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Sunday 21 Jan 2018

Problem Behavior During Transitions – A question from a teacher

A child I know screams at every transition time at school (between topics, at time to go out to play etc) and at every frustration even during activities he enjoys. He also hits and kicks children at these times.

Since we cannot avoid transitions, how can we deal with this and stop other children from being hurt and frightened by him?

Time-out does not lessen the frequency of screaming/aggression, and there is already a visual timetable in place and a countdown timer to try and ease transition. There seems to be no particular anxiety around each new activity or playtime, so following the ABC model – the antecedent is a transition time; the behavior is screaming/hitting/kicking; the consequence is time-out (which he does not enjoy). If he is not removed from the area, he continues to hit/kick, so the behavior cannot be ignored for the safety of other children, and the screaming disrupts the whole session.

In order to develop an effective intervention plan, data first needs to be collected to determine the function of the behavior. Once the function of the behavior is determined we can begin the behavior plan development process.

He already has one-to-one attention and receives praise when he is doing the “right” thing, so any ideas what else we can do? Question from Louise

Before I address this question, I need to first state that I’m unable to recommend a treatment plan based on the information given, I can only suggest options on how to proceed as a team to determine the best solution. To do so would be unethical because I, as a behavior analyst, do not have all the information necessary for me to make treatment recommendations.

The first step in addressing problem behaviors is to collect data on the behavior using an ABC data sheet. This will provide information about when behaviors are most likely to occur and why behaviors occur (the function). Behaviors can serve two main functions: to get something desirable (i.e. tangible item, activity, attention or sensory stimulation) or avoid something undesirable (i.e. tangible item, task demand, attention, or sensory stimulation). When we understand the function of the behavior (i.e. WHY the behavior is occurring) we can develop an intervention plan which has the best likelihood of effectively changing behavior.

Each behavior intervention plan needs to be comprised of four components: setting event strategies, antecedent strategies, replacement behaviors, and consequence strategies.

Here is an example of how this process could be used in application to the problem describe above. If after taking the data the team determines that the student is engaging in the problem behavior (screaming and kicking) to avoid transitions (this is the function), then there are certain things we can do in terms of intervention.

Setting Event Strategies – global strategies used to decrease likelihood of problem behavior:

  • Daily visual schedule
  • Clear beginning and end for activities
  • Transition warnings
  • Opportunities for choice

Antecedent Strategies – strategies implemented to prevent problem behaviors from occurring:

  • Motivate the student by having them choose something preferred to get following the transition
  • Prepare the student for transition by giving them a 1-minute warning
  • State expectations clearly (i.e. “first walk to art, then you can have your toy”)
  • Use a visual to clearly show the student where they are expected to go or expected to do

Replacement Behaviors – behaviors we teach which serve the same function as problem behavior:

  • Teach the student to say “No art” to appropriately avoid transition
  • Teach the student to give you a card that says “I need a minute” to appropriately delay the transition

Consequence Strategies – strategies implemented to reinforce appropriate behavior and not reinforce inappropriate behavior:

  • Student receives reinforcement for transitioning (even if there was prompting necessary) or for engaging in appropriate replacement behavior
  • Student receives no reinforcement for engaging in inappropriate behavior (i.e. they do not get out of transition)
  • An important note to make here is that putting a student in time-out as a consequence for behaviors which serve the function of task/transition avoidance actually serves as reinforcement for that behavior because they technically get to avoid or delay the demand

These are some general suggestion for the team to consider to identify the function of the behavior and develop an effective behavior intervention plan. Each student is different, so the intervention strategies may or may not be effective. To determine the efficacy of the intervention it is vital to collect data on the frequency and duration of behaviors before and during intervention. If the frequency or duration of behaviors are not decreasing after 2 weeks of implementing the intervention, something about the intervention needs to be changed.

Click here for additional resources and information on addressing problem behaviors

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