Individuals with autism spectrum disorder can exhibit many behaviors their families, teachers, and other supporters in their communities find challenging. Likewise, individuals on the spectrum see the world at large as a challenge, and the people in their lives find the challenging behaviors their loved ones display like a puzzle missing pieces.
Getting a Handle on Challenging Behaviors
HELP…This is one-word parents need not be afraid to use. It is often difficult as parents worry about being judged based on the child’s challenging behaviors. When seeking help, parents should consider guiding questions to ensure they receive the assistance that works best for their situation. First, “Can I take charge to alleviate the occurrence of challenging behaviors?” Second, “What are evidence-based approaches that are known to work?” Third, “How can I identify the triggers that led to temper tantrums, meltdowns, and self-injurious or other problematic behaviors in children identified with autism spectrum disorder?”
Knowledge is Power!
Researchers have shown interventions based on Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) to be effective for children with a wide range of cognitive, adaptive, and functional abilities (Helton & Alber-Morgan, 2018). Unfortunately, the principles of ABA are complex, which can limit parents’ knowledge of evidence-based ABA interventions. However, providing parents with clear and concise information during a brief training session can significantly facilitate and extend parent’s knowledge on the behavioral principles central to the antecedent-behavior-consequence (ABC) narrative recording chart. The best approach would be to hold a few brief training sessions over time, so parents can practice and receive feedback and guidance. The lessons learned from the study (Smith, 2020) are reported here to help inform practices moving forward.
Training Parents About the ABCs of Behavior
Parents were introduced to the sequence of behavior presented in the form of the ABCs of Behavior (Smith, 2020). First, parents were asked to identify the Antecedent – the action, event, or circumstances that led up to the challenging behavior. This can take some time and reflection on the part of the parent. As a facilitator, it is important to ask probing questions to help with the reflection. For example, parents are often stressed when the behavior occurs and don’t reflect, but rather react to the behavior. Parents need to feel reassured that they are experiencing a common phenomenon for parents of children with ASD. This first part of the learning the ABC narrative recording chart can be the most difficult but is worth the extra time needed in the training sessions. It is helpful to use case studies.
In the next section, parents learn how to identify the Behavior – what the response is to the antecedent. While most parents can quickly identify the behavior, the training should not assume that this is the case. For instance, there may be cases of passive aggressive behaviors that parents are less likely to identify compared to overt behaviors.
Finally, parents learn how to identify and shape the Consequence – the response that follows the behavior (Smith, 2020). It may not be as straightforward as implementing a “time out” or “ignoring” the behavior when identifying consequences. When observing behavior, parents may find that multiple events will follow the behavior. Therefore, behaviors observed by parents should be recorded and evaluated for their impact on the target behavior. To record all the circumstances surrounding the behavior, parents have a system in place to assess the behavior, look for patterns, and ultimately better understand what events trigger certain behaviors.
Recommendations to Increase Parent Participation
Parents who have children diagnosed with ASD want resources and services available that speak to their specific needs. The stigma of having a child with a disability, specifically ASD, can be very intimidating to parents who may not feel comfortable sharing for fear others do not understand their circumstances when discussing challenging behaviors. Many parents of children without disabilities will respond with comments such as, “I give them one warning, and they go to time out.” Comments like this make parents of children with disabilities feel like they should have “better” control of the situation. However, the “do as I say model” does not work, particularly for children with ASD. Therefore, hands-on skill-building activities should be utilized to ease parents’ lack of participation due to possible intimidation factors.
Dr. Smith recently graduated from the University of Houston with her doctorate degree in Professional Leadership – Special Population. Her dissertation topic was training parents on the basic principles of Applied Behavior Analysis and then applying the training in the use of Antecedent-Behavior-Consequence Chart related to the parents’ confidence level in communicating their children’s needs when speaking with educators and other professionals in the community about challenging behaviors. For more information, please email Dr. Smith at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Helton, M. R., & Alber-Morgan, S. R. (2018). Helping parents understand applied behavior analysis: Creating a parent guide in 10 steps. Behavior Analysis in Practice, 11(4), 496-503. https://doi.org/10.1007/s40617-018-00284-8
Smith, S., (2020) Outcome of Training Parents of Children with Autism Spectrum Disorder to Use Antecedent-Behavior-Consequence Charts. Unpublished Dissertation. University of Houston, Houston, Texas.