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New Tool Kit Explains Behavioral Health Treatments

Guest post by Laura Srivorakiat, M.A., a doctoral student in clinical psychology at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center, an Autism Treatment Network center.

Behavior issues, so common in children and adolescents with autism, can quickly frustrate parents. Problem behavior – acting out, yelling, seeking attention and being aggressive – is hard on both the child and parents. To help get through these moments with less stress, it helps to have a behavior-management plan already in place.

Autism Speaks Autism Treatment Network developed the Behavioral Health Treatments Tool Kit to provide parents with strategies they can use at home. This work was done as part of the ATN’s work as the Autism Intervention Research Network on Physical Health (AIR-P), with funding through the Combating Autism Act. I am proud to have been a part of this project.

The tool kit focuses on ways to encourage desirable behaviors and discourage problem behaviors. Parents of a newly diagnosed child will find this information especially helpful. But there’s a lot here for experienced parents as well.

We want parents to understand effective ways to improve behavior. Importantly, these methods prove helpful at any age. Though early intervention is important, it’s never too late to starting using behavioral interventions. Often new problem behaviors arise during times of transition. The classic example is the transition from middle school to high school. Another huge transition takes place when the young adult graduates.

In the tool kit section, “Tips for Increasing Appropriate Behavior at Home,” we focus on teaching children the skills they need to support positive behavior. I’ve found that a lot of kids on the autism spectrum have behavioral problems because they lack crucial skills. For example, a child may dislike a required activity. His frustration builds from his inability to express his dislike. He ends up yelling or otherwise being disruptive. This disruptive behavior might be avoided if he learns how to request a break from the task.

Teaching such skills can truly become a life changer for such a child and his family. As helpful behaviors increase, inappropriate behaviors naturally decrease.

The behavioral tool kit likewise includes practical methods for reinforcing appropriate behaviors. This includes tips on how to provide verbal praise and how to clarify your communication.

I so enjoy working with parents on positive reinforcement. I see how it helps parents become more aware of their child’s good behaviors. When a child has problem behaviors, those can easily pull the focus away from all the positive ones.

In the section, “Focusing on Problem Behavior,” the tool kit describes approaches aimed at reinforcing good behavior and ignoring bad behavior. A common trap is the natural parent tendency to soothe a child who is throwing a tantrum or otherwise being disruptive. Unfortunately, this can reinforce the problem behavior. In this regard, we offer specific advice about how to give an effective “time out.”

The tool kit also describes how specialists treat unwanted behavior using the ABCs (for antecedent, behavior and consequence). We explain that the antecedent is the event that occurs just before or with the behavior. The consequence is what the parent does in response to the behavior. Working on anticipating triggers and appropriate responses can greatly improve a child’s behavior.

We also provide simple explanations of the different types of professional behavioral treatments available to families and how to choose a good specialist for your child. Among these behavioral treatments is Applied Behavioral Analysis, which now has its own tool kit!

We hope you will find our Behavioral Tool Kit helpful. Please let us know what you think by leaving a comment on this blog and/or emailing us at ATN@autismspeaks.org.

ATN/AIR-P tool kits are a product of on-going activities of the ATN and are supported in part by cooperative agreement UA3 MC 11054 through the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) Maternal and Child Health Research Program to Massachusetts General Hospital. Through this funding the ATN sites engage in activities as the Autism Intervention Research Network on Physical Health (AIR-P)