Positive Behavior Support: Healthy Alternative to Punishment
When teaching a child with autism what good behavior is all about, it’s important to understand what motivates them to discontinue the unwanted behavior and continue the preferred behavior. This is where Positive Behavior Support comes in. Positive Behavior Support is seen as a healthy alternative to a punishment based approach where the child is deprived of something (e.g. a favorite toy or belonging which is taken away from them) or is given a verbal warning. Here is what goes into actually applying the method of Positive Behavior Support:
- Prioritize Challenging Behaviors to Overcome – If someone with autism exhibits more than one challenging behavior that you need to address, do not attempt to tackle them all together. Prioritize. First deal with the ones that safety concerns or that provide the biggest barrier to everyday function.
- Observe the Individual – Do what Behavior Analysts call a Functional Behavior Assessment. The focus of this assessment is to look beyond the behavior itself. When conducting a functional behavior assessment you must focus on identifying the contributors to the behavior or as Behavior Analysts like to say, identify the function of the behavior. For example, the child is being aggressive but you notice that the child is only aggressive with others during recess when she doesn’t get her way. This will help you understand why someone does what they do. It may not seem sensible at first glance, but when you identify what occurs before and after the action it will help you address the unwanted behavior.
- Understand What Causes the Problem Behavior – How do we work around the problem with Positive Behavior Support? The problem behavior is usually when the person with autism is facing a challenge but is unable to communicate it in any other way. For instance, a child who is looking to escape a noisy room may throw something or may hit their head against the wall because they cannot communicate the challenge that the noisy room presents for them. Because they have done this, the parent or teacher will likely take them aside or move them to another room (Punishment Based Approach) but it reinforces their belief that this problem/challenging behavior will help them achieve their goal. So instead, we are suggesting a helpful tool to break this cycle by offering alternatives.
- Break the Cycle by Offering Alternatives – Once you have gotten to the root of the reason behind the problem behavior, you should help the child by showing them alternative desirable behaviors that will achieve the same end goal that the problem behavior was aiming to do. For example, the child hoping to escape a noisy room bangs their head against a wall in order to have their parent escort them out of the loud room. Instead, the parent teaches the child to cover their ears with their hands whenever they feel the room is too loud for them. This not only provides the child with an alternative but discontinues the unwanted behavior.
- Aim for Change by Reducing/Eliminating Triggers – A typical Positive Behavior Support plan will usually involve constantly changing around the environment and routine to eliminate the stimulus/event that causes the onset of problem behavior. In the absence of the trigger, the challenging behavior has a higher likelihood to subside.
As long as you are clear and consistent in keeping up with Positive Behavior Support, there should be visible signs of change and the problem behaviors should fade away over time.