Dealing with emotional behavior


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Dealing with emotional behavior

  1. 1. Dealing with Emotional Behavior at WoodsEdge: Don’t do Talk Therapy Written by Mitch Fryling, Fall 2003 While working at WoodsEdge there may be times when you encounter “emotional”behavior. These behaviors may include crying, pouting, yelling “OUCH,” etc. Of course thereare times when these behaviors are appropriate and quite functional. Some more appropriatetimes to display these behaviors may be when there is an obvious injury, a death of a loved one,etc. Autistic children often do these behaviors because they have produced powerful reinforcersand/or escape from difficult tasks. While it may seem humanistic and caring of you to say“What’s wrong Mikey” when your child is crying, in reality you are probably contributing toMikey’s maladaptive behaviors. Some behaviors that we see frequently in the ECDD Classroom are crying, screaming,collapsing to the floor, and exaggerating injuries. Dealing with these behaviors appropriately iscrucial to your child’s development of a repertoire that will lead to a higher quality of life. Thecrucial distinction to make is when these behaviors are appropriate and when they are not.Seldom is crying appropriate in the ECDD classroom. Despite the behavior analytic orientationof the room, many people are often prone to reinforce these behaviors. Regardless of yourtheoretical orientation, or “feelings” you may have about autism, while you are working atWoodsEdge you are working as a behavior analyst. The children are quick to discriminate between who reinforces these behaviors and whodoes not (stimulus discrimination). Often time students engage in these behaviors in thepresence of one tutor, and not in the presence of the other two. DO NOT BE the tutor who isresponsible for the excessive crying. Here is an example of dealing with inappropriate behavior. Mike is a four-year old diagnosed with autism. Despite his young age, he has been in theAutism Preschool for a year and a half. Over this time Mike has had a variety of tutors. Duringthe Winter 2002 semester Mike again got three new tutors, three new people that were nowresponsible for the quality instruction that may have everlasting impacts on his life. Mike’s 8:30tutor was named Sheri, 10:30 was Monica, and 12:30 was Ben. Mike loved coming toWoodsEdge, and was always laughing and joking around with all of the staff involved in theroom. All of his tutors were comfortable with the procedures, and knew all of the rules of theroom. Occasionally Mike would cry loudly, sometimes screaming “Momma,” and sometimes“OWIE!” Many tutors dealt with these behaviors quickly either by extinguishing them (notproviding the likely functional reinforcer  attention), or by quickly saying ONE TIME“Momma later,” or “Let me see, ok looks ok you’re not hurt.” This technique was fairlysuccessful, and of course most tutors knew when he was really hurt and when his crying was aresult of reinforcement by attention/escape from DT. Monica was uncomfortable with the waywe were dealing with these behaviors. When she wasn’t being monitored she would often dealwith these behaviors in a very mentalistic way. Monica would often say “What is wrong Mikey,do you need something?” or “Let me help you, are you ok?” This reinforcement quicklyincreased the frequency and intensity of Mike’s crying. Before we knew it Mike was cryingoften, but ONLY in the presence of Monica. At one point Mike would begin crying as soon as
  2. 2. he saw Monica, and stop as soon as she left. At this time she finally began to take her TAsfeedback seriously, and stopped attempting to do talk therapy with a young child who was hardlyvocal. Mike’s crying behavior was done within 2 sessions…rarely to be seen again.Here are some possible diagrams of these contingencies that may increase and decreaseinappropriate “emotional” behavior at WoodsEdge.Possible reinforcement contingency: Mikey does not Mikey has have comforting comforting statements from Mikey cries statements from his tutor his tutorPossible Escape contingency: Mikey is in a Mikey is not in a demanding demanding academic Mikey cries academic situation situationPossible Avoidance Contingency: Mikey will be in a Mikey will not be demanding in a demanding academic academic situation in 2 Mikey cries situation in 2 minutes minutes