Wayne is a four-year old boy diagnosed with Autism. He is nonverbal and constantly in motion. He frequently climbs on furniture such as tables and chairs. The teacher will get up to follow him and bring him back to the activity. Wayne will happily return but only for a moment and then he is off again. Not only is this a safety concern, but it also interferes with his ability to focus or participate in group activities.
Does this story about Wayne and his favourite activity sound familiar to you – perhaps you have a child like Wayne in your classroom?
If so, then you’ve actually taken the first step of identifying a problem behaviour that may be putting a child at risk. In this case, Wayne’s problem behaviour is also interfering with his social, emotional and intellectual development.
Deciding what to do next may be difficult. Here’s the 3-step approach we followed in Understanding and Changing Behaviour.
Step 1: Decide Where to Start
We’ve identified a problem behaviour. Let’s take a moment to describe what we see or hear. Describing the behaviour will help us be consistent when gathering information a bit later.
Wayne climbs onto furniture (e.g., chairs, tables, low bookshelf).
In order to better understand Wayne’s behaviour we will observe and record each incident during which he demonstrates the behaviour on the ABC Functional Assessment Card for five consecutive days. We will also complete the Motivation Assessment Scale (MAS) by Durand and Crimmins to learn more about the purpose of the behaviour.
We will talk with Wayne’s parents to find out if he demonstrates this behaviour at home and if they have any concerns.
Now let’s move on to the next step.
Step 2: Gather and Analyze
By speaking with Wayne’s parents, we discovered that he frequently engages in this behaviour at home. His mother and grandmother reported that Wayne spends a lot of time climbing onto the sofa, coffee table, chairs and bed, and will usually bounce once he is on them. Wayne’s mother allows him to periodically climb on furniture as he appears to enjoy this type of activity. She is unsure why he is constantly craving some form of motion.
We completed the MAS and recorded our observations throughout the week using the ABC Functional Assessment Cards. After analyzing the information we noticed a few things about Wayne’s behaviour:
- The behaviour occurs mostly indoors.
- Usually occurs when an adult stops attending to him. It also occurs when an adult is sitting right next to him.
- Appears to enjoy the behaviour. He seems pleased and is smiling.
- While up on the furniture, Wayne bounces very lightly on the spot. He seems calm and unaware of anything else going on.
- There was no pattern in the time of day Wayne engages in the problem behaviour or specific location.
- We noticed that in many instances Wayne gets an immediate response from those around him when he climbs up onto the furniture. The other children will call out what he is doing or teachers will go to him immediately and direct him to come down.
- Wayne does not usually comply with the verbal direction to “come down”. Teachers then physically assist Wayne to get down and he often resists and shouts.
- We also see this behaviour during outdoor play time. Wayne climbs to the top of the playground structure and jumps on the spot. He appears to be excited, makes sounds and laughs.
- Teachers allow Wayne to climb outdoors noting that it is much safer compared to inside the classroom.
The results from the functional assessment suggest that the function of the behaviour is to obtain sensory stimulation.
Now it’s time to move onto the next step and plan for change.
Step 3: Plan for Change
We want to reduce problem climbing as it is a serious safety concern for Wayne and those around him. Note that we still want to give Wayne a chance to obtain the sensory stimulation he is seeking. Planning for change involves making the behaviour irrelevant, inefficient and finally ineffective.
Making the Behaviour Irrelevant
We can make the behaviour irrelevant by preventing or controlling the things in the environment that happen before the behaviour.
Let’s take a look at some ways to prevent the behaviour from happening by, setting clear rules, and modifying activities/programming.
Setting Clear Rules
We want Wayne to understand where it is okay to climb and bounce, and where it is not okay. We are going to make a list with pictures of the places that are appropriate for Wayne to climb or bounce on, such as the playground structure or a mini trampoline.
We can change our daily schedule to include additional gross motor activities in between seated activities or free play time. These activities include dancing, going for a walk through the building (up and down stairs), and stretching exercises.
To provide Wayne with sensory stimulation we have purchased a “move n’ sit” air cushion that is portable and can be used at circle time, or during seated activities.
Making the Behaviour Inefficient
To make behaviour inefficient, we might choose to teach specific adaptive, educational and social behaviours. By teaching these types of behaviours, we eliminate the need for the problem behaviour.
At other times, we may teach an alternative behaviour. An alternative behaviour serves the same function as the behaviour being replaced but is seen to be more appropriate by other children, adults and the general public. To be successful, it requires equal or less physical effort and complexity but results in the same type of pay-off for the child.
In this case, the prevention strategies mentioned above provide Wayne with opportunities to receive sensory stimulation throughout the day, but there may be times when he wants more. In order to help Wayne to obtain sensory input we will teach him to use a picture card that will enable him to request a therapy ball, rocking boat or mini trampoline. This serves the same function as the climbing (to obtain sensory stimulation), but is much safer.
For specific details on the strategies and other teaching techniques we used to teach Wayne to “request a sensory break” visit our “Teaching New Skills” section.
Making the Behaviour Ineffective
The last step is to make problem behaviour ineffective, meaning that it no longer works for the child. Keeping in mind that the behaviour may not change right away – we are aware that it is very common for problem behaviour to increase before it decreases when implementing changes. The key is to be consistent with our plan.
When Wayne climbs onto furniture an adult will direct him down. The adult will ignore the behaviour by not making eye contact or communicating with him.
Another important factor in making the behaviour ineffective in our environment means changing a behaviour in all the places a child finds himself especially at home. Changing a problem behaviour that continues to be rewarded in other settings is confusing to the child and frustrating for everyone. Our partnership with parents is the key to success.
Throughout this process we spoke to Wayne’s mother about our concerns, and shared the strategies that we implemented. His mother agreed to try and change the behaviour at home.
In the meantime, we also acknowledge that if the behaviour persists then Wayne may need professional help or the intervention of an occupational therapist.