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Posts Tagged ‘functional communication training’

One of our goals for improving the quality of lives through effective intervention is to share with our readers research on effective treatments. We do this by summarizing peer-reviewed research articles. Yesterday, in response to our post on Scream Rooms (also known as Time Out Rooms), a twitter follower asked, “what else can teachers do?” Thus, it seems appropriate that we should review a study that demonstrates one effective alternative to time out.

Mark Durand and Ted Carr authored the article in 1992. The Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis published the article and you may read it yourself here.

Study Purposes

The purpose of the study was to determine which of two interventions would be effective at reducing attention-maintained challenging behavior (when children act out in order to get reactions from their teachers).

The authors also set out to determine which effects of the two interventions would generalize to untrained teachers. For example, a teacher could implement a behavior plan in her class but when the substitute teacher is present, he may not implement the intervention. If the child’s good behavior happens with the trained teacher and with the new/untrained teacher, it is said to generalize. If the child’s good behavior does not happen with the new/untrained teacher, the effects failed to generalize. Obviously, teachers would want interventions that work with them as well as with their substitutes.

Participants

Twelve children participated in the study. Children ranged in ages between 3.5 years and 5 years of age.  The children were diagnosed with a variety of conditions including attention deficit disorder, language delay, autism, or developmental delay. The children engaged in a variety of inappropriate behaviors including aggression, opposition, tantrums, and property destruction. Six children were assigned to one treatment group and six children were assigned to the other treatment group.

Assessment

The authors completed a functional behavioral assessment (FBA) for all 12 students. As part of the FBA, the authors completed a functional analysis to demonstrate that all 12 children engaged in various challenging behaviors in order to gain attention from their teachers (The authors referred to this as Study 1). This type of behavior is known as attention-maintained behavior.

Baseline

Before treatment, the researchers observed children during regular school work activities. The work was considered easy work but the teachers did not provide a high rate of attention for appropriate behaviors.

Intervention

The researchers compared the results of two interventions. (The authors called this Study 2). One intervention was time out. We discussed time out and its variations here yesterday. The second intervention the authors studied was called Functional Communication Training (FCT). You may read more about it here (You will find other evidence-based strategies on that website if you are interested). FCT has a substantial research base to support its use. With FCT, teachers simply teach children to communicate instead of acting out to get what they want. Often we teach children to talk but sometimes we teach children to use pictures to communicate if they cannot speak very well.

In this study, teachers implemented time out by simply removing all instructional materials and turning their backs to the children for 10 seconds each time the child engaged in challenging behavior.

During FCT, teachers taught the children to ask for teacher attention by saying things like, “Am I doing good work?”

Once the researchers demonstrated that the intervention was working, a new/substitute teacher was brought in to see if the intervention effects would generalize. (The authors called this Study 3).

Results

Time out effectively reduced the rates of challenging behavior for all 6 children in the treatment group. Similarly, FCT effectively reduced the rates of challenging behavior for all 6 children in the treatment group.

However, when the new teacher worked with the children, the results were remarkably different. Specifically, children who received the time out intervention, failed to generalize their good behavior to the new teacher. Essentially, their challenging behavior returned to pre-treatment levels with the new teacher.

On the other hand, children in the FCT group, generalized their good behavior to the new teacher. Not only did they maintain good behavior, they used their new communication with the new teacher.

Thus, while brief time out from teacher attention may be effective at reducing attention-maintained behavior, the improved behavior will not generalize to new, untrained teachers. However, FCT teaches children to use communication instead of challenging behavior. This results in improved behavior and the improvement carries over to new, untrained teachers.

So, if you find yourself wondering what to do instead of time out, try teaching the child to communicate instead of acting out.

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Lately, I have begun paying attention to the ways people parent when they are on community outings. Many times, I see toddler tantrums that make me laugh. Why do I laugh? Well, if the parent is laughing, then the parent understands why the toddler is throwing such a fit.

You see, many parents understand that toddlers are going to tantrum. Many parents also know why their toddlers throw tantrums. Toddler tantrums are really just words that the toddler has not yet acquired.

“I want _______”

“I don’t want __________”

“_______ is mine”

This is true and there is even a shirt about it. This is a shirt showing the toddler tantrum yoga poses. See? Parents know their children’s tantrums!

You know what else? Pet owners often understand what their pets are trying to tell them.

“I’m hungry”

“Let’s play fetch”

“Let’s go outside”

“I have to potty”

“I’m tired and can’t walk anymore. Carry me.”

Pet owners know what their dog is saying, even though they cannot speak.

What I have never understood, however, is why people don’t understand (or don’t even try to understand) the tantrums exhibited by individuals with autism. Individuals with autism who are non-verbal have tantrums because they, too, have not yet acquired the words. Yet, when they have a tantrum, people are not laughing. Whey they have a tantrum, people get mad. When they have a tantrum, they get restrained, punished, or yelled at.

What we, as behavior analysts have learned over the years, is that individuals with autism are using their behaviors to communicate. A behavior analyst’s job is to assess what the individual with autism is trying to say with his tantrum.

“I want ________”

“I don’t want ______”

“I need help ________”

“I am all done”

That assessment is called a functional behavioral assessment. After the assessment, the behavior analyst designs a communication intervention program to teach the individual to communicate instead of tantrumming. You’ve heard the old saying, “Use your words”. When an individual is non-verbal, she does not have words. So, behavior analysts teach augmentative and alternative communication strategies or AAC. Individuals can learn to sign. They can learn to use pictures to express their wants. Or they can use an iPad equipped with proloquo2go. The options are endless.

So, next time you are out in public and you see an individual with autism throwing a tantrum, think about your toddler and her tantrums. Know that the individual is trying to tell us something. We just need to stop and listen.

Addendum

This is one of our favorite posts. We are hoping to share it with others today as we link up with Ado over at the Momalog as she celebrates her blog’s first birthday. Hop on over there and check out the other bloggers’ favorite posts.
Blog Bash

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