Got Problem Behavior? Teach New Skills
Sometimes when I say I’m a BCBA, the person I’m talking to will jokingly ask if I can make them or a family member stop some behavior. It may be yelling, procrastination, overeating, or any number of things we humans do that interfere with the lives that we want. The answer, not surprisingly, is yes! Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) is effective in reducing verbal aggression, off-task behavior, and weight management. However, an important part of reducing any behavior is knowing what the person should do instead.
Consider the example of yelling. It’s all well and good to reduce yelling. However if the person then starts storming off, sulking, or muttering under his or her breath instead of yelling, they may not be better off. Those three inappropriate replacement behaviors will not help to reduce conflict in the home, people staring in public, or disciplinary action on the job.
A quality behavior plan will include skill acquisition goals. These goals will be taught, either as part of the behavior plan or during skills acquisition programming. Good replacement behaviors for yelling will vary by function, but may include appropriately soliciting attention (ex. ‘Please look at me, I need to talk to you), asking for a break (ex. ‘I’m upset right now and need to take 5 minutes), recognizing physical precursors and asking for help (ex. Recognizing that one is more likely to yell when they have a headache and telling another ‘I’m not feeling well, can we wait to talk about stressful things’ or avoiding stressful situations), or requesting items and accepting ‘no’ for an answer. Additionally, calming strategies, recognizing and using appropriate vocal volume in various situations, and learning the expectations of various settings may be taught.
A good skills acquisition program will include age-appropriate and ability-centered versions of these skills even if problematic behavior is not occurring at that time. If a child or adult can’t request, has no or few effective calming techniques, can’t accept ‘no,’ can’t recognize and state what hurts or when they feel ill, or other related skills, then he or she would benefit from learning them to increase social skills, conversation skills, requesting skills, and self-advocacy skills. Not everyone will work on or learn every skill, but accommodations and adaptations such as communication devices or boards, using an adaptive switch or sign language, being allowed to point to body parts on oneself or a doll instead of vocally saying what hurts, or using tag teaching to let someone know when their deep breath is perfect can allow many people to learn more skills than are considered.
Can you think of behavior you’d like to reduce, and then identify what would you rather do instead?