Thursday, March 17, 2011

Challenging Behavior: 4 Steps to Turn Things Around

These four steps are a powerful tool you can use to help get past challenging behavior and get your student back on track. Many of us tend to internalize reasons why challenging behavior occurs, "I shouldn't have tried that." On the other hand, it can also be tempting to use circumstances as an explanation, "He's always had a tough time with that." Focusing on these four steps when inappropriate or challenging behavior occurs can help you effect change and get on to teaching!

1) Stay calm!
This is easier said than done but a reaction from you will most likely reinforce the previous inappropriate behavior of the student. One way to tell if getting your attention is the goal of the challenging behavior is to look for eye-contact. When your student is making eye-contact during or immediately after the challenging behavior this could indicate attention seeking behavior.

2) Identify what reinforcer your student wants.
If your student is continuously distracted by something or trying to play with a certain toy, then it is fairly obvious that this is what he wants to be reinforced with. On the other hand, at times it can be very hard to tell what your student wants because they may have challenges communicating just what that is. In this case I find it helps to have a list of possible reinforcers that they can choose from. Another option would be to give them a little space (at the appropriate time {see the following steps}) and see what they choose to do on their own.

3) Get the student back on track.
Most teachers of students with special needs have experience with delivering a calm statement such as, "No" or "That's not appropriate". Deliver this statement, and then move them along. You may need to adjust your expectations- in other words, if you were attempting to have your student read an entire page, try having them read a few sentences or paragraphs instead. Do not drastically reduce your expectations though, since this might reinforce the inappropriate behavior if the root cause is task avoidance. If you've done your best, and the tantrum continues, deliver another calm, unenthusiastic statement like, "When you read nicely you can be all done." Continue doing this until your student calms down. This takes a lot of practice and focus but do your best to follow through here.

4) Deliver the reinforcer.
You have helped your student through the task, they have gotten back on track and they have calmed down. Now you can completely switch your demeanor, and deliver that reinforcer that you determined they wanted in step 2. It may be tempting to deliver the reinforcer before step 3 occurs, but this may result in an increase in the behavior! After following these procedures and helping your student be successful, pay close attention to your rate of reinforcement and consider increasing it for this skill.

About the author:

Mr. Jeffrey Young is the President and Founder of Innovative Piano, Inc. Mr. Young has published over 17 books dealing with music and autism. To learn more about the author and the program please visit

Innovative Piano, Inc.

Offering piano lessons for students with autism - Nationwide!

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