Wednesday, August 28, 2013

The Role of the Behavior Analyst in the IEP Team

When a child receives a diagnosis related to a developmental disability that requires special educational needs, the first step in the process is putting together an Individualized Educational Program (IEP).  The IEP is designed to provide the child with an educational program taking into consideration all areas related to the disability.  The goal of the IEP is to provide the child access to the general education curriculum and to allow the student be successful in the least restrictive environment. The IEP team comprises professionals from a multitude of disciplines, which may include a school psychologist, a speech & language pathologist, an occupational and physical therapist, a behavior analyst and more depending on the child’s needs. 

When a child demonstrates behavioral challenges that prevent him/her from gaining access to educational requirements – this can include both behavioral problems and/or a skills deficit – a Behavior Analyst is requested to participate in the educational planning. Parents have the right to request a Behavior Analyst in the IEP team.

Behavior Analysis is the scientific study of behavior. Behavior Analysts seek answers by looking at the environmental factors that trigger the occurrence of a behavior.  As discussed in previous blogs, Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) is a scientifically proven method that promotes positive conduct in children while decreasing undesired behaviors. In recent years, ABA has gained the reputation of being the most effective method of treatment for behavior problems that are associated with autism spectrum disorders and pervasive development disorders because it effectively addresses behavioral issues and skills deficits associated with the disorder. ABA is the systematic study of the relationship between behaviors and the environmental factors that trigger and maintain those behaviors.  Behaviors serve a purpose for a child. They allow a child to have a need met and are used as a tool to get something the child wants or escape something the child does not want to do. When we understand the purpose of a behavior we can work to improve behaviors and achieve the best results during therapy sessions.

Possibly the most important aspect of ABA is that it can also be used to build socially appropriate and productive behavioral repertoires by teaching a child an appropriate alternative behavior to replace the undesired behavior. Using a system of positive reinforcement, new skills can be taught by breaking down complex skills into small, achievable components and rewarding each step towards the desired behavior.

It is crucial that any behavior intervention program be carried out across all settings. This means that the procedures must be implemented anywhere the child interacts: school, home, the community. Since Behavior Analysis treats behaviors, in essence any therapist that works with a child becomes an implementer, regardless of the symptom being treated, whether it is speech, occupational or physical. If we understand this, it becomes logical that for any therapeutic program to be effective, all caregivers, educators, parents and therapists must work synergistically to implement the program. The job of the behavior analyst supervising the program is to notify the other therapists on what works to motivate a child and to appropriately coordinate the IEP objectives and learning goals to help the child achieve maximum progress.

Children can realize their greatest potential when teaching techniques are consistent across all settings. Best results are achieved when the therapeutic team works in synergy to implement the program in accordance with behavioral principles.


Daniel Adatto, BCBA

Saturday, August 17, 2013

Responding vs. Reacting

In my practice, I often see parents and caregivers “reacting” to children’s challenging behaviors instead of “responding”. You react to your children’s behaviors by yelling, spanking, threatening or physically forcing them to comply out of frustration and anger. You target your child rather than the problem. The way you behave is influenced by your current emotion. Often times, you react without thinking and as a consequence, you lose control; you are not making a conscious and rational decision about the outcomes you want from the situation. When you react you can’t choose the best way to reach the outcome you want. Reacting out of frustration and anger causes damage, hurts relationships and creates resentment. Furthermore, it does not make you happy even when you were able to “stop” your child’s misbehavior.  

Responding to your child’s behaviors, on the other hand, means that you take a moment to think before you act, thus keeping your actions under your control. It takes more time and effort because it involves making a conscious and rational decision about what you want from the situation. And what you want is to teach something, to build behavioral repertoires. You want to “respond” as a teacher and not “react” as a police officer enforcing the law. The time that you take (it could be 10 seconds, five minutes or even more) between your child’s misbehavior and you responding to the problem is vital to the relationship between you and your child.
Here are some tips:

1. Take a few seconds and a deep breath.
2. Consider all the options before you make a decision with the goal of teaching in mind.
3. Be ready ahead of time for situations that happen often. It is very likely that your child will misbehave again.
4. Be consistent and persistent in your responses.
5. Try to understand why your child is behaving in that way, what is the function of the behavior, what need is the child trying to meet. Target your response to the problem, not the child. It is not you and your child against each other, but the two of you together against the problem.
6. Do not threaten your child with a list of consequences you know you won’t implement. For example, “I’ll call the police”, “No TV today”, “I’ll tell your father”, “No more ice-cream”, etc. Try instead “If you listen, you’ll have ice-cream”, or “If you finish your homework, we go to the park.” And follow through.

Be sure that you are responding to your child’s behavior and be sure your “response” is appropriate, not over-blown, out of proportion. You want to teach, not enforce. Your job as a parent is to teach your child how to achieve self-control. If you do, it gets easier, I promised. And, I’ll buy you an ice-cream.


Daniel Adatto, BCBA