“Every individual should be able to access things that they like,” said Monica Fisher, M.Ed., BCBA/COBA, director of the behavior department at Monarch Center for Autism during an edWebinar. “It is our right to engage in preferred activities, spend time with family, and connect with the community. If there are behaviors that you are seeing in your students with disabilities and challenging behaviors that are limiting these rights, then it is something we need to fix as it can have a long-term impact on their quality of life.”
Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA), a technological and professional systematic approach, is designed to analyze and change behavior by identifying a behavioral problem, gathering relevant data, and formulating/testing a hypothesis. Fisher said that while ABA is a useful tool for looking at and changing the challenging behaviors of students with autism, it can apply to different parts of everyone’s lives.
Three-Term Contingency or ABC (Antecedent-Behavior-Consequence) goes hand in hand with ABA. ABC is an essential, evidence-based method of examining and changing what people say and do. Fisher explained, “If you want to change behavior, you have to look at the antecedent (action, event, or circumstance that occurs immediately before the behavior) and the consequences (action or response that immediately follows the behavior) applied.”
Challenging behaviors in the form of hitting, kicking, biting, and head-banging are not unique to students with autism. However, students with autism can also display challenging behaviors through physical and verbal aggression, self-injury, elopement, property destruction, tantrums, and non-compliance. According to ABA literature, there are four main functions of challenging behavior: attention, escape, access to tangibles, and automatic/sensory. Fisher expounded that it is essential to understand that all behaviors serve a function and they will persist if they are meeting a need for a student.
When a student receives attention after a problem behavior, it may increase the likelihood that the problem behavior will occur in the future under similar circumstances. When an individual engages in challenging behavior, it could be to escape or postpone an aversive event such as classwork or to be given access to tangibles and other reinforcing objects such as more computer time. The challenging behavior of automatic/sensory such as rocking or hand-slapping may reinforce on their own and does not depend on the actions or presence of others.
Important to remember
There are essential skills relating to the functions of behavior that should be taught to children at a young age that could decrease the chances that challenging behaviors will develop. Challenging behaviors can have a long history of reinforcement, making them resistant to change, so Fisher advises that changes will take time and effort and data will play a significant role in analyzing the behavioral changes. A teacher or parent may feel that the reinforcers for changing the challenging behavior are not sufficient, but once the data is analyzed, it may show that there is a slight change in the action. It is also critical that, when initially teaching a replacement behavior, the new skill needs to be low-effort and reinforced every time with a potent reinforcer. Finally, problem behavior has worked in the past to get the individual what they want or need so it is essential for teachers and parents to remember not to personalize a student’s challenging behavior.