Behavior Management Strategies: Understanding Difficult Behaviors

Why do we behave the way we behave?  I don’t know if you’re like me, but there are occasions when I can’t figure out why I’m doing what I’m doing.  And yet, we’re supposed to somehow figure out why our kiddos are doing what they’re doing.  This doesn’t only apply to kids with autism, but to most kids.  However, autism throws in a whole other dimension, and sometimes makes it more difficult to figure out the reasons why.  Because what makes sense to them doesn’t always make sense to us.

I will teach you what I’ve learned through my education, and then we’ll go through a couple scenarios to test it out.

First off, when we say “misbehave” or “difficult behaviors,” I just want to point out that it’s all relative.  What is “misbehaving” to you may not be “misbehaving” to me and vice versa, we all have our own definitions of what a “tantrum” is.  This is one reason why it’s important to define what the behavior looks like.  Instead of saying “he was having a tantrum” we would say “he hit his head against the wall and started pulling his hair out.”  That definitely gives us more information, and it is objective.

Generally there are 4 reasons why people display “difficult behaviors”

  • To get something
    • Something tangible
    • Their way
  • Attention
    • Adult attention
    • Peer attention
  • Escape
    • Activity
    • Task
  • Sensory Stimulation
    • Self-reinforcing
First Example: Refusing to eat
I shared this example in another post about Setting Events.

The antecedent (what happened right before the behavior):  He was given his breakfast

The behavior (what did it look like): He refused to eat

The consequence (what happened right after the behavior):  He was continually asked to eat by the staff (attention)

So what was the reason:
A) He wanted something else to eat
B) He wanted attention
C) He didn’t want to eat, he wasn’t hungry

D) He wanted his belt

If you didn’t read my other post, then you might think I was just pulling something out of my hat with D, but in actuality the answer was D.  This is why Setting Events are important to consider.  He did want something, but it wasn’t a different meal like my staff thought.

Why is it important for us to know the reasons why someone is acting the way they’re acting?  Mainly because it is our way of helping that person.  We want to help prevent them from going through the stress of having these behaviors, we want to help teach them how to respond or request more appropriately, and we want to help them to learn how to cope and get out of those behaviors without harm.

So how did we learn from this experience?  We made sure Simon had multiple belts in his closet, and made sure he had one on before he went to breakfast.  Because Simon was nonverbal, it was hard to know what he wanted because he couldn’t express it.  When eating is a health issue, you’ll do everything you can do to get them to eat, you don’t want a silly belt being the cause of his decline in health.  

Some moments you’ll want to be careful of what you’re reinforcing. 

In this instance, I wasn’t concerned about reinforcing his behavior of not eating by giving him a belt, it was our fault that it wasn’t in his closet.  Plus, I would have given him 5 belts if it meant he would eat.  His health was getting that bad.

Second Example: The grocery store
How many times have you gone to the grocery store and either your child or someone else’s child had a meltdown on aisle 5?  Each child is different, and you may see similar behaviors but for different reasons each time you go to the store.  I made a list of many reasons why a child may have a difficult time at the grocery store.  Here are just a few
  • To get something
    • Here you are in a room full of everything anyone could ever want.  Self control is difficult for some of us, and if you don’t have a concept of money, it’s even more difficult 🙂
  • Attention
    • How can you not get attention when you’re screaming in a room full of strangers?  The key would be teaching how to get positive attention rather than negative attention.  Which is not as easy one may think.
  • Escape
    • I sympathize with the kiddos that hate shopping.  I hate it too, and I often times want to escape. 
  • Sensory
    • As you will see in my past post.  The grocery store is full of sensory overload.
You may be thinking that this post is not all that helpful because I didn’t address what to do once you know why someone is doing what they’re doing, but that would make this already long post way too long.  I will post more in the future about behaviors, but for now you can check out a few of my past posts about behavior.
Like most things, the key is that recognition is the first step.
Setting Events– The belt story

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