Behavior therapy has been very effective in the elimination of problem behaviors in people with developmental disabilities. It involves the precise definition of the problem behavior, measurement of its occurrence, and a focus on antecedent and consequent events.
One of its general tenets is that problematic behaviors are, to a considerable degree, learned behaviors. Behavior therapy endeavors to apply established learning principles to specify exactly how the environment may influence affected people.
Behavior therapists use the principles of learning to teach individuals new and more adaptive behaviors by modifying the environmental contingencies.
For those unfamiliar with behavioral analysis, Hurley41 has created a very useful tool for analyzing problem behaviors. This publication describes how to use the ABC sheet (antecedent, behavior, and consequence) to analyze behavior. Hurley and others have stated that in order to truly understand behavior, what maintains it and how to treat it, the behavior has to be analyzed within its environmental context.
For example, if a 5-year-old child has a temper tantrum, professionals need to ask the parent or observer about:
If the antecedent of the tantrum is usually an unwanted command and the consequence of the tantrum is that the child is cajoled, then the professional can begin to manage the behavior through careful training of the individuals who are providing both the antecedent and the consequence.
As a second example, take a nonverbal, cognitively challenged 13-year-old who begins to bang his head—a behavior not seen before in this child. If there are no clear antecedents for this behavior (no challenging commands, no unwanted movements) and if the only consequence of the behavior is that the child gets a bump or a bruise, then the professional should begin to explore whether the child may be experiencing either headaches or seizures.
Thus an effective plan of remediation can be created only when all the components of the behavior are clearly understood:
Reviewed and revised May 2004 by Steven C. Schachter, MD, epilepsy.com Editorial Board, and Vicki Sudhalter, PhD, New York State Institute for Basic Research in Developmental Disabilities.
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