Addressing Challenging Behavior
Disruptive behavior, such as aggression and property destruction, can be a challenging aspect of autism. Challenging behavior can also cause harm or interfere with a child or adolescent’s learning. Applied behavior analysis can help curb challenging behavior and provide a better means of communication.
About ABA Therapy
Applied behavior analysis (ABA) is a process based on scientific principles that explain how learning takes place. Positive reinforcement is a good example of such a principle. When someone receives an award immediately after behaving in a certain way, the individual is likely to repeat the behavior. ABA therapy applies these principles to bring about meaningful, positive changes in behavior.
Challenging behaviors do not occur in a vacuum – there is a reason these behaviors develop. Disruptive behavior occurs in response to an event, known in the therapy world as “identifiable stimuli.” The consequences of a challenging behavior can either strengthen the behavior or weaken it.
ABA focuses on the function of the behavior rather than what it looks like. In other words, when behavior analysts assess a child who engages in aggression, they look at how the child benefits from the aggression instead of focusing on the biting or hitting. Disruptive behaviors serve many functions, such as getting the attention of a parent or peer, gaining access to preferred activities or items, or an easy escape from an unpleasant task or environment.
Behavior is a form of communication. An outburst may be a non-verbal way of saying, “I need attention” or “I am angry.” A child learns to use challenging behavior as a tool to communicate needs and get what he or she wants. ABA provides the child with better communication skills and tools.
Assessment and Treatment of Challenging Behavior
Behavior analysts use Functional Behavioral Assessment to identify the underlying function of disruptive behavior. Functional Behavioral Assessment is a process that uses a variety of techniques and strategies, such as questionnaires and interviews that reveal what the child needs or wants but cannot express.
Identifying the function of a challenging behavior helps the therapist develop a treatment plan that targets that particular function. A child who behaves aggressively to gain the attention of a parent, for example, would learn different ways to get that attention.
Since ABA treatment focuses on the underlying function of the behavior rather than on the behavior itself, the aggressive behavior is ignored. Focusing on aggressive behavior, even in the form of correcting or punishing a child for that behavior, actually reinforces it. Ignoring the behavior takes all of the “ammunition” out of it, so that engaging in undesirable behavior is no longer an effective tool to help a child get what he or she wants.
Competent applied behavioral analysis can help individuals make meaningful changes in many areas, but changes in behavior tend to come about slowly. ABA is a step-by-step process that builds upon previous successes. Progress varies from person to person, so some children require more practice and training than do others.
Parents of children displaying challenging behavior associated with autism or other behavioral conditions should contact an ABA professional to learn about applied behavior analysis. Just as qualified medical professionals direct medical treatment programs, qualified behavioral professionals should design and supervise ABA programs offered at our behavior therapy clinic in Houston. Board Certified Behavior Analysts have special training in ABA therapy and applied behavior analysis techniques. Contact us today for a consultation and tour of our facilities!