How to Use Behavior Modification
A team approach is most often used with children (and at times adults) when a behavior is both ingrained and not functional for them or for others. Think of an unusually aggressive child or an adult with an active addiction. These behaviors are subject to change based upon the long studied and validated area of Behavior Psychology, also called Behaviorism. This article will provide you with both the principles for understanding, and the tools for implementing behavior modification.
Preparing for the Program
Convene a team of adults that are aware of the maladaptive behavior whenever it occurs.Include a licensed professionalcounselor, psychologist, or similar either to help develop the plan, or to act as a consultant.
- Consider whether the behavior is maladaptive or different. An autistic child flapping her hands is harming no one, and can choose for herself whether to fit in. An autistic child hitting her head or screaming in class is causing harm.
Have the team observe the antecedents and consequences to the behavior.Compare all records to see if any patterns emerge.
- If possible, ask the student about it. For example, "Why did you throw that?" or "Why were you hitting your head this morning?"
- For example, a bell rings 80% of the time before Anisha throws herself on the ground and screams. It would be reasonable to suggest that the bell may be upsetting her.
- For example, when Jordan throws a tantrum, his father will give him a lollipop to quiet him for a while. Jordan learns that if he throws a tantrum, he will get a lollipop.
Change antecedents or consequences.If there is a pattern, this may eliminate the target behavior without a formal modification plan.
- For example, give Anisha warning before the school bell rings so that she can cover her ears. Without the startling loud noise, she may stop pitching herself to the floor and screaming.
- For example, Jordan's dad stops giving him candy when he throws a fit. Instead, he instructs Jordan on ways to calm himself, and encourages him to ask for what he wants using his words or his tablet. In time, Jordan throws fewer tantrums, and asks for food when he wants it.
- If this works, stop here. If not, and there is no pattern, continue on.
Keep ethical considerations in mind.There is evidence that behavioral modification can do psychological damage when it is done badly.Being overly controlling through behavior modification can do lasting harm.
- Recognize that behavior can be communication. If you squash communication, then the child learns that they must suffer through their problems in silence. A child who acts out may be dealing with a serious problem.
- Always allow a child to reinforce personal boundaries. Children have the right to refuse hugs, kisses, eye contact, or any form of touch. If they are trained to comply whenever adults want to touch them, this makes it easy for pedophiles to take advantage of their compliance.
- Never deny a child access to items that meet physical or emotional needs. Children should be able to access food, water, restrooms, comfort items, and time to calm down when needed. Nor should they be physically restrained, or locked in "calm down" rooms against their will.
- Never do any form of punishment that causes pain or fear. For example, it is always unacceptable to hit a child or make them taste something disgusting as a punishment.
- Children should be allowed to be themselves. Quirky-but-harmless behavior (like fidgeting or lack of eye contact) should not be modified.
Implementing the Program
Begin the plan with a well-thought out, person-specific list of rewards.A reward should be inadditionto the things they already enjoy. For example, it could mean buying a new song for a preteen who loves music, or getting a new game for a girl who loves games, and letting her have 30 minutes of time with the special game as a reward.
- Do not restrict access to something that the person could previously access freely. For example, it would be punitive to restrict a girl's access to a game that she used to be always able to play during her free time.
- Consider ethics. Access to food/water, relaxation time, or things they love (e.g. their teddy bear or their books) should not be dependent on their performance.
Create a behavior modification plan.Full team input is required as each member may have picked up on an important aspect of the behavior. Example:
- If X behavior occurs, Johnny will not earn a point that hour towards the attaining the reward he wants.
- When Johnny does not engage in the behavior, he earns the point and moves closer to his reward.
- Johnny has earned all points necessary for the reward by not engaging in the target behavior.
- Immediately provide him with the reward.
Begin with a small to moderate reward.This way, if the reward does not work, one can offer a larger reward. (If one starts with the largest reward and it does not work, then there is nowhere to go.)
Ensure that all members chart and record.Input and feedback from all members is important for evaluating and adjusting the program.
- Encourage compassionate firmness. The student's unhappiness will not change the plan, but that does not mean they will be denied an empathetic response. Encourage members to validate the student's feelings and help them cope with stress.
- Listen carefully to members' concerns.
Review progress.Meet regularly with the full team and professional to review all data, interpret it, and make modifications when necessary.
- Behavior escalation is normal early on. The child or patient tries harder, thinking that they will get the old response if they continue. This means that the plan is targeting the correct behavior. This can be alarming, but it will fade if one continues with the plan.
Present alternate behaviors.Show the child/patient some examples of what they must do to get the reward.
- Be specific. The student needs to know exactly what behavior is being addressed, what they can do instead, and why they should (both in terms of reward, and why the alternate is better).
- Role playing can be helpful.
Meet with the team regularly.This is how the team can decide if the alternate behavior is being used.
- As a team to decide when the alternate behavior, or modified behavior has been in place long enough to begin a fade out of the rewards.
- In "fading out" the rewards may come less frequently, or take more points to earn.
- The goal is eventually to have natural supports take over.
Add natural reinforcers as the reward is being faded out.This is a way of managing to reinforce the new behavior without being as dependent on a reward.
- "Good Job", a hug, a high five, and spending more time together can all be examples of this.
Call the team together one last time.This is done when the program has achieved its goal.
Thank the team and to gather all work they have done.All notes, charts, and data should be saved for use as a template for behavior modification that has worked for this individual.
QuestionMy son is an autistic adult. He is very vocal, loud, and makes a lot of irrelevant noise. Any tips to control his noise level?wikiHow ContributorCommunity AnswerConsider what purpose his noise serves. It means something to him, even if you don't know what. Is he under-stimulated or bored? Try playing music he likes, having him wear headphones with music, or giving him an activity he enjoys. Talk to him and say "When you make loud noise, I have a hard time concentrating and it really bothers me." (Even if he can't speak, that doesn't mean he can't understand speech.) Helping reduce the shouting will only work if you know why he is shouting in the first place.Thanks!
- Winning, in behavior modification, means losing, or at least losing a tried and true behavior that used to work.
- Think of the long road. If the child grows up into a screaming adult to get his or her way, or to seek attention, how well will that work?
- Find strength in knowing you are helping the child for life, and to have a decent life.
- Use team members that work together well, so there is an intrinsic support group for difficult times.
- Notify neighbors, relatives or others who may not understand, and think that in some way you are hurting the child. Confusion about what you are doing will not help you or the child.
- Regularly scheduled meetings are important. Before ending one meeting, schedule the next.
- Commitment to the plan needs to be important to each and every member.
- Consultants are important for form, yet he or she is dependent on the information you provide. Make sure this is always available to the consultant in an easy to review manner.
- Sometimes people with disabilities self-injure in order to cope with pain. For example, a teen who hits his head might be in agony from impacted wisdom teeth or lice. Have the student visit a doctor to rule out medical reasons.
- Pick and choose carefully what you are going to modify. If you do too much of this, the child will learn how to excel at the programs, but will also start to lose their concept of who they are and/or grow resentments towards the team.
- If something is just an unusual, but not bad, characteristic of being a child, do not try to modify who the child is. This is a serious endeavor, and changing too many things will take away from the child's sense of self.
- If someone gives a reward without being earned, the plan has been jeopardized.
- Do not begin until you are completely ready and the team is cohesive. Although time may be a factor, running a poor program will only waste your team's time and that of the child.
- If behavior is not impacted at all after two to three weeks, something is wrong with the plan and it must be reviewed from the beginning.
- If the alternate behavior is worse than the initial behavior, again, regroup as the plan is faulty.
Video: What is BEHAVIOR MODIFICATION? What does BEHAVIOR MODIFICATION mean?
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