is functional. Behavior serves a specific purpose(s). For children with the disorder, these functions may be expressed in highly idiosyncratic and often complex verbal ways.

Though there is some disagreement about the best way to conduct a comprehensive functional behavioral assessment, most clinicians are in agreement about the key outcomes of such an assessment. They are:
  • identification of the consequences that maintain behavior (i.e., once a behavior starts, what keeps it going over time?)
  • description of situations most commonly associated with the occurrence of problematic behavior
  • clear and unambiguous description of the problematic behavior(s)

A functional behavioral assessment should provide information that:
  • guides the development of supports that are logically connected
  • increases understanding of the child
  • describes the physical and social setting(s) in which the behavior occurs
  • describes the problem behavior itself

Once an understanding of problem behaviors is achieved, it is helpful to come up with a behavioral modification plan. A good behavioral modification plan includes focus on:
  • expanding beyond consequence strategies (e.g., time outs)
  • preventing the occurrence of problem behavior
  • teaching socially acceptable alternatives to problem behavior (especially alternatives that serve the same purpose as the problem behavior and therefore are more likely to be adopted by the child)

Next, the clinician should use a comprehensive format for outlining multi-component supports that addresses the following:
  1. Antecedent/setting event strategies
  2. Alternative skills training
  3. Consequence strategies
  4. Long-term prevention

Let’s look at each of these areas:

1. Antecedent/setting event strategy: The primary goals of this strategy are to prevent or reduce the likelihood of problem behavior and to set the stage for learning more adaptive skills over time. For example, many children on the spectrum have difficulty with noisy, crowded environments. Therefore, the newly arrived middle school student who becomes physically aggressive in the hallway during passing periods may need an accommodation of leaving class a minute or two early to avoid the congestion which provokes this behavior. Over time, the student may learn to negotiate the hallways simply by being more accustomed to the situation, or by being given specific instruction or support.

Key issues to address when discussing this strategy are:
  • What can be done to eliminate the problem (i.e., the antecedent condition)?
  • What can be done to modify the situation if it can’t be eliminated entirely?
  • Will the antecedent strategy need to be permanent, or is it a temporary "fix" which allows the student to increase skills needed to manage the situation in the future?

The importance of using antecedent strategies should not be underestimated. Kids on the spectrum often have to manage a great amount of personal stress. Striking a balance of short and long term accommodations through manipulating antecedents to problem behavior is often critical in setting the stage for later skill development.

2. Alternative Skills Training: The primary purpose of this strategy is to teach skills that replace problem behavior by serving the same purpose as the challenging behavior. For example, a student with the disorder may have trouble "entering" into a kickball game by asking to play and instead simply inserts himself into the game, thereby offending the other players and risking exclusion. Instead, the youngster can be coached on how and when to ask to enter into the game.

Here is a particularly useful framework for guiding efforts towards teaching alternative skills by examining the following three categories:

A. Equivalence training
B. General skills training
C. Self-regulation training

A. Equivalence training requires support persons to ask the following sequential questions:
  • How will alternative skills be taught?
  • What alternative skill(s) will be taught which serves the same function as the problem behavior?
  • What is the function of the problem behavior?

B. General “skills training” requires asking the following sequential questions:
  • How will alternative skills be taught?
  • What other academic, social, or communication skills will be taught that will prevent the problem behavior from occurring?
  • What skill deficits are contributing to the problem behavior?

C. Self-regulation training requires asking the following sequential questions:
  • How will skills be taught?
  • What events appear to be contributing to the child's anger or frustration in reference to the problem behavior?
  • What self-control skills will be taught to help the child deal with difficult/frustrating situations?

One particularly relevant means to teach alternative skills is through the use of self-management strategies. Self-management is a procedure in which autistic children are taught to discriminate their own target behavior and record the occurrence or absence of that target behavior. Self-management is a particularly useful technique to assist children to achieve greater levels of independent or even inter-dependent functioning across many settings and situations.

By learning self-management techniques, children can become more self-directed and less dependent on continuous supervision and control. Instead of teaching situation specific behaviors, self-management teaches a more general skill that can be applied in an unlimited number of settings.

Self-management strategies have particular relevance and immediate utility for children on the autism spectrum. The basic steps for teaching self-management are:
  • clearly define the target behavior
  • identify child reinforcers
  • design or choose a self-management method or recording device
  • teach the child to use the self-management device
  • teach self-management independence

It is also important for teachers to monitor their own behavior when working with "special needs" students. Each time a teacher reprimands a child for misbehavior, an opportunity to reframe the moment in terms of the child's need to develop alternative skills through a means such as self-management training may be lost.

3. Consequence strategies: Though consequences have traditionally been framed in terms of how they reduce problem behavior as a form of discipline, reframing consequences in terms of “reinforcement for achieving alternative behaviors” should be the focus for ASD kids. One way to reframe the use of consequences is to develop them as “planned responses to instructional situations.” This shifting of the use of consequences does not mean that negative consequences should be eliminated (especially in moments of crisis), but that multiple negative consequences are likely to heighten anxiety levels for the child and compete with teaching alternative skills.

4. Long-term prevention: In the presence of immediate behavioral concerns, it may be difficult to come up with a long-term approach to a child's educational program. However, it is critical that plans for supporting a child over the long-term be outlined from the beginning. Many supports with the most relevance for kids on the spectrum (e.g., specific accommodations, peer supports, social skills, self-management strategies, etc.) must be viewed as procedures that are developed progressively as the youngster moves through school. These are not “crisis management” techniques, but the very strategies that can decrease crisis situations from developing.

Those involved with the child will need to collaborate on a behavioral modification plan that is clear and easily implemented. Once developed, the plan will need to be monitored across settings. Inconsistencies in expectations and behaviors will only serve to heighten the challenges demonstrated by the child.

Resources for parents of children and teens on the autism spectrum:

==> Videos for Parents of Children and Teens with ASD


Trouble-Shooting Tips for Teachers of Asperger's/HFA Students

“Would you happen to have a snapshot or simple summary of strategies my HFA son’s teacher could use to help him cope with school-related anxiety. He gets stressed-out over something, and then has a meltdown, which his teacher seems unable to deal with effectively. I need something (like a fact sheet) that she can refer to quickly when in the middle of a crisis. Thank you.”

Sure thing! I’ll try to keep it short and to the point...

Dear Teacher,

In order to create an effective intervention for problem behaviors associated with Asperger's and High Functioning Autism (HFA), follow these steps:

1. Hypothesize the function of the problem behavior (e.g., escape/avoidance, sensory feedback, social attention, wants tangible item or activity, etc.).

2. Gather information.

a. Antecedent— Does the problem behavior occur:
  • Following a request to perform a difficult task?
  • Repeatedly, in the same way for long periods of time, even when no one is around? 
  • When a request for an item or activity is denied? 
  • When you are attending to other students in the classroom?

b. Consequence— When the problem behavior occurs, do you:
  • Allow the child to engage in inappropriate behavior?
  • Attend to the child? 
  • Leave the child alone? 
  • Negotiate or give the desired item/activity

3. Plan an intervention.

a. Based on information gathered, are environmental changes needed (e.g., remove distracters, move the student closer to you, limit materials available to the child, etc.)?

b. Based on information gathered, determine how people should react to the problem behavior each time it occurs (e.g., plan to remove privileges, plan to redirect, plan to ignore, plan to attend, etc.).

4. Identify a replacement behavior.

a. What appropriate behavior is “functionally equivalent” to the problem behavior?
  • Teach the child to communicate his wants appropriately to replace escape/avoidance behaviors.
  • Teach the child to ask if he can use the computer later to replace tantrum behavior.
  • Manipulate a stress ball or twist pen to replace inappropriate hand movements.
  • Teach the child to raise his hand to replace attention-seeking behaviors.

b. Complete replacement behavior planning guide with a team:
  • How will the team evaluate if - and how - the child uses the new response?
  • In what situations will training occur? 
  • What functionally equivalent behavior is the team going to train in place of the challenging behavior? 
  • What motivation system will be implemented during training? 
  • Which behavior is the team going to target for replacement? 
  • Who will be responsible for conducting the training sessions?

Good luck!

More resources for parents of children and teens with High-Functioning Autism and Asperger's:

==> How To Prevent Meltdowns and Tantrums In Children With High-Functioning Autism and Asperger's

==> Parenting System that Significantly Reduces Defiant Behavior in Teens with Aspergers and High-Functioning Autism

==> Launching Adult Children with Asperger's and High-Functioning Autism: Guide for Parents Who Want to Promote Self-Reliance

==> Teaching Social Skills and Emotion Management to Children and Teens with Asperger's and High-Functioning Autism

==> Parenting Children and Teens with High-Functioning Autism: Comprehensive Handbook

==> Unraveling The Mystery Behind Asperger's and High-Functioning Autism: Audio Book

==> Parenting System that Reduces Problematic Behavior in Children with Asperger's and High-Functioning Autism


Dealing with Destructive Behavior in Children with Asperger's and HFA

"I need some immediate ideas about how to deal with my son's behavior problems. He has Asperger syndrome (high functioning), ADHD and ODD. His behavior is completely out of control and I am at my wits end. Please help! He also has a lot of problems at school. His favorite thing to do when he's upset is to throw and break things."

There are no easy, quick fixes to reduce or eliminate severe behavioral issues in children with Asperger’s (AS) or High-Functioning Autism (HFA) (e.g., self-injury, aggressiveness, meltdowns, tantrums, destructiveness, etc.). However, I have a few suggestions that may not require a tremendous amount of time and effort to implement. Let’s look at a few…

1. One reason for behavioral issues may be difficulties in receptive language. Kids on the autism spectrum often have poor auditory processing skills. As a result, they often don’t understand what others are saying to them; they hear the words, but they don’t understand what the words mean. The child’s lack of understanding can lead to confusion and frustration, which can escalate into a behavioral issue. Visual communication systems can be useful in teaching and in informing these children of what is planned and what is expected of them.

2. Behavioral issues may be due to difficulties in expressive language. Some researchers suggest that many behavioral issues in kids on the autism spectrum are simply due to poor expressive communication skills. There are numerous communication strategies (e.g., Picture Exchange Communication System, Simultaneous Communication), which can be used to teach expressive communication skills.

3. Food allergies can be a cause of behavior issues (e.g., dairy and wheat products, food preservatives, food coloring). Some AS and HFA children have red ears, red cheeks or dark circles under their eyes, which are often signs of food allergies. Some of the symptoms associated with food allergies include feelings of nausea, headaches, fuzzy thinking, stomach aches, meltdowns and tantrums. Due to these allergic reactions, the youngster may be less tolerant of others and more likely to act out. Since some of these “special needs” kids have poor communication skills, moms and dads may not be aware that their youngster is not feeling well. Have your son or daughter tested if food allergies are suspected.

==> How To Prevent Meltdowns and Tantrums In Children With High-Functioning Autism and Asperger's

4. In some cases, a behavior problem is a reaction to a request or demand made by the parent or educator. The AS or HFA child may have learned that he can escape or avoid certain undesirable situations (e.g., doing homework) by acting out. A functional assessment of the child’s behavior (i.e., antecedents, consequences, context of the behavior) can divulge certain relationships between the behavior and the function the behavior serves. If avoidance is the function the behavior serves, parents and educators should follow through with all requests and demands made to the child. If the child is able to escape or avoid such requests – even only some of the time – the behavior problem will continue.

5. Behavioral issues may be due to a low level of arousal (e.g., when the child is bored). Certain behaviors (e.g., aggression, destructiveness) may be exciting – and thus appealing – to the child. If it is suspected that behavioral issues are due to under-arousal, the AS or HFA child can be kept busy and active (e.g., with vigorous exercise).

6. Occasionally a youngster with AS or HFA may exhibit a behavior problem at school but not at home, or vice versa (e.g., the mom or dad may have already created a technique to stop a behavioral problem at home, but the educator is unaware of this technique). Parents and educators should discuss the youngster’s behavioral issues since one of them may have already discovered a solution to handle a particular problem.

7. Often times, powerful medications are prescribed to children on the autism spectrum to treat their behavior problems (the most common one being Ritalin). A survey conducted by the Autism Research Institute revealed that 45% of over 2,000 moms and dads felt that Ritalin made their youngster’s behavior worse.

8. Some moms and dads are giving their AS and HFA kids safe nutritional supplements (e.g., Vitamin B6 with magnesium, DMG). Nearly half have reported a reduction in behavioral issues as well as improvements in the youngster’s general well-being.

9. The AS or HFA child’s level of arousal should be considered when developing a technique to deal with behavioral issues. Sometimes “bad” behavior occurs when the child is overly-excited. This can occur when she is anxious or when there is too much stimulation in the environment. In this case, interventions should be aimed at calming the child (e.g., with vigorous exercise, vestibular stimulation, deep pressure, etc.).

==> Parenting System that Significantly Reduces Defiant Behavior in Teens with Aspergers and High-Functioning Autism

10. If the AS or HFA youngster’s behavior is worse at school but not at home, there are many possible reasons. For example:
  • Cleaning solvents: Custodians use powerful chemicals when cleaning the school environment. Even though the smell may be gone in a few hours, chemical residue is still in the air and on surfaces. Breathing these chemicals often affects children with sensitivities in this area. Children often place their hands and face on the tables and floors, thus cleaning solvents may end up in the youngster’s mouth and can alter brain functioning as well as behavior. Many educators who have wiped the desks with water or a natural cleaning solution prior to class each morning have reported significant improvements in their “special needs” students.
  • Florescent lighting: Many kids on the autism spectrum report that florescent lights bother and distract them during classroom activities. Also, researchers have observed more repetitive, self-stimulatory behaviors under florescent lighting compared to incandescent lighting. When possible, educators may want to turn off the florescent lighting in their classroom for a few days to see if there is a decrease in behavioral issues for some of their “special needs” children. During this experiment, the educator can use natural light from the windows or incandescent lights.
  • Lack of consistency, routine, or structure: Children on the autism spectrum crave structure. It helps them feel safe, and facilitates the ability to concentrate.

More resources for parents of children and teens with High-Functioning Autism and Asperger's:

==> Launching Adult Children with Asperger's and High-Functioning Autism: Guide for Parents Who Want to Promote Self-Reliance

==> Teaching Social Skills and Emotion Management to Children and Teens with Asperger's and High-Functioning Autism

==> Parenting Children and Teens with High-Functioning Autism: Comprehensive Handbook

==> Unraveling The Mystery Behind Asperger's and High-Functioning Autism: Audio Book

==> Parenting System that Reduces Problematic Behavior in Children with Asperger's and High-Functioning Autism


Effective Interventions for Problem Behaviors in Children on the Autism Spectrum

In order to create an effective intervention for problem behaviors in children with Asperger’s (AS) and High-Functioning Autism (HFA), parents need to take into consideration a variety of aspects.

Let’s first look at “The 4-Step Plan”:

1. Hypothesize the Function of the Behavior:
  • Escape/Avoidance
  • Sensory Feedback 
  • Social Attention 
  • Wants tangible item or activity

2. Gather Information:

a. Antecedent: Does the behavior occur…
  • Following a request to perform a difficult task?
  • Repeatedly, in the same way, for long periods of time, even when no one is around? 
  • When a request for an item or activity is denied? 
  • When you are attending to other children in the room?

b. Consequence: When the behavior occurs, do you…
  • Allow your child to engage in inappropriate behavior?
  • Attend to your child? 
  • Leave him or her alone? 
  • Negotiate or give the desired item/activity?

3. Plan an Intervention:

a. Based on information gathered, are environmental changes needed?
  • Limit toys and games available to your child
  • Less noise/chaos
  • Remove distracters

b. Based on information gathered, determine how you should react to the challenging behavior each time it occurs.
  • Plan to attend
  • Plan to ignore
  • Plan to redirect
  • Plan to remove privileges

4. Identify a Replacement Behavior:

a. What appropriate behavior is “functionally equivalent” to the challenging behavior?
  • Teaching your child to communicate his or her wants appropriately to replace escape/ avoidance behaviors
  • Teaching your child to ask if he or she can use the computer later to replace tantrum behavior 
  • Teaching your child to tell you what he or she wants/needs in order to replace attention-seeking behaviors

b. Create “replacement behavior” planning guide (write it down in a journal or notebook).
  • Describe how you will evaluate if – and how – your child uses the new response.
  • In what situations will “training” (i.e., behavior modifications) occur? 
  • What functionally equivalent behavior are you going to train in place of the problem behavior? 
  • What motivation system will be implemented during training? 
  • Which behavior are you going to target for replacement?

Next, let’s look at Differential Reinforcement:

Differential reinforcement is the process by which the frequency of a desirable behavior is increased while the undesirable alternative behaviors are eliminated. It is used when the desired behavior already occurs occasionally and when there is an available reinforcer.

The first step to differential reinforcement is to define exactly what the target behavior is, and also to define the undesirable competing behavior (e.g., if Michael plays video games twice as much as he does homework, the target behavior would be doing homework, and the undesirable behavior would be playing video games).

==> How To Prevent Meltdowns and Tantrums In Children With High-Functioning Autism and Asperger's
The next step is to collect baseline data. Baseline is the period of time before behavior modification is implemented. The baseline serves as an indication of whether or not behavior modification is successful. So with Michael, the parent would record and graph the amount of time spent doing homework and playing video games each day.

In the third step, a reinforcer should be chosen (i.e., an item which the child is willing to work for), for example, snacks, praise, games, etc. With Michael, he could be reinforced with video game time.

Every time that the desirable behavior is demonstrated, it should be immediately reinforced. So, for every 30 minutes Michael spends doing homework, he would immediately be given 15 minutes of video game time. If too much time elapses before the child is reinforced, the target behavior will not increase in frequency.

Throughout the process, it is important for the parent to record the frequency of both the desirable and undesirable behavior so that progress can be tracked. After the desirable behavior is at the desired level, and the undesirable behavior is virtually eliminated, behavior modification can be decreased.

Lastly, here are a few additional interventions for problem behaviors in AS and HFA children:

1. Checklists and Schedules -- Provide visual structure and motivation needed to complete tasks/chores/activities, and stay on target by checking off tasks/chores/activities upon their completion.

2. Contingency Contracts -- The parent and child formalize agreements concerning specific behavior for the exchange of “reinforcers” (i.e., stimuli, such as rewards, the removal of unpleasant events, or punishments that maintain or strengthen a desired response) by writing an agreement. It outlines the behaviors and consequences of a specific behavior management system (e.g., good behavior “A” gets reward “A” …or misbehavior “B” gets punishment “B”).

3. Interspersed Requests -- Used to motivate AS and HFA kids to perform a difficult or unpleasant task by initially asking them to perform several easier tasks, which they can complete successfully in a short amount of time. This helps promote “behavioral momentum.”

4.  Premack Principle -- A method of maintaining and increasing compliance with rules through the use of positive reinforcement. A desired activity is available to the youngster on the completion of an undesired activity (e.g., the child who completes homework can earn an opportunity to play on the computer).

5. Redirection -- Introduce a novel stimulus to recapture the child’s attention by delivering verbal and nonverbal cues to the child to stop misbehavior, offering assistance with a task, engaging him/her in conversation, reminding him/her to focus attention on the task, or modeling calm and controlled behavior.

==> Parenting System that Significantly Reduces Defiant Behavior in Teens with Aspergers and High-Functioning Autism

6. Rules -- Establish, teach, and enforce house rules. Rules should be positively stated. Identify the specific behaviors you wish to see displayed.

7. Self-Evaluation -- A self-management system that has been used to promote appropriate behavior. AS and HFA kids are taught to evaluate their own behavior using a rating scale. For instance, a child can rate his or her behaviors using a 0-5 point rating scale ("unacceptable" to "excellent"). The child earns points, which can be exchanged for reinforcers based on both child-behavior and the accuracy of his or her ratings.

It is important for parents to know that, independent of their AS or HFA child's diagnosis, there are behavioral interventions that are very likely to help. A diagnosis of an autism spectrum disorder increases the likelihood that parents will observe behavioral problems, but that does not mean that they have to live with those problems. Understanding that kids on the spectrum experience the world in a different way is important. But, moms and dads also have a responsibility to work with their child so that he or she can develop more socially appropriate behavior. Using the methods outlined above can be a good start toward this end.

Resources for parents of children and teens on the autism spectrum:


Parent Management Training [PMT] for Parents of Aspergers Children

Parent management training (PMT) is an adjunct to treatment that involves educating and coaching moms and dads to change their Aspergers child’s problem behaviors using principles of learning theory and behavior modification.


The aim of PARENT MANAGEMENT TRAINING is to decrease or eliminate an Aspergers child’s disruptive or inappropriate behaviors at home or school and to replace problematic ways of acting with positive interactions with peers, moms and dads and such authority figures as teachers. In order to accomplish this goal, PARENT MANAGEMENT TRAINING focuses on enhancing parenting skills. The PARENT MANAGEMENT TRAINING therapist coaches parents in applying such strategies as rewarding positive behavior, and responding to negative behavior by removing rewards or enforcing undesirable consequences (punishments).

Although PARENT MANAGEMENT TRAINING focuses on specific targeted behaviors rather than on the youngster's diagnosis as such, it has come to be associated with the treatment of certain disorders. PARENT MANAGEMENT TRAINING is used in treating oppositional defiant disorder , conduct disorder , intermittent explosive disorder (age-inappropriate tantrums), and attention deficit disorder with hyperactivity (attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder ). Such antisocial behaviors as fire-setting and truancy can also be addressed through PARENT MANAGEMENT TRAINING.


In PARENT MANAGEMENT TRAINING, the therapist conducts initial teaching sessions with the parent(s), giving a short summary of foundational concepts in behavior modification; demonstrating interventions for the moms and dads; and coaching parents in carrying out the techniques of PARENT MANAGEMENT TRAINING. Early meetings with the therapist focus on training in the principles of behavior modification, response-contingent learning, and ways to apply the techniques. Moms and dads are instructed to define the behavior(s) to be changed concretely and specifically. In addition, they learn how to observe and identify relevant behavior and situational factors, and how to chart or otherwise record the youngster's behavior.

Defining, observing and recording behavior are essential to the success of this method, because when such behaviors as fighting or tantrums are highlighted in concrete, specific ways, techniques of reinforcement and punishment can be put to use. Progress or its absence is easier to identify when the description of the behavior is defined with enough clarity to be measurable, and when responses to the PARENT MANAGEMENT TRAINING interventions are tracked on a chart. After the Aspergers child’s parents grasp the basic interventions as well as when and how to apply them, the techniques that the moms and dads practiced with the therapist can be carried out at home.

Learning theory, which is the conceptual foundation of PARENT MANAGEMENT TRAINING, deals with the ways in which organisms learn to respond to their environment and the factors that affect the frequency of a specific behavior. The core of learning theory is the notion that actions increase or decrease in frequency in response to the consequences that occur immediately after the action. Research in parent-child interactions in families with disruptive, difficult or defiant kids shows that parental responses are unintentionally reinforcing the unwanted behavior. PARENT MANAGEMENT TRAINING trains moms and dads to become more careful in their reactions to a youngster's behavior.

The parents learn to be more discerning: to provide attention, praise and increased affection in reaction to the Aspergers child’s behaving in desired ways; and to withdraw attention, to suspend displays of affection, or to withdraw privileges in instances of less desirable behavior.

The most critical element of PARENT MANAGEMENT TRAINING is offering positive reinforcement for socially appropriate (or at least non-deviant) behaviors. An additional component involves responding to any undesired behaviors by removing rewards or applying punishment. These two types of response to the youngster must be carried out with great consistency. Consistent responding is important because erratic responses to unwanted behavior can actually cause the behavior to increase in frequency. For instance, if a youngster consistently throws tantrums in stores, hoping to be given something to end the tantrum, inconsistent parent responses can worsen the situation. If a parent is occasionally determined not to give in, but provides a candy bar or a toy to end the tantrum on other occasions, the youngster learns either to have more tantrums, or to have more dramatic tantrums. The rise in the number or intensity of tantrums occurs because the youngster is trying to increase the number of opportunities to obtain that infrequent parental reward for the behavior.

Planning responses ahead of time to predefined target behaviors by rewarding desired actions and by withdrawing rewards or applying punishment for undesirable behavior is a fundamental principle of PARENT MANAGEMENT TRAINING. Consistent consequences, which are contingent on (in response to) the youngster's behavior, result in behavior change. Moms and dads practice therapeutic ways of responding to their Aspergers child’s behavior in the PARENT MANAGEMENT TRAINING sessions with the therapist.

Through PARENT MANAGEMENT TRAINING, parents learn that positive rewards for appropriate behaviors can be offered in a variety of ways. Giving praise, providing extra attention, earning points toward obtaining a reward desired by the youngster, earning stickers or other small indicators of positive behavior, earning additional privileges, hugging (and other affectionate gestures) are all forms of reward. The technical term for the rewarding of desired behavior is positive reinforcement. Positive reinforcement refers to consequences that cause the desired target behavior to increase.

PARENT MANAGEMENT TRAINING instructs moms and dads to cancel rewards or give punishments when the Aspergers child behaves in undesirable ways. The removal of rewards usually entails time away from the circumstances and situations in which the youngster can do desired activities or receive attention. The concept of a "time out" is based on this notion of removal of rewards. Time out from rewards customarily means that the youngster is removed from people and stimulation for a certain period of time; it can also include deprivation of privileges.

Punishment in PARENT MANAGEMENT TRAINING is not necessarily what parents typically refer to as punishment; it most emphatically is not the use of physical punishment. A punishment in PARENT MANAGEMENT TRAINING involves a response to the youngster's negative behavior by exposing the Aspergers child to something he or she regards as unpleasant. Examples of punishments might include having to redo the correct behavior so many times that it becomes annoying; verbal reproaches; or the military standby—"drop and give me fifty"—having to do pushups or sit-ups or laps around a playing field to the point of discomfort.

The least challenging problems, which have the greatest likelihood of successful change, are tackled first, in hope of giving the family a "success experience." The success experience is a positive reinforcement for the family, increasing the likelihood that they will continue using PARENT MANAGEMENT TRAINING in efforts to bring about change. In addition, lower-level behavioral problems provide opportunities for moms and dads to become skilled in intervening and to learn consistency in their responses. After the parents have practiced using the skills learned in PARENT MANAGEMENT TRAINING on the less important problems, more severe issues can be tackled.

In addition to face-to-face sessions with the parents, some PARENT MANAGEMENT TRAINING therapists make frequent telephone calls to the moms and dads between sessions. The purposes of the calls are to remind moms and dads to continue to be consistent in applying the techniques; to answer questions about the work at home; and to praise the parents' attempts to correct the youngster's behavior. In addition, ongoing support in sessions and on the telephone helps parents feel less isolated and thus more likely to continue trying to use learning principles in managing their youngster. Troubleshooting any problems that arise regarding the application of the behavioral techniques is handled over the telephone and in the office sessions.

An additional aspect of learning theory is that rewarding subunits of the ultimately desired behavior can lead to developing more complex new actions. The subunits are finally linked together by changing the ways in which the rewards are given. This process is called "chaining." Sometimes, if the youngster shows no elements of the desired response, then the desired behavior is demonstrated for the Aspergers child and subsequent "near hits" or approximations are rewarded. To refine "close but not quite" into the targeted response, rewards are given in a slightly "pickier" manner. Rewarding successive approximations of the desired behavior is also called "shaping."


The best way to learn to alter parental responses to Aspergers child behaviors is with the support and assistance of a behavioral health professional (psychologist, psychiatrist, clinical social worker). As noted earlier, moms and dads often inadvertently reinforce the problem behaviors, and it is difficult for a parent to see objectively the ways in which he or she is unintentionally supporting the defiant or difficult behavior. Furthermore, inappropriate application of such behavioral techniques as those used in PARENT MANAGEMENT TRAINING can actually make the problem situation worse. Families should seek therapists with valid credentials, skills, training and experience in PARENT MANAGEMENT TRAINING.

Normal results—

Typically, the parents should notice a decrease in the unwanted behaviors after they implement the techniques learned in PARENT MANAGEMENT TRAINING at home. Of the various therapies used to treat childhood disorders, PARENT MANAGEMENT TRAINING is among those most frequently researched. PARENT MANAGEMENT TRAINING has shown effectiveness in changing Aspergers kid's behavior in very well-designed and rigorous studies. PARENT MANAGEMENT TRAINING has a greater effect on behavior than many other treatments, including family therapy or play therapy.

Furthermore, the results— improved child behavior and reduction or elimination of undesirable behavior— are sustained over the long term. When a group of kids whose families had used PARENT MANAGEMENT TRAINING were examined one to fourteen years later, they had maintained higher rates of positive behavior and lower levels of problem behavior.


Help for the Vindictive, Revengeful Child on the Autism Spectrum

"I need some advice on how to help my child (autistic) deal with his revengeful attitude. He's quick to fly off the handle whenever he thinks he's been treated unfairly (quite a black-and-white thinker)."

A youngster with ASD level 1, or high functioning autism, who is vindictive is demonstrating that something is wrong. His rage and hostility are symptoms of an underlying problem.

It may be the result of (a) the expression of emotions, attitudes and behavior that have been inadvertently or purposefully conditioned; (b) an expression of emotional distress; (c) an attempt to cope with sensory sensitivities; and/or (d) a physical, developmental, neurological or mental illness.

Symptoms of a vindictive or revengeful child include the following:
  • angry and irritable mood
  • argues with parents and teachers
  • behavior causes significant problems at home and school
  • blames others for his or her misbehavior
  • deliberately annoys siblings and peers
  • is easily annoyed by others
  • is often resentful
  • often loses temper
  • refuses to comply with parents’/teachers’ requests or rules

For some kids, symptoms may first be seen only at home, but with time, these symptoms extend to other settings (e.g., with friends, at school, etc.).

No matter the cause, the behavior of a vindictive youngster is hurtful to others and ultimately self-destructive. It is to everyone’s benefit to find ways to handle the autistic youngster that will limit the aggression and amend the underlying issues that feed his or her malevolence.

==> How To Prevent Meltdowns and Tantrums In Children With High-Functioning Autism and Asperger's

Parents can begin chipping away at problem behaviors by utilizing these suggestions:

1. Assign a household chore that's essential and that won't get done unless your child does it. It's important to (a) set your youngster up for success with tasks that are relatively easy to achieve, and (b) gradually blend in more important and challenging expectations. Also, give clear, easy-to-follow instructions for the chore. Kids who feel competent tend to have higher self-esteem and improved behavior.

2. Show your youngster – in your own behavior – how you can use reason, talk and problem-solving to achieve goals as opposed to “acting-out.”

3. Never use insults, sarcasm or satire as a means of verbal punishment or as a strategy for enlightenment. ASD children have difficulty understanding figurative or metaphorical statements.

4. Use “labeled praise” when your child exhibits the kind of positive behavior you would like to see more of (e.g., “I saw that you were irritated, but you did a good job of being courteous and not losing your temper”).

5. At first, your youngster may not be cooperative or appreciate your changed response to his behavior. Understand that behavior may worsen temporarily in the face of new expectations (called an "extinction burst" by therapists). Remaining consistent in the face of increasingly difficult behavior is the key to success initially.

6. Build in time together by developing a regular weekly schedule that involves you and your youngster spending time doing something the two of you enjoy.

7. Cognitive problem-solving training is a type of therapy that is aimed at helping your youngster identify and change thought patterns that lead to behavior problems. Collaborative problem-solving, in which you and your youngster work together to come up with solutions that work for both of you, can help improve defiant behavior.

8. Consider “Parent Training.” A mental health provider can help you develop parenting skills that are more positive and less aggravating for you and your youngster. In some cases, your youngster may participate in this type of training with you so that everyone develops shared goals for how to handle problems.

9. Find out what your youngster’s perceptions of the situation are, and try to understand her motivation.

10. Get your child to verbalize his feelings so he can learn how to talk about anger, aggravation, and bitterness rather than “acting it out.”

==> How To Prevent Meltdowns and Tantrums In Children With High-Functioning Autism and Asperger's

11. If your youngster is acting unkindly toward others and not responding to limits, then monitor and limit movies, television, and video games to venues that provide only appropriate models. Do not allow exposure to aggression, violence, and disrespect of others.

12. Pick your battles carefully, and avoid power struggles. Almost any minor conflict can turn in to a “knock-down-drag-out” fight if you let it.

13. Establish a strict zero-tolerance policy for teasing, bullying, and verbal/physical aggression. Respond to every incident of these behaviors. If the behavior problem is minor, offer a verbal warning – but do not allow the behavior to continue or worsen. After warnings have been given, meet every occurrence of vindictiveness with a consequence.

14. Set up a routine by developing a consistent daily schedule for your youngster. Asking your youngster to help develop that routine will be favorable.

15. Social skills training is greatly needed for children on the autism spectrum. Their social skills are characteristically very poor. Your youngster also may benefit from therapy that will help her learn how to interact more positively with friends and classmates.

16. Try individual and family therapy. Individual counseling for your youngster may help him learn to manage anger and express feelings in a more appropriate manner. Family counseling may help improve your communication skills, and help all family members learn how to work together.

17. Work with your youngster to identify alternative behavioral options. Ask her if there are other ways she could have handled the situation, and talk about how to use those alternative responses (at a time when she is calm, of course).

18. Show consistent, unconditional love and acceptance for your youngster — even in the face of difficult and disruptive circumstances. Staying calm and rational during stressful encounters can be tough for even the most patient mom or dad.

19. Work with your spouse/ partner to ensure consistent and appropriate disciplinary methods. Also, enlist the support of teachers, coaches, and other adults who spend time with your youngster.

20. If the strategies listed above do not bring significant improvement in your child’s behavior, then consult with a physician and/or therapist. Medical issues (e.g., ADHD, allergies, diabetes, exposure to toxins, hypoglycemia, nutritional deficits, etc.) can contribute to verbal and physical aggression. Likewise, a psychological evaluation can expose issues that may contribute to persistent vindictiveness (e.g., neurological and psychiatric illnesses, emotional distress, depression, anxiety, etc.).

Although many parenting strategies may seem like common sense, learning to use them in the face of opposition is tough – especially if there are other anxiety-producing factors in the home. Learning the skills listed above will require consistent practice and patience.

Resources for parents of children and teens on the autism spectrum:

==> Videos for Parents of Children and Teens with ASD


The Use of “Structure” to Reduce Problematic Behavior in Kids with ASD [level 1]

"Any methods for preventing problem behaviors in an out of control child with an autism spectrum disorder? Please help with advice!"

For many children with Asperger’s (AS) and High-Functioning Autism (HFA), problematic behaviors are common. The term “problematic behavior” is a controversial one, but it’s intended to suggest that certain behaviors present a “problem” for parents, siblings, peers, teachers, therapists, etc. This helps to prevent internalizing the cause of the behaviors and blaming the “special needs” child.

This is a very important concept in AS and HFA, because it’s unlikely that any behavior which causes difficulties for parents and others is intended vindictively or maliciously. There is usually some other, unidentified, cause that provokes problematic behavior. Young people on the autism spectrum derive no enjoyment by being a problem to others.

Most problematic behaviors occur in the presence of parents and siblings (probably because AS and HFA children feel more comfortable simply being themselves when around familiar people). If such behavior is a problem for therapists and other professionals (which it is), then it can certainly be a challenge for moms, dads and siblings. Thus, it’s crucial that problematic behaviors are dealt with in way that (a) helps the entire family to cope more effectively, and (b) allows the “special needs” child to develop social skills and emotion management. 

Low-frustration tolerance is one of the most common problems in young people on the autism spectrum. They often appear to go into a state of anger, rage, anxiety, or fear for no reason. All children get frustrated and then act-out from time to time, but this problem is more of a challenge for moms and dads of autistic children. These children may seem inconsolable during the episode of frustration, the episode often lasts a long time, and the resolution that typically accompanies the end of feeling frustrated rarely occurs.

Low-frustration tolerance is just one example of problematic behavior. Similar episodes of panic, anxiety, anger, and aggression may be seen all through childhood, the teenage years, and even into adulthood (e.g., yelling, crying, resisting contact with others, pushing others away, refusing to respond to interaction, using others as objects, refusing to comply with daily tasks, etc.). These behaviors are “problematic” in the sense that they cause disruption (e.g., to a classroom engaged in a lesson, a family outing or event, etc.).

Children and teens with AS and HFA often rely on rituals, routines and structure, which helps define the world in terms of consistent rules and explanations. Consistency helps these young people to function more comfortably in a world that would otherwise be perceived as confusing, chaotic and hostile. Most kids on the autism spectrum find their own strategies for imposing structure and maintaining consistency. Without this structure, they would be totally overwhelmed and unable to function …they would be unable to understand the behavior of others …and the information they receive through their senses would be nearly impossible to bring together into a purposeful whole.

==> How to Prevent Meltdowns and Tantrums in Asperger's and HFA Children

When structure and consistency are disrupted in the AS or HFA child’s life, the world becomes confusing and overwhelming again – thus launching him or her into “problematic” behaviors as a response. This disruption of structure can be obvious (e.g., getting up at an unusual hour, having a collection of objects disturbed, not being able to engage in a favorite activity, being made to go a different way to school, etc.) …or it may be hidden (e.g., sensory sensitivities, subtle changes in the environment which the youngster is used to, etc.). Many of these “triggers” may be out of the control of the child. Thus, it’s important to remember that low-frustration tolerance and similar behaviors are not cases of “misbehavior” necessarily, rather they may simply be natural reactions to various unwanted stimuli.

"Structure-Dependent" Thinking in Kids with Asperger's and High-Functioning Autism 


How parents can begin to reduce problematic behaviors in their AS or HFA child:

1. At the time of the inappropriate behavior, be sure to limit your talking to “stating the rule and consequence.” Lengthy debates, explanations and arguments should be avoided at this time. Also, ignore complaints from your youngster. Further discussion about the rule and consequence can be done at a later time when things have calmed down.

2. Avoid anger and over-reaction to your child’s problematic behavior. Don’t let your emotions take control. Refrain from demanding or shouting. Stay calm! You’re “over-reacting” will through “gas on the fire.”

3. Establish family rules and put them in writing. Rules should be (a) specific, (b) easy to understand, (c) achievable, (d) age-appropriate, and (e) consistent. Rules should be discussed and decided upon ahead of time in mutual collaboration between the mom and dad without the youngster present. Then, after the rules have been agreed upon, they should be explained to the youngster in simple, concrete terms.

4. Help your youngster use problem-solving skills in order to make a plan for changing behavior in the future. For example, if the behavior involves difficulties getting along with peers, help your youngster learn appropriate communication and conflict resolutions skills.

5. Listen to your youngster’s point of view about a particular rule. When appropriate, consider making changes to the rule based on your youngster’s reasoning. This doesn’t mean you are “giving in” to your youngster’s demands, rather it means that (at times) you will negotiate with your youngster on a rule and reach a compromise.

==> How to Prevent Meltdowns and Tantrums in Asperger's and HFA Children

6. Make your expectations very clear. For example, let your child know that (a) she WILL be required to perform certain tasks (e.g., completing homework, cleaning her bedroom, getting ready for school on time, etc.), and (b) there WILL be consequences for not completing such tasks.

7. Set up routines for daily living that are consistent and predictable (e.g., morning, mealtime, and bedtime routines). Your youngster will learn many things from these routines (e.g., how to take care of herself, how to interact with others, discovering that life runs more smoothly if things are organized and predictable, etc.).

8. Simply ignore some behaviors (e.g., whining and complaining).

9. Structuring your youngster’s environment. Determine what activities he will engage in and how he will fill his time. Also, be available physically and mentally to provide appropriate monitoring and supervision.

10. Try to anticipate problem situations (e.g., don’t let your youngster get into a situation where he becomes overly tired, hungry, or bored).

11. Use distraction techniques. If your youngster is acting-out, distraction with something of interest can focus her on more positive behaviors.

12. Use rewards to increase appropriate behavior. When it comes to children on the autism spectrum, it’s usually better to reward desirable behaviors than to discipline undesirable ones. Also, it’s best to provide the reward immediately after the desired behavior has occurred.

AS and HFA Kids Want Structure 


Note: While providing structure and consistency are important skills for you to use with your AS or HFA child, it’s also important to be aware of the importance of allowing her some independence and autonomy. As often as is appropriate, allow your child to have opportunities to make her own choices and decisions, respect her choices and decisions, and allow natural “real-world” consequences to occur (when safety is not an issue, of course).

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