Hi and welcome to Ask Missy Mondays where I respond to a question from readers regarding a behavioral problem. Today’s question comes from a speech and language pathologist who works in a center for individuals with autism. The question is:
“The question I have is regarding a 3-year-old boy who has been diagnosed with autism. He started therapy with us and progressed very well. He is now able to follow commands. He imitates well and he is starting to vocalize single word utterances. He was able to focus for approximately 20 min with a reward and he really cooperated well. However, in the last 3 weeks, all of this positive behavior has changed. He now throws tantrums throughout the session. He bites if his needs are not met and this is particularly if he does not get what he wants. We have tried rewards with the child but he cries and throws a tantrum for the reward if we only give him a part of it. In the session, we ignore the tantrums. It is unclear if the parents are ignoring the behavior at home or if they are giving in to the behaviors.”
Thank you so much for contacting me. Any time a child’s behavior changes suddenly, the adults should stop and ask “what has changed in his life”?
Any Changes in Home/School?
- is he in a new classroom?
- has his home environment changed?
- has his feeding routine changed?
- has a new therapy program been added/changed?
Any Medical Conditions or Medical Changes?
The other question to ask is about his medical condition. Medical conditions can impact behavior.
- is the child constipated?
- was he recently vaccinated?
- was he recently sick?
- is he teething?
- is he tugging at his ear or are there signs of a sinus or infection?
Functional Behavioral Assessment
Once you have run through those questions, the next step is to complete an FBA. You have to document what is happening before and after the behavior to find out what might be causing the behavior or what might be maintaining the behavior. Typically, children use their tantrums to try to get things they like:
- get attention
- get favorite toy
- get favorite activity
- get favorite sensory
Sometimes, children use tantrums to avoid things they do not like:
- avoid non-preferred person (e.g., therapist who makes me work)
- avoid a non-preferred toy
- avoid a non-preferred activity (e.g., work)
- avoid sensory
Additionally, the child may engage in tantrums for any of the reasons combined (e.g., avoid work and then obtain favorite toy while on break).
Behavior Intervention Plan
Following a good assessment, then the team will need to develop a solid behavior intervention plan.
- Staff and parents will learn how to prevent the behaviors
- Staff and parents will learn how to teach replacement behaviors
- Staff and parents will learn what to do after behaviors if they happen.
- Staff and parents will learn how to reinforce the new replacement behaviors to that they continue to occur.
Please keep me posted on the outcome!
Thanks again for writing. Readers, if you have a behavioral question, email me at askmissy at applied behavioral strategies dot com.
I would appreciate any advice you can provide us in trying to help this child. As you might be aware services and facilities for children with autism are limited so any information you give us will be very useful.