Let’s face it, coping with a child who has a disability can be very difficult; especially when they display challenging behaviors. It becomes even more difficult if your child is non-verbal, minimally verbal, or experiences other communication challenges. Challenging behavior can involve anything from physical aggression and property destruction to pica (putting inedible items in the mouth) and self stimulatory or repetitive behaviors and anything in between. If the behavior has a negative impact on your child or your family, we would classify it as a challenging or interfering behavior. It’s important to keep in mind that while our children with communication deficits exhibit challenging behaviors, these behaviors do have a function, and there could be a number of reasons why they occur. Information processing difficulties, unstructured time, oversensitivity (hyper) or undersensitivity (hypo) of some environmental or internal event, changes in routines, and feeling unwell, tired or hungry are just a few examples of why challenging behaviors may occur.
When thinking about challenging behaviors, it’s helpful to think about human behavior in general. Behavior can be biologically driven (we put on a sweater when we’re cold) or reflexively driven (we close our eyes if a light is too bright). So, behaviors generally occur because they serve an important function or produce a specific outcome. When challenging behaviors occur, we have to keep in mind that it’s a form of communication. The critical part of addressing such behaviors lies in trying to understand the purpose or function of the behavior. Our behavior is shaped by our environment, specifically what happens directly prior to (antecedent conditions) the behavior and directly after (consequent conditions) the behavior.
As a result of these behaviors being “learned” behaviors, we often see dramatic improvements in behavior by changing the situations and environment surrounding the behavior, or as stated above, the events that come before and after the problem behavior occurs. Gathering this information will assist us in starting to understand why the challenging behavior is occurring. This is part of what is called a functional behavior assessment, and there are many ways to go about collecting such information. This is always the first step in determining how to teach replacement skills that are functional for the child experiencing challenges.
For more detailed information on behavior intervention plans, check out this link to a great PowerPoint presentation on BIPs created by Sonja R. de Boer, Ph.D., BCBA and shared by Autism Speaks: