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Preventing Problem Behaviors

May 2, 2014

By Hiedi Escoto

It is much more important to understand what you can do before a behavior problem occurs to prevent it from occurring in the first place. This is typically referred to as the antecedent, and to do this you first must understand why the behavior problem occurred. All children commonly misbehave for two reasons; to obtain something or to avoid something.

How do typically developing children obtain or avoid things from their environment? Often (although not always) they have learned to use their verbal (e.g., asking) and nonverbal (e.g., pointing) language by watching their peers. How do children with a developmental delay or social communication disorder obtain or avoid things from their environment?

Initially, they react (e.g., cry) or act out (e.g., take). Why? Because they do not readily learn to imitate others. The ability to imitate the actions of others lays the foundation of communication. Hence, they may not have the tools in place to teach them more adaptive and appropriate ways to communicate.

As parents of a child with a developmental delay or social communication disorder your first intervention strategy should be as follows: Understand what tools are needed for your child to communicate their needs in a more functional and adaptive way (e.g., visuals, environmental modifications, etc) and understand how you can modify your behavior (e.g., provide effective commands, follow through with commands, and being consistent) to facilitate appropriate behavior in your child.

Practice, practice, practice. It is imperative you practice during the nonessential times before you can expect your child to behave appropriately during the essential times. When practicing a new skill, praise often (e.g., every time your child exhibits the positive social behavior). After your child becomes successful, randomly praise (e.g., every 3 times, every 5 times, and then every 2 times).