Difficult and Challenging Behaviors
Most of us have had our routines and entire worlds turned upside-down due to this isolation thing. My son absolutely loves school and practically skips to his van each morning. With limited communication skills and not much understanding of this crisis, excess behaviors can develop.
Since this may go on for quite some time, I decided to reach out to two fantastic resources for this–both Dr. Amanda Kelly (aka Behavior Babe) and my son’s former BCBA. I asked them for some tips on how to manage difficult and challenging behaviors.
Note that while some of the tips given here will work for a variety of kids, we specifically were targeting families whose children have a BIP, are receiving ABA, or otherwise have a well-defined behavior plan that includes a 1:1 aide.
Supports Disappeared Overnight
While we should have seen this coming, it’s obvious that we were terribly unprepared for this. Here in PA, it literally happened overnight. One evening around 7 PM, we got a text stating that schools were closed the next day. And we haven’t gone back since. My son does receive 1:1 every day, and while I have a copy of his behavior plan at home, I wasn’t exactly prepared to implement it all day, every day. None of us were. His home supports were canceled that day too.
But now that the dust has settled a bit and we’re settling in a new routine, we can introduce or re-introduce some behavior practices to help our kids and our households.
The list below is not in any specific order. I just compiled it from talking with two BCBAs, those who sent me ideas on Facebook, and other tips gleaned from the Facebook Live video. Here is the video if you’d prefer to watch or listen instead of reading.
Tips for Managing Challenging Behaviors
- Request a Zoom or Skype call with whoever your child’s behavior person is at school. Ask what the reinforcement system looks like at school and see what you can do to replicate at home. For example, are they using a “first, then” system, token boards, etc.
- Consider telehealth options for the appropriate disciplines. Some forms of OT, Speech and ABA can be performed this way, effectively and ethically.
- Whatever system you choose to use at home, don’t feel pressured to use it all day, every day. Use it when you need it.
- Ask your behavior person (or try online learning if your person is not available) about prompting and reinforcement.
- Focus on maintenance, not learning new things. Teachers and Behaviorists are well-aware of the challenges that await them when we return to school. They are not expecting you to perform miracles and make phenomenal strides during this time of uncertainty.
- By focusing on skill maintenance, it should be easier for you and your child. Since you are not introducing new skills or making any new demands on your child, there should be less pushback and refusal.
- Ask your behavior person (or look online) for some skill tracking sheets and mastered targets.
- Use stimming to your advantage. For example, if your child loves to stim on a certain toy that drives you crazy because of the noise, save it for when you need to cook a meal or take a conference call.
- Prioritize what your household needs. What’s more important to you right now? Compliance when it’s time for bed or a shower? Or during shoe-tying?
- Review what ADLs your child knows and focus on maintaining those.
- Your child is likely going to have fewer demands put on them at this time. You shouldn’t antagonize and aggravate your child all day long, but you do want to continue to put some demands on them for skills retention.
- Consider using a Daily Visual Schedule. (that link has 33 of them!)
- Work with your child’s strengths. For some, a daily schedule of activities will work and they expect to move through the prescribed activities. For others, a list of 10 activities with the caveat of “you have to do 5 of these” works best.
- When using things like “first, then” or giving choices, keep it very simple. Only 2-3 choices or steps.
- Bring out the high-value items for when you need them. You know what it is that your child will do absolutely anything for–whether it be Fortnite or some food treat. Use it when you need it, but keep it high value.
Focus on what you can control.
Every behaviorist, doctor and mental health professional I’ve talked with in the past 2-3 weeks has had the same overarching message for families. And that is, focus on the big picture and what you can control. We have so many reasons for concern and worry and so many items out of our control. It’s important that we focus on safety, togetherness and our kids’ well-being, much more so than any academic skill.
Teachers and therapists are just as devastated as you are about this. They work very hard to help your child progress and are crushed at the thought of “returning to the first day of school” when we go back. But they are prepared to do just that.
Also remember, there are literally hundreds of thousands of parents doing the same thing we’re doing every day. We’re not alone in this and things will go back to normal.