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3 Key Tips for Reducing Challenging Behaviours

Figuring out the right approach to dealing with dealing challenging behaviours can be a key turning point in your child’s life. However, simply picking any given strategy and trying to apply it is like putting a band aid on the situation. On the other hand, taking a behaviour analytic approach, allows you to truly get to root of the issue and resolve it effectively. Here are some key tips from the science of Applied Behaviour Analysis (ABA) to help reduce challenging behaviours:

1) Figure out the “why”:
There is always reason for challenging behaviours. There are four key reasons why challenging behaviours occur: 1) to escape things, 2) to gain attention, 3) to gain access to things, 4) to serve an internal sensory purpose. The first step, of any good plan, is to always figure the “why” or what we call the “function” in ABA. This can be done through various types of assessments (e.g., functional analysis, ABC charts, descriptive assessments). Find a Board Certified Behaviour Analyst (BCBA) to help you with this. At Breakthrough Autism, our Executive Director – Nancy Defina-Marchese, regularly oversees these types of assessments in partnership with our staff and the families of clients that work with us. It is also important to note that at this phase, you should also consider ruling out any important medical issues that could be contributing to the challenging behaviour. Your child’s physician should help with this part. They too can work together with a BCBA to help ensure that any potential medical issues have been ruled out.

2) Prevent it:
Once you have figured out the “why” or the “function”, the next step is to look at how your child’s environment could be changed to prevent the challenging behaviour from happening. For example, let’s say that you’ve discovered that the function is escape from work. Then part of your child’s treatment plan can include changing the type of work, the amount of work, or the length of work. Here’s another example, let’s say that you’ve discovered that the function is attention. Then part of your child’s treatment plan can include giving your child all kinds of high quality attention during the day. A BCBA can help with this step too!

3) Replace it:
Keeping in mind that challenging behaviours always serve a purpose, it’s important to consider that just trying to stop it won’t be very effective. Instead, once you understand the “why” or the “function”, you can replace the challenging behaviours with something more appropriate that serves the same purpose. For example, let’s say that you discover that your child is tantrumming to get access to things, like toys, in their everyday life. Then the next step would be to teach them to ask for things using a communication system that suites their individual needs (e.g., vocally, with picture symbols, with sign language). Together in partnership with a BCBA, you can come up with just the right plan.

Decades and decades of research has demonstrated that following these 3 key tips is an extremely effective way to reduce challenging behaviours. It’s important to remember that these tips are not a magical instant cure for challenging behaviours. To truly get to root of the issue, it takes time and consistency. In the end, keeping in mind these steps, you can help change your child’s future by empowering them with life-changing skills.

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