Alternative Behavior Examples to Decrease Challenging Behaviors

What are alternative behavior examples? Alternative behavior examples are acceptable or positive behaviors taught to your autistic child to replace challenging behaviors.

Imagine this, your child climbs on the kitchen counter to reach for a box of cookies high in a cabinet. Can you implement a plan to decrease or eliminate the behavior of climbing on the counter? Yes, but simply stopping one behavior is not an alternative behavior example. Frequently, your child will just learn another challenging behavior to get the same result. Your child might yell or throw a tantrum because they want to eat cookies.

Let’s think of alternative behavior examples. An alternative behavior could include teaching your child to appropriately request the box of cookies. This might look like signing “food” or “cookies”, or pointing to a picture of the options in the cabinet. Or, your child may use some other mode of communication based on your child’s repertoire of skills.

Teach Alternative Behavior Solutions

Teach Alternative Behavior Solutions

Alternative behavior examples require teaching and repetition. At first, assist your child when you begin to see the signs of them seeking a snack by guiding them through the physical movements of communicating by pointing, exchanging a picture, signing, or modeling the words they should use. Gradually fade this assistance until they choose the alternative behavior on their own, without engaging in the challenging behaviors.

In practice, it is always best to teach alternative behavior examples. Caregivers can learn to ask, what is an alternative behavior for this challenge? Choosing individualized alternative behaviors that fit your child’s personality will help. Teaching alternative behavior examples can make unlearning the challenging behavior a faster process.

Types of Challenging Behavior in Children

There are four reasons why children may engage in challenging behaviors.

  • Access- to get something the child wants
  • Escape- to get out of doing something they don’t want
  • Attention- to get others to pay attention
  • Self-stimulatory/Automatic- because the behavior itself feels good or pleases them

Your child still needs to access what they want. Choose alternative behavior examples that do lead your child to obtain what they would like—access, escape, attention or self-stimulatory freedom.

Model Alternative Behavior Examples

Let’s say your child screams and throws objects when they are done with their dinner. What is your child seeking? Your child is trying to escape or get out of something—the dinner table. There are a number of alternative behavior examples you might teach your child instead of throwing and screaming.

  • Teach your child to signal that they are “all done” using whatever mode of communication is appropriate for your child.
  • Have your child pass you an acceptable object as a sign that they are finished at the table.
  • Teach your child to point at a picture that represents leaving the table.

It may be helpful for you to model the alternative behavior examples. If you point at the “all done” picture each time you are finished with your meal, your child will observe your alternative behavior example. It is important to allow your child to leave the table immediately, every time they choose the appropriate alternative behavior.
With consistency, challenging behaviors will decrease as your child learns they do get what they would like when choosing an alternative behavior example. As your child gets used to the process, acceptable behaviors become habits and the alternative behaviors become stronger over time.

Decrease Challenging Behaviors

For attention-based challenging behaviors, ask yourself what is something the child should be doing? To choose alternative behavior examples, consider your child’s repertoire of skills. Some children feel as though they are getting your attention even when being lectured or reprimanded about their choices.

When your child engages in a challenging behavior, state the problem in a sentence instead of lecturing. In addition, carve time out of your day to spend more time with your child when they are behaving appropriately.

It’s easy to assume your child should always make good choices while you get work done. Instead, schedule breaks to praise them and enjoy time with your child when they are engaged in appropriate behavior. You can spend time playing a favorite game, watching a favorite TV show or talking about school or life.

Alternative Behavior Examples to Decrease Challenging Behaviors

Manage Challenging Behaviors

When your child engages in challenging behavior because it feels good, this can require the caregiver to put more thought into choosing alternative behavior examples. Choices should include behaviors that are not harmful and tend to be controllable.

For example, your child may engage in repeating words or phrases, or vocalize sounds that are not socially appropriate. What is an alternative behavior that still allows your child freedom? You can allow your child to engage in these behaviors in a particular environment, like their bedroom.

One alternative behavior example is teaching your child to ask for “talking in my room”. This may help you both gain control over where they may engage in this behavior. When your child engages in the self-stimulatory behavior, you can work toward the child using the communication phrase and then going to the specified location. Self-stimulatory behaviors can be very difficult to address on your own, even with alternative behavior examples, especially when the behavior is self-injurious in nature.

Get Help Teaching Alternative Behavior Examples

Each time you find yourself facing a challenging behavior, take a deep breath and start to brainstorm, what are alternative behavior examples? You can make a list of alternative behavior examples to model and try. If one alternative behavior isn’t a great fit, try another alternative behavior example from your list. If you continue having difficulties addressing your child’s most challenging behaviors, it is a good idea to reach out to a trained professional as soon as possible.

Frequently asked questions about ABA therapy

What is ABA Therapy used for?

ABA-based therapy can be used in a multitude of areas. Currently, these interventions are used primarily with individuals living with ASD; however, their applications can be used with individuals living with pervasive developmental disorders as well as other disorders. For ASD, it can be used in effectively teaching specific skills that may not be in a child’s repertoire of skills to help him/her function better in their environment whether that be at home, school, or out in the community.  In conjunction with skill acquisition programs, ABA-based interventions can also be used in addressing behavioral excesses (e.g., tantrum behaviors, aggressive behaviors, self-injurious behaviors). Lastly, it can also be utilized in parent/caregiver training.

In skill acquisition programs, a child’s repertoire of skills is assessed in the beginning phase of the services in key adaptive areas such as communication/language, self-help, social skills, and motor skills as well.  Once skills to be taught are identified, a goal for each skill is developed and then addressed/taught by using ABA-based techniques to teach those important skills. Ultimately, an ABA-based therapy will facilitate a degree of maintenance (i.e., the child can still perform the learned behaviors in the absence of training/intervention over time) and generalization (i.e., the learned behaviors are observed to occur in situations different from the instructional setting).  These two concepts are very important in any ABA-based intervention.

In behavior management, the challenging behaviors are assessed for their function in the beginning phase of the services. In this phase, the “why does this behavior happen in the first place?” is determined. Once known, an ABA-based therapy will be developed to not just decrease the occurrence of the behavior being addressed, but also teach the child a functionally-equivalent behavior that is socially-appropriate.  For example, if a child resorts to tantrum behaviors when she is told she cannot have a specific item, she may be taught to accept an alternative or find an alternative for herself. Of course, we can only do this up to a certain point—the offering of alternatives.  There comes a point when a ‘no’ means ‘no’ so the tantrum behavior will be left to run its course (i.e., to continue until it ceases).  This is never easy and will take some time for parents/caregivers to get used to, but research has shown that over time and consistent application of an ABA-based behavior management program, the challenging behavior will get better.

In parent training, individuals that provide care for a child may receive customized “curriculum” that best fit their situation.  A typical area covered in parent training is teaching responsible adults pertinent ABA-based concepts to help adults understand the rationale behind interventions that are being used in their child’s ABA-based services.  Another area covered in parent training is teaching adults specific skill acquisition programs and/or behavior management programs that they will implement during family time.  Other areas covered in parent training may be data collection, how to facilitate maintenance, how to facilitate generalization of learned skills to name a few.

There is no “one format” that will fit all children and their families’ needs. The ABA professionals you’re currently working with, with your participation,  will develop an ABA-based treatment package that will best fit your child’s and your family’s needs. For more information regarding this topic, we encourage you to speak with your BCBA or reach out to us at [email protected].

Who Can Benefit From ABA Therapy?

There is a common misconception that the principles of ABA are specific to Autism. This is not the case. The principles and methods of ABA are scientifically backed and can be applied to any individual. With that said, the U.S. Surgeon General and the American Psychological Association consider ABA to be an evidence based practice. Forty years of extensive literature have documented ABA therapy as an effective and successful practice to reduce problem behavior and increase skills for individuals with intellectual disabilities and Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD). Children, teenagers, and adults with ASD can benefit from ABA therapy. Especially when started early, ABA therapy can benefit individuals by targeting challenging behaviors, attention skills, play skills, communication, motor, social, and other skills. Individuals with other developmental challenges such as ADHD or intellectual disability can benefit from ABA therapy as well. While early intervention has been demonstrated to lead to more significant treatment outcomes, there is no specific age at which ABA therapy ceases to be helpful.

Additionally, parents and caregivers of individuals living with ASD can also benefit from the principles of ABA. Depending on the needs of your loved one, the use of specified ABA techniques in addition to 1:1 services, may help produce more desirable treatment outcomes. The term “caregiver training” is common in ABA services and refers to the individualized instruction that a BCBA or ABA Supervisor provides to parents and caregivers. This typically involves a combination of individualized ABA techniques and methods parents and caregivers can use outside of 1:1 sessions to facilitate ongoing progress in specified areas.

ABA therapy can help people living with ASD, intellectual disability, and other developmental challenges achieve their goals and live higher quality lives.

What does ABA Therapy look like?

Agencies that provide ABA-based services in the home-setting are more likely to implement ABA services similarly than doing the same exact protocols or procedures. Regardless, an ABA agency under the guidance of a Board-Certified Behavior Analyst follows the same research-based theories to guide treatment that all other acceptable ABA agencies use.

ABA-based services start with a functional behavior assessment (FBA). In a nutshell, a FBA assesses why the behaviors may be happening in the first place. From there, the FBA will also determine the best way to address the difficulties using tactics that have been proven effective over time with a focus on behavioral replacement versus simple elimination of a problem behavior. The FBA will also have recommendations for other relevant skills/behaviors to be taught and parent skills that can be taught in a parent training format to name a few. From there, the intensity of the ABA-based services is determined, again, based on the clinical needs of your child. The completed FBA is then submitted to the funding source for approval.

One-on-one sessions between a behavior technician and your child will start once services are approved. The duration per session and the frequency of these sessions per week/month will all depend on how many hours your child’s ABA services have been approved for—usually, this will be the number recommended in the FBA. The sessions are used to teach identified skills/behaviors via effective teaching procedures. Another aspect of ABA-based services in the home-setting is parent training. Parent training can take many forms depending on what goals have been established during the FBA process. The number of hours dedicated for parent training is also variable and solely depends on the clinical need for it. If a 1:1 session is between a behavior technician and your child, a parent training session or appointment is between you and the case supervisor and with and without your child present, depending on the parent goal(s) identified. Parent training service’s goal is for you to be able to have ample skills/knowledge in order for you to become more effective in addressing behavioral difficulties as they occur outside of scheduled ABA sessions. Depending on the goals established, you may be required to participate in your child’s 1:1 sessions. These participations are a good way for you to practice what you have learned from the case supervisor while at the same time, having the behavior technician available to you to give you feedback as you practice on those new skills.

As mentioned in the beginning, no two ABA agencies will do the same exact thing when it comes to providing ABA services; however, good agencies will always base their practice on the same empirically-proven procedures.

How do I start ABA Therapy?

In most cases, the first item required to start ABA therapy is the individual’s autism spectrum disorder (ASD) diagnosis report. This is typically conducted by a doctor such as a psychiatrist, psychologist, or a developmental pediatrician. Most ABA therapy agencies and insurance companies will ask for a copy of this diagnosis report during the intake process as it is required to request an ABA assessment authorization from the individual’s medical insurance provider.

The second item required to start ABA therapy is a funding source. In the United States, and in cases where Medi-Cal or Medicare insurances are involved, there is a legal requirement for ABA services to be covered when there is a medical necessity (ASD diagnosis). Medi-Cal and Medicare cover all medically necessary behavioral health treatment services for beneficiaries. This typically includes children diagnosed with ASD. Since Applied Behavior Analysis is an evidence based and effective treatment for individuals with ASD, it is considered a covered treatment when medically necessary. In many cases, private insurance will also cover ABA services when medically necessary, however in these cases, it is best to speak directly with your medical insurance provider to determine the specifics of the coverage and to ensure that ABA is in fact, a covered benefit. Additionally, some families opt to pay for ABA services out-of-pocket.

The next step to starting ABA therapy is to contact an ABA provider whom you are interested in working with. Depending on your geographic location, ABA agencies exist in many cities across the United States. Your insurance carrier, local support groups, and even a thorough online search can help you find reputable and properly credentialed ABA agencies near you. Our organization, LeafWing Center, is based in southern California and is recognized for aiding people with ASD achieve their goals with the research based on applied behavior analysis.

Once you have identified the ABA provider with whom you wish to work, they should help you facilitate the next steps. These will include facilitating paperwork and authorizations with your funding source. Once the assessment process begins, a BCBA (Board Certified Behavior Analyst) or qualified Program Supervisor should get in contact with you to arrange times in which interviews with parents/caregivers and observations of your loved one can be conducted. This will help in the process of gathering important clinical information so that with your collaboration, the most effective treatment plans and goals can be established for your loved one. This process is referred to as the Functional Behavior Assessment (FBA) and is elaborated on in different blog posts on our website. With regard as to what can be expected once ABA therapy begins, please read our blog post titled: When You Start an ABA program, What Should You Reasonably Expect from Your Service Provider?

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