Sunday, January 8, 2012

Rethinking Behavior Intervention Plans for Children with ASD

Many students with ASD have behavior intervention plans (BIPs).  Unfortunately, the quality of the BIPs is often questionable.  There is often a strong emphasis on consequence strategies utilizing positive reinforcement strategies with daily behavior charts.  The problem is that simply using positive reinforcement strategies to improve problem behavior for kids with ASD is not always effective.  This is because when students with ASD display problem behavior it is not just a performance problem.  Positive reinforcement alone only works if the student has the skills required and just needs extra motivation to display the desired behaviors.  Students with ASD typically have multiple functions for their challenging behaviors.  Problem behaviors in kids with ASD can be a result of frustration due to lack of communication skills, anxiety and fear due to deficits in social interaction skills, difficulties with emotional regulations, need for sameness, lack of active engagement in meaningful activities, need for control (which isn't a bad thing), desire for social attention (which is actually a wonderful thing for kids with ASD), and sensory needs.  While these aren't all of the possible functions for problem behavior for kids with ASD, they are quite common.  Many times the functions of challenging behaviors are reported as "desire to gain attention," or "to avoid work."  These functions don't mean anything if we don't also determine why the child is needing attention or why the child is avoiding particular work.  If children with ASD have limited, if any, positive interactions with peers, they may certainly engage in challenging behaviors to get peer attention.  Negative attention is better than no attention.  These children may also seek a great deal of adult attention if they do not have opportunities for positive interactions with peers across the day.  As far as avoiding work, many students with ASD do so because they do not have the skills required to complete the tasks or because they do not have the motivation to work on things that are not of interest.  It is not required that all students on the planet come to school with an internal motivation to work on things that are boring simply because a teacher says to.  It is the job of teachers to find ways to motivate kids with ASD (and all students for that matter), as opposed to getting angry that the students are not motivated.  So...when writing behavior intervention plans for students with ASD, here are some things that can be included when appropriate:
1.  Access the child's strengths and interests when planning and delivering instructional activities
2.  Increase opportunities for children with ASD to make meaningful choices
3.  Facilitate positive interactions with peers throughout the school day using peer-mediated interventions
4.  Use behavioral momentum techniques to increase motivation (make requests use a pattern of easy-easy-difficult-easy-easy-difficult-etc.)
5.  Increase active engagement (see page 11 of Bringing ABA into Your Inclusive Classroom)
6.  Use self-monitoring strategies
7.  Use differential reinforcement of alternative behaviors (DRA) (use extinction for challenging behaviors and positive reinforcement for any and all replacement behaviors that are taught through positive redirection and explicit instruction)
8.  Teach the student emotional regulation strategies (see Tony Attwood's work and the Incredible 5 Point Scale)
9.  Ensure academic and social requirements are developmentally appropriate for the student
10.  Use environmental arrangements, flexible scheduling, and increase opportunities for movement/sensory stimulation to respond to sensory needs

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