Posts Tagged ‘Behavior’

Here at Applied Behavioral Strategies, our mission is to improve the quality of life through effective intervention. One way we hope to do that is by reviewing research articles for our readers. Today’s article is titled, “Replicating Milgrim”. The author, Jerry Burger, published the study in the journal, American Psychologist.

Study Purpose

The purpose of Dr. Burger’s study was to replicate the work of Milgram whose study series is known to many. (In case you are thinking–“who the H-E-Double Hockey Sticks” is Milgram, think back to the study where the supervisor told the participants to shock the “client” and the study participants did! Repeatedly!!). Psychologists now refer to those studies as the Obedience Studies.

Burger wondered, if after all these years of education, training, human compassion, and so forth, if, in fact, people today would engage in the same behavior. Burger took several steps to ensure the safety of participants in the study (yes, the ones who would be giving shock to the “learner”)

Study Methods

Participants included 29 men and 41 women with a mean age of 42 years. Participants were promised $50 for their time (two 45-minute sessions). Participants learned that they earned the money even if they withdrew from the study. Participants who were familiar with the experiment or who had extensive psychology training were excluded from the study. Experimenters then screened the remaining participants for any possible mental health condition or a reasons that may have resulted in a negative or harmful reaction from participating in the study. Researchers told participants they could quit at any time and that they could be videotaped at any time. Researchers assigned participants to one of two conditions.

The base condition consisted of the participant meeting the experimenter and the confederate (inside experimenter with knowledge of the study). The experimenter explained to the participant and the confederate that they would be in a study. He then paid both of them to give the impression that the study was randomized. Then he had them “draw” to determine who would be the teacher and who would be the learner. The “drawing” was rigged so that the participant always served as the teacher.


The experimenter then strapped the confederate in to the chair and attached the electrodes all the while explaining to the participant why he completed his step (e.g., to keep from burning him). Next, the experimenter told the confederate to learn the pairs of words. The experimenter told the confederate that the participant would be testing him and if he missed any answers, he would be administered a shock.

Next the experimenter taught the participant how to administer a shock. He provided a small one to the participant if he/she wanted one. The experimenter told the participant to administer a shock following each incorrect answer. He also instructed the participant to increase the intensity of the shock following each incorrect answer. Finally, the experimenter told the participant the importance of following study procedures .

The modeled refusal condition consisted of the participant meeting the experiment and 2 confederates. One confederate served as a teacher alongside the participant and the other confederate served as the learner. In this condition, the participant observed another “teacher” following the protocol. In this condition, the “teacher” (who happened to be the same gender as the participant) acted scared of the study after the first shock and then after the second shock decided that he/she would quit. The experimenter then allowed the participant to take over and continue as in the base condition.

In both conditions, the researchers enforced strict rules for ending the experiment and keeping the participant safe.


In the base condition 12 out of 18 men and 16 out of 22 women (70% total) continued to administer shock treatments, despite the cries and yelps from the confederate. Meanwhile in the modeled refusal condition, 6 out of 11 men and 13 out of 19 women continued to administer shock treatments.

The researchers completed several personality assessments on the participants and used those results in additional analyses. Statistical analysis did not find any difference between scores on empathy. However statistical analysis revealed differences among participants with a strong desire for control in that they were more likely to stop the study.

Sadly, participants today responded very similarly to those participants in the 1960s.

Take Home Points

As behavior analysts, behavior analysts in training, teachers, and parents, use caution when you are instructed to implement a procedure that you may disagree with. As demonstrated in this study, humans are more likely to follow orders rather than stand up and refuse or question the treatment. When our children are being shocked (as those in Judge Rotenberg Center), restrained, and secluded, perhaps we should seek a 2nd opinion. Isn’t that what we do in medicine when we question a recommendation?

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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.

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We have been to a number of IEP meetings where the results of a Functional Behavioral Assessment (FBA) were presented. You won’t believe some of the things we have heard! Check out this list:

  1. Your child doesn’t need an FBA. FBAs are for children who have severe emotional problems.
  2. Here is our FBA form, let’s fill it out so we can write the Behavior Intervention Plan (BIP).
  3. You cannot ask for an independent FBA. An FBA is not an assessment.
  4. We finished your child’s FBA. The function of your child’s behavior is anxiety.
  5. We finished your child’s FBA. The function of your child’s behavior is control.
  6. We tried to do an FBA but your child does not have any behaviors.
  7. I don’t know how to graph your child’s functional analysis results. They didn’t teach me how to graph in school.
  8. We don’t need a behavior analyst to do the FBA. Our special education teacher took a class on behavior. She can do it.
  9. Why did your report say the child escaped? Our staff keep children within arm’s length at  all times.

And the number 1 craziest thing we have heard about FBAs:

10. We cannot do an FBA as part of the initial evaluation. We have to see how he behaves in special education first.

Please share! What crazy things have you been told about an FBA? Behavior analysts, what have you heard?

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This cartoon is a classic. We have been using it in our parent and teacher training workshops for several years now.

We know that it does not have to be this way. Research has shown that when children have challenging behavior, appropriate assessment and intervention will work to decrease the behavior. If you are the parent in the picture above, ask your child’s teacher to get help from a Board Certified Behavior Analyst (BCBA or BCaBA). The behavior analyst will complete a functional behavioral assessment (FBA). The behavior analyst will work collaboratively with the parents, teacher, related service personnel, and possibly even the child (depending on age) to develop a behavior intervention plan (BIP) to address the behavior. The behavior analyst will help train everyone to implement the plan. Finally, the behavior analyst will assist in developing a data collection plan to monitor progress.

If you are the teacher in the picture above, contact your school’s behavior analyst to get help with the FBA and BIP. It will make your life so much easier in the long run.

Have you ever felt this way at one of your parent teacher conference meetings? Has your child had an FBA and BIP? Please share!

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Hi and welcome to Ask Missy Mondays where I respond to email questions from readers who have questions about behavior. Today’s question comes from Shannon and Gary who write:

“This feels like an odd question because we know there are many families who work hard to help their child(ren) learn to maintain appropriate eye contact when communicating. Our child has decent eye contact while requesting things, but when we speak to him, not only is his eye contact very poor, but he won’t stand still! He’s constantly rocking back and forth from one foot to the other (sort of like walking in place) or walking away. Sometimes he will maintain some eye contact while moving around, but we would prefer to have him stand still and look around the room than to have proper eye contact and have him wiggling.

Is it appropriate for us to expect a six-year-old to stand still while we give him directions? If so, how can we target that behavior? Should it be targeted separate from maintaining eye contact and listening to directions? Eventually we would like him to be doing all three at once.”

Thanks for writing Shannon and Gary! This is a great question  and it is not unrealistic to expect your child to stand still. However, it may be impossible for his body to be still. One of the things we have learned as behaviorists is that the foods we eat may affect our bodies and behaviors. So, the first thing you need to do is get a good nutritionist to take a look at your child’s dietary habits. We know that artificial food coloring causes big wiggle problems. This includes dyes of blues, reds, oranges, and yellows. It is fairly easy to cut out the artificial colors when you cut out artificial foods. So the next step is to move to a whole foods diet. While the store Whole Foods is helpful for this, you will find it more affordable to shop locally. Aim for foods that are grown or killed (fruits, vegetables, meats and fish).

Once you rid your child’s body of harmful ingredients that may be causing all of the movement, then the next step is to teach him step by step how to stand and attend. You do this by working on his focus and attention using principles of Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA). We usually start by having your child focus on something for a very short period. We use a simple laser pointer and shine it on the wall. When your child stands still for 5 seconds (you may need to start even shorter–at 3 seconds), then reinforce his behavior by providing him access to a preferred item or activity.

When your child can successfully focus for 5 seconds, then increase the goal time to 10 seconds and so on.  When your child can stand still and focus for one minute, then you add distractors like noise, music, and people. When your child can focus for a minute with distractors, then you start adding information for your child to remember while remaining focused.

There is a great game on the Wii for this under the balance games. It is called the Lotus Flame. It requires the child to sit but that may also be effective at teaching your child to focus. Good luck! Please let us know how it goes.

If you have a question about behavior, please email me at askmissy at appliedbehavioralstrategies dot-com.

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I want to start off by saying that I will not write about accidentally changing places with one of the children in this house. But rather, I am writing to say there is nothing more freakish to a behavior analyst that when members of her own family engage in challenging behavior. And since it’s Friday, well, I’ll just call this post Freaky Friday.

Behavior analysts, by nature, change behavior. We tweak variables in the environment and then we watch to see how behavior changes as a result of those tweaks. Another interesting thing about behavior analysts is that we take pride in knowing that our procedures work. We proudly show off our graphs as an indicator of success. There is nothing more geeky than the Annual Convention where thousands of behavior analysts gather to show their data. What we do works.

Well, what we do works most of the time. Sometimes behavior gets worse before it gets better. Sometimes behavior gets better slowly. No matter how good a behavior analyst professes to be, all behavior cannot be controlled. “What!” you scream in surprise, “All behavior cannot be controlled?!?!” Sadly, it is true. I must confess that behavior is influenced by a number of variables that are, at times, out of the behavior analysts’ control. Let’s take the weather as an example. We can teach children to engage in a behavior day after day for many days. However, the weather can come along and change the behavior in an instant. Each day we teach Johnny to tie his shoes. Day after day he gets his sneakers, puts them on, and ties them. What an accomplishment! Then BAM! It’s raining and now Johnny needs to wear different shoes. While we taught Johnny to put his shoes on successfully, we only taught him to do it with one pair of shoes. We should have taught him to put on all types of shoes so that when it is raining, he can put on his rain boots.

The same thing holds true for behaviorists and their our families. While we teach our family members to engage in the right behaviors as often as possible, other things come along and impact the behavior. Lack of sleep, illnesses, medications, and peer reactions also impact behavior. Take all of those things and add them to a family situation simultaneously and you get a chaotic Freaky Friday (or whatever day of the week it happens to be). You see, behavior happens. And more often than not, it happens when we want it least.

  • When you are shopping in Costco and your child is crying because she doesn’t want to wear a long sleeve shirt under her coat this winter
  • When you are trying to park to get to a medical appointment (for which you are already) and there are 10 cars in line to park and the sibling with autism starts screaming because he does not like to sit still in a car
  • When you are at a restaurant and your child is crying because she does not want to eat her vegetables and everyone in the restaurant is looking
  • When you are trying to catch the bus and there is a meltdown about how to wear the hair that day
  • When ________________________________________ (you fill in the blank yourself)

Because behavior happens when you least expect it, here are a few tips to avoid your own Freaky Friday:

  1. Stay calm. No matter how bad the behavior or situation seems, stay calm. If you lose your cool, it could cause the behavior to escalate.
  2. Use a calm voice. Easier said than done but your voice can set the tone for subsequent behaviors. Be cool.
  3. Walk away. Sometimes, it is easier to just walk away from the behavior. You do not have to have the last word. You are the adult, aren’t you?
  4. Take a deep breath. Repeat (as often as necessary).
  5. Laugh when it is over and when your child is out of earshot. Repeat.

Enjoy your weekend! Whatever freaky behavior it may bring.

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Hi and welcome to Ask Missy Mondays where I respond to email questions from parents who are having difficulty with their child’s behavior. Today’s question comes from Amanda, who writes:

“Is there a specific protocol that should be used to decrease hitting and pinching in general?

My biggest concern related to hitting and pinching is how to keep everyone safe in the car. Occasionally my son will hit the driver. Is there some sort of adult sized 5 point harness that can be used so my nephew can’t reach the driver? Or some method of child-proofing the buckle so that it must be unfastened by someone else? (Like a toddler seat, only my son is bigger than me!)

Any advice you can give for car rides would be greatly appreciated!”

Amanda this is a fantastic question (or 2 or 3 questions in one!). You are not the first person to ask me about safety while riding in the car.

Unfortunately, we don’t have a standard protocol for hitting, pinching, or any other behavior. We respond to behavior based on its function or purpose. My first question would be “why is your son hitting on pinching?” My guess, based on the information you have provided, is that he is hitting for attention. Right? The driver is busy and not attending to the child, the child hits, and attention comes almost immediately.

Sooooooo, make sure you and whoever is driving refrains from giving him attention when he hits you while driving. You also want to make sure you give him lots of attention for good behavior while driving. You can also comment on things you see or use music to distract him.

Safety is a completely separate issue. All children should be safely secured in a moving vehicle.  If he is coming out of the seatbelt, then you may want to consider a different type of car restraint. However, if he is bigger than the adult, the options are limited. I would try to teach him to stay in the seat belt rather than use a harness. This could take some time. If he really likes car rides, you could pull the car over and stop temporarily for any violation (hitting or getting out of the seat belt). If he doesn’t like car rides, that intervention will not work and a different strategy will need to be used.

Good luck and let me know how it goes!

If you have a behavior or situation that you need assistance on, please email me at askmissy at applied behavioral strategies dot-com. Thank you!

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Hi and welcome to our research review where we review a peer-reviewed research study each week.

Children with autism spectrum disorders (ASD), by definition, have delays and/or differences in language development. Language delays are fairly easy to identify: a child does not speak, a child speaks in shorter sentences, or a child has rote language or uses echolalia. Language differences are a little more complex to understand. One type of language difference often seen in children with ASD is the presence of pronoun reversals.

A pronoun reversal occurs when a child says “I” when he really means “you”. For example, “You want it?” is a common phrase used by children when they are actually trying to communicate “I want it”. Most parents respond naturally to their children and this is where the confusion comes in.

Child says, “You want it”

Adult says, “I want it” (as if correcting the child)

Child is now confused because he actually wanted it but now the adult says she wants it!

So, the study we are going to review is a study that formally addressed challenging behavior but inadvertently addressed pronoun reversals for a 4-year-old girl with autism. The study authors were Melissa Olive (known as Missy to many readers), Russ Lang, and Tonya Davis. The study was published in the Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders in 2008.

The child was enrolled in the study because her mother reported that the little girl was engaging in challenging behaviors and that she (the mother) could not do laundry, cook, or clean. Essentially, every waking minute of the mother’s life was controlled by the child’s challenging behavior.

The graduate research assistants went to the child’s home and conducted an assessment called a Functional Behavioral Assessment or FBA. From the assessment they were able to show that the little girl was attention seeking. Essentially, she engaged in the behavior in order to get her mom’s attention. The graduate assistants also noticed that the little girl did not have any play skills. She did not know how to sit and play and she required her mother’s attention in order to become engaged in an activity.

The mother identified 4 activities that she wanted her child to learn how to do. The activities were common preschool activities such as reading books, doing art, playing a matching game, and puzzles. The researchers set up a speech generating device such as a 4-button touch talker. Each button included a picture of the activity the mother had identified. The researchers programmed the device to use the child’s own voice saying things such as “I want you to work puzzles with me” or “I want you to paint with me”.

Initially, the mother sat down and showed her daughter how to play the activities. After a few minutes, the mother excused herself to do housework but showed the little girl how push the correct button requesting Mommy to come back. Over time, the mother faded her prompts so that the little girl learned to press the button to request her mother on her own. Not only did the little girl’s challenging behavior decrease, her appropriate play increased. Additionally, the little girl soon learned to verbally ask her mom to come back to play. Moreover, the rate of the little girl’s pronoun reversal decreased.

Intervention strategies for addressing pronoun reversals are essentially non-existent. This strategy teaches appropriate pronoun use without confusing the student about who wants what or as we all recall the confusion around Who’s On First.

Clearly, more studies are needed as this study enrolled only one participant. However, no studies exist on how to correct this common problem so this seems like a good place to start.

If you have an idea for a research article review, please let us know. We look forward to hearing from you or is it that you look forward to hearing from us? I’m so confused!

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Hi and welcome to Ask Missy Mondays where I respond to email questions from parents who are having difficulty with their child’s behavior. Today, we have a question in from Gwen who writes:

“Any resources or tips on how to stop a 6-year-old daughter with autism spectrum disorder from tongue sucking? It is driving me insane! I have ruled out yeast and bacteria and she is in a great place right now….but tongue sucking non-stop I’m worried about her teeth. It’s been 3 months!”

One of the first things that behavior analysts must do before they address a behavior problem is to learn more about the target behavior. Gwen was extremely helpful! She sent in photos and a video of the behavior. However, instead of immediately helping Gwen, I had to ask a few more questions. I wanted to know when does the behavior occur? When does it NOT occur? Is there an activity where it occurs more? What happens before the behavior occurs (this is also known as the antecedents)? What happens after the behavior occurs (this is known as the consequences)?

Gwen was, once again, extremely helpful. She informed me that the behavior does not happen when her daughter is sleeping or eating. Gwen told me that the behavior occurs when her daughter is riding in the car and when she is playing on the iPad.This was helpful but I needed more.

I asked Gwen if there were any other awake activities where the behavior did not happen. Gwen noted that her daughter does not engage in tongue sucking when she is actively playing doing things like yoga poses, counting, table work, dancing, brushing hair, brushing teeth, or taking a bath.  Essentially, in my opinion, it seems that the behavior happens when her child is not engaged actively.

Given this information, I suggested that the behavior may be stereotypical in nature. Stereotypical behaviors are behaviors that are repetitive or ritualistic in nature. Often this includes rocking, finger flapping, or hand movements. However, stereotypy can come in many forms including verbal or physical.

I also suggested that Gwen’s daughter could be seeking oral input. Often, children with autism spectrum disorders, have oral motor delays and even sensory integration issues. We all seek oral input and we do it through socially appropriate behaviors such as chewing gum, smoking, chewing on the end of pens and pencils. It seems that Gwen’s daughter has developed a preference for tongue sucking. Unfortunately, this is not a socially appropriate behavior and it may be harmful for her teeth (as Gwen points out in her original question). Thus, the behavior should be addressed.

My advice to Gwen is that when she is getting ready to start one of the activities where her daughter does tongue sucking, to provide her with an appropriate source of oral input. Chewing gum would be great. If she doesn’t know how to chew gum, that is a skill that she should be taught. In the meantime, allow her to have a sucker/lollypop or some other type of oral stimulation. I try to move away from chewy toys as they are not age appropriate beyond infancy.

When the behavior is observed, I would suggest using a small physical prompt like jaw pressure or check rubbing, to interrupt the behavior. I would also redirect her to a more socially appropriate means of oral stimulation. This technique is called response interruption and redirection and has been proven effective at treating other behaviors.

I also told Gwen that she could implement a mild punisher when her daughter does it during a high preference activity such as playing with the iPad. Gwen could simply take the iPad away when her daughter tongue sucks. However, I would ONLY use this approach in combination of a reinforcement plan like the one I described previously. It is important for Gwen and her ABA team to teach Gwen’s daughter to recognize when she is tongue sucking so she can stop herself.

I also suggested that Gwen visit with her daughter’s occupational therapist (OT) about some oral motor stimulation exercises. The Board Certified Behavior Analyst (BCBA) on the team could also help oversee the implementation of oral motor exercises that are designed by the OT.

I hope this helps, Gwen! Please let me know how it goes!

If you have a behavior that you need assistance on, please email me at askmissy at applied behavioral strategies dot-com. Thank you!

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Happy Friday!

(Just kidding! I added that picture for emphasis.)

Today we are going to talk about the importance of just saying no. To those of you that know me or who have worked with me over the years, this piece of advice may come as a bit of a shock to you. For those of you who are just getting to know me, I’ll explain myself a bit more.

You see, I often advise parents, teachers, siblings, and peers to refrain from telling a child “no” in response to challenging behavior. As you can see from these images, my advice has been   well-heeded by many! NOT! Images have been made to tell children “no” in response to their behaviors despite my frequent recommendations.

I suggest that we refrain from saying no in response to challenging behaviors because saying no does not teach children what TO do. Additionally, if a child is biting for  attention or hitting for attention, telling the child “no” gives him the attention he is looking for. While many educators believe that a firm no gives the child feedback that what she is doing is wrong, I argue that the child already knows what she is doing is wrong. She does not care. She has learned that the challenging behavior gets her what she wants so she keeps using the behavior for her own benefit.

But this is not why we are here today. We are here today to talk about the importance of saying no to your children. I cannot stress the importance of teaching your child to learn to accept no. Children must learn they cannot have everything they want. Case in point: I was at Target (one of my favorite places to shop and watch parenting at its finest). I observed a mother and child in the check out line. The child asked for candy to which the parent replied, “oh honey, it is too close to dinner.” The child began crying and yelling about how much she loved the candy and how “mommy never lets me have what I want!” Because mommy did not want to hear her child cry, she caved and she bought the candy. The little girl learned that all she has to do is cry and yell and mommy will give her what she wants. The little girl also learned that when mommy says no, she does not really mean it. This little girl is the boss. See, here she is strutting her bad self.

I see this type of parenting over and over in various settings every day:

“Mommy, I’m full, I don’t want to eat my vegetables.”

“Daddy, I don’t want to put my dirty clothes in the hamper.”

“Mommy, I don’t want to do my homework. I want to go outside.”

One of our duties as parents, is to teach children to accept no. When children learn to accept no at an early age, they learn to handle bigger disappointments later in life (e.g., I want to be a cheerleader but the judges told me no.) Parents, on the other hand,  need to practice saying no and sticking to it–even when the going gets tough. Why? Because as children grow up, their tantrums grow up too. Soon, crying becomes ugly, hurtful words (“I hate you!” or “I want to go live with Daddy!”) Who wants that kind of interaction later in life?

You know the old saying, “practice makes perfect”….if you practice saying no to children when they are younger (and while their tantrums are short and cute), you will be an expert at saying no when the going gets really tough (“Mommy, I want to have a curfew at midnight”, “Dad, can I have $250 for a new pair of jeans?”). So, head off in to the weekend and practice saying no to your little angels. Come back on Monday and tell me how hard it was!

Happy Parenting!

P.S. Can I have a new Mini Countryman?

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