How to Help a Special Needs Child With Behavior Challenges: A Parenting Toolbox Approach
Over the years as a behavior analyst, I have been able to work with a varying number of parents and caregivers who have son or daughters diagnosed with developmental disabilities.
During these interactions, it has become prevalent that strategies that have been recommended by helping professionals to reduce challenging behaviors are tough to remember and ultimately follow through. This could be due to the degree of information that is delivered. If you have ever participated in a caregiver training program within your son or daughter’s Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) sessions, you might be familiar with the underlying concepts that are taught to assist in reducing challenging behaviors.
You might also be familiar with the amount of effort that is involved in remembering what needs to be done once the therapist and case supervisor have left the home. Due to this, it has been my personal mission to disseminate the information in a manner that might be more user-friendly and ultimately easy to remember. Therefore, I have identified nine concepts and translated them into a metaphorical caregiver toolbox. Why approach this from a metaphorical perspective?
Metaphors have been used in various areas to represent a concept and highlight the important properties; therefore, using a metaphorical caregiver toolbox can create opportunities to increase the likelihood of understanding something better and ultimately remembering it. Note: it should be noted that this does not replace a plan that has already been established by a behavior analyst, rather as a manner to easily recall the recommended strategies.
1. A Magnifying Glass represents Observation
A magnifying glass allows for the person using it to see something up close and personal. When you place a magnifying glass near an object, you will begin to see in more detail, characteristics of the object. When you are with your children, remember to continually observe his/her behavior to ensure that they are the best person that they can be. This means that you should be objective in how you view what they do and the situations that surround it. Just like, the magnifying glass, you might be able to see things that you didn’t see before and discover how certain actions in the environment might affect his/her behavior (e.g., what happened right before the behavior and what happened right after).
2. A Question Mark represents Why a behavior is happening
Behaviors that people engage in, serve some type of purpose. If there is a behavior that we want to change we have first to ask ourselves what they are trying to communicate, this will provide us with a more informed manner to respond to the situation. For a strategy to be successful, we have to make sure it is appropriate to the reason for why it’s happening. Once we have identified the reason, we can then incorporate a strategy specific to that reason. The representation of a question mark can create a visual for what needs to be figured out.
3. A Reward Ribbon, represents Reinforcement of desired behaviors
Many times, we have the tendency to react when we see the more challenging behavior, this makes sense because it’s usually the behavior that can lead to undesired situations. But what happens when we only give attention to the challenging behaviors? That’s all we will focus on, and that is all we will get.
Rather than solely focus on the challenging, let’s give attention to the positive behavior or the behavior that we see little of and praise! What will happen now? The more that we praise the wanted behavior, the more we could potentially begin to see. The Reward Ribbon can create a different manner of approaching the challenging behavior and thus shifting a parent and caregiver’s perspective to attempt to focus on the positive.
4. Blueprints represent a Plan
What would happen if a house was built without blueprints or if a journey was completed without a map? This would affect the outcome; we would probably take longer or have many mistakes along the way. And while we may not always be able to plan everything—we should at least try. This means setting you and your child up for success. Having a plan when going into different environments (i.e., the community, a family member’s home, school, the store) ensure success by identifying what may trigger certain behaviors and a goal for what may be done about it.
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5. Schedule represents Structure and Routine
Without a certain frame to refer back to, we have no idea what day it is or what we should be doing. To ensure success with our days, we should set up some type of routine to help with the transition from activity to activity (e.g., a planner or visual scheduled that states activities that are to be completed during the day). This means that we should set up a plan for them to engage in and slowly, as they practice more, give them more independence with it. This doesn’t mean that we have to set everything up and stick only to that, as this creates rigidity. Instead, have structure, but plan for flexibility.
6. Diploma represents Teaching Moments
As a parent and caregiver remember that you are the person who sees your child the most. That being said, you have a lot of power in what can be done. Therefore, think of your role as a parent or caregiver resembling that of a teacher. Use a difficult moment as a teaching opportunity. Remember that your child is there to learn from others, especially you.
That diploma can resemble the end goal that they are trying to meet. When certain behaviors or situations come up that your mind is telling you to avoid because it may be too difficult, remember the diploma. What do you see for your child in five, 10, 15 years? Can this teaching opportunity help get closer to that goal?
7. A Candle represents Present Moment Awareness and Non-judgement Thoughts
A candle is a calm and relaxing object and when lit can provide a sense of relaxation. When we go about our day to day, it is difficult to really stay calm and relaxed. Therefore, to create a sense of awareness and a non-judgement reaction—we can use strategies to practice being calm. Rather than dwelling on the fact that you have a negative thought, accept that your thoughts are just that and should not get in the way of fully engaging in interactions with your children.
8. Dominos represents Consequences
If you place ten domino’s next to each other, they remain still. However, if you push the first domino, what will happen? It will fall onto the next one. A domino is like a sequence in a set of events. Remember that one influences the other. How we react to a situation will affect the next. Throughout the day, parents and caregivers might be juggling with different tasks to be completed; therefore, bringing your attention back to the domino can create a sense of focus to how your child might be seeing you react to an unexpected situation.
9. A Tree represents Breathing Exercises
A tree provides the world with oxygen. And just like trees all around us, oxygen can be our best friend. When having these difficult moments, implement a simple breathing strategy to focus your reaction and or thoughts on the breathing. This will take the focus away from the negative and allow you to regain calmness. The breathing exercise (which might be just a simple 3 or 5-second breathing in and out) can create a time-delay before reacting to some things, which might give a figurative cushion.
Miguel Flores’s, MS, BCBA, passion for working with families began during an internship that fostered social and learning opportunities to children of varied backgrounds. Miguel continued to develop his interest in the science of human behavior and went on to obtain his MS in Applied Behavior Analysis. As part of his requirements, Miguel completed a thesis study geared at teaching children diagnosed with autism the use of self-management to reduce repetitive behaviors. Miguel holds a position as a behavior analyst consultant for a regional center teaching behavioral concepts to families and coordinating behavioral support. In addition to his job, he works as an instructor, teaching practicum courses to Masters-level students in pursuit of their degree in behavior analysis. Miguel’s personal interests include running, yoga, and the use/practice of mindfulness techniques to maximize his life. Miguel has a passion for behavior analysis and helping out families who need support in creating meaningful changes in their lives.
This article was featured in Issue 87 – Building ASD Awareness and Communication