Thanks again for coming back. For those of you who are new to this series, the first seven posts focused on interaction techniques aimed at better connecting to people with Autism Spectrum Disorders. The next several sessions will focus on Positive Behavior Support that I consider the behavioral foundation for working with people who have Autism. Today's post will review what Positive Behavior Support is, along with a general philosophy of the approaches. The more specific/technical aspects of the approaches will come in later posts.
Positive Behavior Support is a form of Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) that focuses on strategies primarily aimed at preventing problem behaviors and correcting inappropriate behavior by emphasizing appropriate alternatives. The strategies are set up to be consistent with the way a person with Autism frequently thinks and processes information. In general Positive Behavior Support are driven by the following guidelines.
Key Aspects of Positive Behavior Support
Prevention - The majority of strategies discussed will be aimed at preventing problem behaviors from occurring, either by setting up the environment for a successful interaction or by teaching alternative behaviors that may reduced the need for or take the place of a problem behavior.
Predictability - All strategies discussed will be presented in a way the is consistent with the person with Autism's need for predictability. People with Autism tend to respond much better when they can anticipate an action or predict an outcome.
Expectations - A major focus of the approaches will center on letting the person with Autism know what to expect. People with Autism typically thrive on expectation when the expectation is clear and is presented in a way that attainable (see section on Teaching and Gradual).
Consistency - Consistency is very important with any type of intervention, because consistency allows for a sense of predictability, which is important for reducing anxiety and resistance.
Positive - Nobody likes to experience negative news, feedback, or consequences. However, people with Autism tend to be more emotionally sensitive than most (even if they have difficulty expressing it) and the negative feedback or consequence tends to result in such an intense reaction that the person with Autism is often unable to process the situation and learn from result.
Teaching - Once a calm and predictable environment with positive expectations can be gained through the teaching of skills. The assumption in most cases is the person with Autism is behaving inappropriately because they do not know of a better that way will work for them. It is our job to teach them that better way.
Gradual - Because of a person with Autism's sensory and neurological sensitivities, the teaching typically has to be done gradually to be effective. Information that is presented too quickly or is too large in scope will be overwhelming and met with resistance. A gradual approaches ensures a positive experience and greater willingness to participate in the next lesson.
Physical - Because Autism is a neurologically based disorder, helping the person achieve an optimal physical state is important for helping the person concentrate and control their impulses/emotional reactions. It takes quite a bit of effort for a person with Autism to concentrate and control their behavior and fatigue can certainly impair that ability. Factors that can positively or negative affect physical functioning are sleep, nutrition, exercise, and stress.
Natural - All behavior has consequences, some immediate and some long term. Either way, Positive Behavior Support emphasizes the natural consequences that go along with every behavior. It also helps the person with Autism understand those consequences so they can act in a way that best benefits them.
That is all for now. Again, this was just a philosophical overview. Next week's post will begin to explore specific Positive Behavior Support strategies.
Steven C. Altabet, Ph.D.