SEPTA Committee (Special Education PTA Committee of the Mt. Pleasant Elementary PTA)

Managing Behaviors in Everyday Situations

In October, the MTPLCSD Special Education Department began a series of workshops presented by Dr. Christine O’Rourke-Lang, Ph.D., BCBA-D. Dr. Christine O’Rourke. Lang received her Ph.D. in Behavior Analysis from Columbia University and has been a Board Certified Behavior Analyst for over 10 years. She specializes in working with children with ADHD, autism spectrum disorders, speech and language impairments, social skill needs, and behavior management issues. Dr. Lang is also the chairperson of the Special Education department and director of the Applied Behavior Analysis program at Mercy College.

Managing Behaviors in Everyday Situations


Many parents deal with challenging behaviors with their children. Dr. Lang began by having each parent list a behavior we were having trouble with at home. After surveying the room many parents had some of the same concerns and behaviors. These behaviors can range from getting dressed and ready for school, eating their meals, following directions, doing their homework, going to bed or even fighting with siblings.

Once we could determine the cause or trigger of the behavior, we discussed different strategies to use for when the behavior occurs. We also discussed what we could do to change or prevent the behavior and teach a replacement behavior.

Dr. Lang had us describe the concrete behaviors, and identify the three different causes or functions these behaviors would fall under. Children are sometimes looking for:

1. Positive Reinforcement: Trying to get something like an item or an activity. Consequences lead to obtaining something.

2. Negative Reinforcement: Trying to get away from something like escaping or avoiding a demand or something that may be difficult for him or her.

3. Sensory Function: Trying to access a change in sensory levels/automatic self-reinforcement Consequences lead to automatic self reinforcement of the behavior

For a positive reinforcement behavior some of the most common triggers are:

· Children are asked to wait or told no to something

· Losing in a game

· Did not get an item that was requested

· Did not get to engage in an activity that was requested

· Things did not go his/her way

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One way to help with the positive behaviors we are seeking are behavior charts. Each time a positive behavior is exhibited you color in a piece of the behavior chart. Once the entire chart is colored in the child can earn computer time, IPad time or any other reward they are trying to earn. For example anytime your child gets dressed or follows a direction the first time, you color in the chart.


Strategies to implement

· Planned ignoring: remove all forms of attention, remove eye contact, remove physical contact/proximity and remove vocal interactions

· Teach appropriate ways to access attention and reinforce only attention and reinforce ONLY those behaviors with your attention.

For a negative reinforcement behavior some of the most common triggers are:

· “It’s time for…”

· “Time to…”

· A direction is delivered

· It is time to leave somewhere

· Time to transition to a new activity

· Time to transition to a less preferred activity

· Change in schedule or routine

Ways to help with negative behaviors are other types of behavior charts. Laying out a check list or task chart for each time the child completes the expected behavior or task allows them to see their expectations and how close they are to achieving their goal. For example, maybe one your child completes reading, so they get a quick snack or iPad time. Once the next activity is completed, your child can earn another 10 minutes of the reward. First you complete the task, then you get the reward. The goal is to phase out the rewards as the tasks become more automatic for the child.


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Strategies to Implement

· We MUST follow through with all directions and deliver them ONCE

· We need to make the task such that your child no longer wants the escape or avoid

· Alter the direction, task activity, materials

· Model target behaviors

· Alternate/intersperse activities

· Use behavioral momentum

· Provide visual supports


For a sensory reinforcement behavior some of the most common triggers are:

· Mostly unobservable

· “Internal state”

· Lack of direct reinforcement/attention

· Deficits in leisure skills or social skills

· Inability to self manage own behavior


Strategies to Implement


· Teach new skills to replace self-stimulatory behaviors

· Expand community reinforcers

· Teach ways to appropriately request changes in sensory levels

· Deliver access to sensory input more frequently: Must be the type of input your child is seeking


Dr. Lang had many useful tips to offer the parents. It was a great hands-on workshop, giving parents a place to voice concerns and get some beneficial advice. We look forward to more workshops in the future.

The Elementary SEPTA Committee


Please email Antenisca Malaj ~ agmalaj@yahoo.com & Jessica Miceli ~ jesssuter@aol.com if you would like more information on a topic regarding special education.