How to Handle Disruptive Behaviors Written by Koji Takeshima, Summer 2002 Instructions don’t exhibit stimulus control over Pat’s behavior. He is relativelyhigh functioning when compared to other children in the classroom. He may play withtoys more appropriately and interact with people more naturally than the lowerfunctioning children. However, Pat also has a high frequency of tantrums, hitting,kicking, pulling hair, crying, screaming, throwing, keeping materials away from tutors,sliding down to the floor, saying, “No” to all questions, etc. His tutor is frustrated whenhe attempts to conduct a Discrete Trial Training session because of these disruptivebehaviors.At the time of entrance, most children engage in some sort of disruptive behaviors. Manyserious disruptive behaviors, including tantrums and crying, typically decrease in the firstcouple of weeks after they enter the program. But, unfortunately, some children maintaintheir disruptive behaviors, or may develop new types of disruptive behaviors, throughtheir interactions with tutors. No matter how challenging the behaviors are, changingyour performance can decrease them.There are three possible reasons for the disruptive behavior. 1. The procedure is too difficult for your child: Your child either cannot easily do what you ask, or the temporary relief from the task reinforces your child’s disruptive and non-compliance behaviors. 2. You do not provide strong reinforcers for your child: Engaging in disruptive behaviors can be more reinforcing than the reinforcers you provide. 3. You provide social reinforcement or attention following disruptive behaviors: Your physical prompts, correction procedures, and instructions following disruptive behaviors are also attention, which possibly reinforce disruptive and non-compliance behaviors.What can you do for your child? 1. Play actively: Imagine how important playing is for normal children in this age group. Especially for children with many functional skills, playing should be a stronger reinforcer than praising. Playing contingent on appropriate behaviors is the key to make your child happy and decrease disruptive or any other problem behaviors. Play with your child in the playroom. Does your child show any disruptive behaviors? As long as your child enjoys playing with you (and your playing follows appropriate behaviors), there should be a decrease in your child’s disruptive behaviors. Make your Discrete Trial Training as fun as possible with various types of play. 2. Limit attention for disruptive behaviors: Any type of attention following inappropriate behavior could function as a reinforcer. For example, if your child screams, many people may look at your child and may provide a comment of concern. This attention may be the reinforcer that maintains the screaming behavior.
Do’s and Don’ts for decreasing your child’s disruptive behaviors Do Don’t Use easy instructions in between Pay unnecessary attention after the difficult instructions disruptive behaviors Check pacing Show reinforcers to motivate and ask, Provide reinforcers when your child is “What do you want to work for?” after good (play and have fun after good disruptive behaviors (show reinforcers behavior) only when your child is good) Dress in a way that your child cannot Let your child escape from the tasks easily grab your clothes and hair (it is reinforcing to grab someone’s hair and clothes!) Work through the procedure and block any attempts at disruptive behaviorsNOTE: Saying “I have yet to find effective reinforcers today,” instead of, “Pat isbored,” “Pat is frustrated,” “Pat is having a bad day,” “Pat doesn’t like me,” etc.Once in a while, your child may engage in disruptive behaviors and may not follow yourinstructions. You may say, “Pat is bored today.” How do you know Pat is bored? BecausePat is engaging in disruptive behaviors and not following instructions. It is a circularexplanation. You should say, “I did not find strong reinforcers today.” How do you knowyou did not find strong reinforcers? Because items or activity you provided after goodbehaviors today did not increase the good behaviors. This, at least, is not circular.Top 5 Helpful Hints 1. Have fun and be a kid yourself 2. Any problems, call your TA over 3. Get excited about small improvements 4. Always provide reinforcers when your child is good 5. Don’t overreact to bad behaviors
How To Obtain Eye Contact Buddy is a child who rarely pays attention to tutors. He is described as “spacedout,” because he often gazes at an open space for a long period of time. Even if a tutor’sface gets as close as an inch from Buddy’s face, he does not look at the tutor. Buddyinteracts with a very limited number of objects. He may play with toys, but often does soin unnatural ways, such as just watching a mirror ball, blocks, dolls, or a pinwheel, whilehe makes some nonsense words. He may smile when a tutor tickles or touches him onsome occasions, but he may not at other times. Instead of playing in “normal” ways,Buddy displays self-stimulatory behaviors, such as flapping his hands, nonsense talk,grinding his teeth, etc. His tutor may have to pinch a piece of candy between his eyes toobtain his eye contact before every single trial. At the time of entrance to the program, all the children in our classroom displaysome of the characteristics that Buddy has. But they improve!!! By graduation, some ofthe children may be able to look at a tutor’s face for more than 5 seconds, some may beable to play with some toys in more natural ways, and others may display less self-stimulatory behaviors. Even tiny bits of progress may benefit the children’s and theparents’ lives.What can you do for your child? 1. Play actively: Playing can be a very strong reinforcer. Assume your child is not paying attention to your instructions. Look at any of your child’s good behaviors (e.g., sitting nicely, being quiet, attending to you). After your child’s good behavior, play with your child for about 15 seconds, then stop playing for a second. If your child has really enjoyed playing with you, he will look at you right after the pause. That is when you should deliver the next instruction. Do not repeat phrases such as, “Stop throwing things” or, “Look at me” in order to calm your child down or get your child’s eye contact. Remember, these instructions to discontinue inappropriate behavior are also types of attention, which are equally likely to maintain the child’s inappropriate behaviors. An effective tutor knows how to play with his/her child. In addition, never provide a toy without playing with it and the child. A toy can be a very powerful reinforcer, especially when you play with it. If you don’t play with a toy, you are not using it to the best of your ability. Example of playing: Show a toy suddenly (make it a surprise), whisper in your child’s ear, blow bubbles, make him count to 3 and then tickle him, read a book like Sam, I Am, etc. If you have questions of how to make a certain toy interesting or how to actively play, PLEASE ask a TA! 2. Provide frequent reinforcement: What is the motivating operation (MO) for self-stimulatory behaviors? It may be the lack of contingencies for incompatible behaviors. If your child has lots of contingencies for incompatible behaviors, there may be a decrease in self-stimulatory behaviors. In order to decrease self- stimulatory behaviors, you should always provide various kinds of stimuli
following your child’s appropriate behaviors. Such stimuli should incorporate several of the child’s senses, such as praising him while you touch his shoulder and show him the toy you will play with together. In addition, you should never ignore your child for more than 15 seconds including the time you are taking data. Between-procedure intervals are the time when your child often has nothing to do. If you need to read instructions in the child’s book or you need to take data, give your child a toy and play with it for 10 seconds before you start reading or taking data. When your child plays appropriately or sits down nicely, you should always praise him. Yes, it is effortful, but your efforts will make a big difference in decreasing self-stimulatory behaviors. 3. Pair tangibles and social reinforcers: Social reinforcers are any type of attention, such as praising and touching. Children can never be satiated on social reinforcers. These social “reinforcers” may not actually function as reinforcers for many of the children at the beginning of our program. However, through thousands of pairings, social attention can become a strong reinforcer. So, especially for the children who work on procedures in phase 1 (the most basic), praise them and touch them every single time you provide tangible reinforcers! You may not be able to get your child to progress each time, but it really makes the difference in a long run. We promise!!Do’s and Don’ts for obtaining your child’s eye contact Do Don’t Catch your child looking at you, give Ignore when your child looks at you reinforcers, and make a big deal Proceed with the procedure without Seek strong reinforcers (try various getting the child’s attention ways to play) and provide them Ask your child’s name over and over frequently after good behaviors Go straight to the full physical prompt Minimize distractions (changing the child’s position may help) Pair tangible reinforcers with social reinforcers Use the attention procedure in ELOs Follow the hierarchy of prompts and keep physical contact to a minimum in the correction procedureNOTE: Don’t use non-behaviorsAccording to WoodsEdge policy, when you see your child’s inappropriate behavior, youshould always use an instruction that specifies a behavior that is incompatible with thecurrent behavior, rather than an instruction to discontinue the inappropriate one. Forexample, when your child stands up when he/she should not, you should say, “Go back tothe chair,” instead of “Don’t stand up.”