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Autism Spectrum Disorder: Promoting Communication & Socialization Skills3 CEUs Autism: Teaching Parents how to Prompt Communication & Socialization

Section 5
Behavior Interventions for Children with Autism Spectrum Disorder

Question 5 | Test | Table of Contents | Autism CEU Courses

Read content below or listen to audio track

On the last track, we discussed the difficulties surrounding the inclusion of autistic children in a typical school setting.

On this track, we will discuss Replacement Behaviors.  These socialization techniques will include practicing, self-management and not letting the little things slide.  As you listen to this track, think about the techniques you use to treat autistic children who might benefit from learning replacement behaviors.

Zeke, age 45, had an autistic son Oliver, age 11.  Whenever someone was in Oliver’s way, he would throw something or push them aside.  Zeke stated one example, "Oliver loves to play basketball.  However, whenever one of his friends is in his way, he will throw the basketball as hard as he can at that person to get them to move.  Understandably, this has caused a few injuries, and certainly not made him any more friends.  How do I teach him to get someone’s attention without throwing a ball at them?" 

How would you have responded to Zeke’s predicament?  I stated to Zeke, "Oliver has learned that when he throws a basketball at someone, he gets what he wants.  In order to stop this behavior, he will need to be taught a replacement behavior.  It won’t be enough to stop reinforcing the basketball-throwing.  Oliver also needs to be learning to communicate appropriately, or he’ll simply revert to his old disruptive behaviors when he gets frustrated.  I use three steps for replacement behaviors."  How do these steps compare with your own techniques? 

3 Steps to Teaching Replacement Behaviors

#1 Practicing

I stated to Zeke, "The first step I use is practicing. Appropriate replacement behaviors need to be practiced until they become easy and automatic. Oliver will want to be secure in his new, appropriate behavior before he’ll completely give up an old behavior he’s grow used to."  Zeke asked, "How do you suggest we replace Oliver’s behavior besides ‘Look out!’?"  I replied, "Actually, that’s not a bad idea.  Oliver could be taught to say, ‘Look out!’ whenever he’s playing basketball and wants someone to move.  It makes perfect sense, because if that person doesn’t look out, he or she will get hit." 

Zeke asked, "So, should I play more basketball with Oliver and get in his way to teach him to say, ‘Look out’?"  I responded, "Oliver will need your help and the help of others to teach and reinforce this new behavior until it comes naturally.  You might need to recruit aides, teachers, therapists, siblings, grandparents and anyone else willing to help so you can set up situations in which Oliver can ask people to move under controlled circumstances."

#2  Self-Management

I further stated to Zeke, "The second step to replacement behaviors that I use is self-management.  This is something you can do at home with Oliver.  When he comes home from school at the end of the day, you might try asking him how well he played with other children.  You might ask him if he hit anyone else with the basketball at recess, or whatever the case may be. 

If he evaluates himself positively, you might let him put a sticker on a progress chart or give him a piece of candy…etc.  These practices will give Oliver incentive to manage himself when you’re not there."  Have you found, as I have, that self-management can be an effective strategy in helping autistic children replace negative behaviors?

#3  Not Letting Little Things Slide
Third, in addition to practicing and self-management, let’s discuss not letting little things slide.  I stated to Zeke, "In the midst of all this reinforcement of good behavior and elimination of bad ones, it will probably feel impossible to stay on top of every little thing.  You may be tempted to overlook small outbursts.  However, try not to.  Addressing smaller behavior problems in a systematic way can reduce the larger problems. Is there anything else Oliver isn’t verbal about that you would consider a ‘smaller problem’?" 

Zeke stated, "Well, at home, he pushes people who are in his way, which is pretty much the same thing as when he’s playing basketball."  I asked Zeke, "Is Oliver very verbal, would you say?"  Zeke responded, "Oh yeah, he knows lots of words."  I replied, "You might try to apply the ‘Look out’ strategy at home, and see if cutting down on the pushing there affects how often he reacts with the basketball at school."

In a later session, Zeke described the results of using theses three steps regarding replacement behaviors.  Zeke stated, "I asked a teacher’s aide at Oliver’s school to follow him around for a couple of weeks and randomly stand in his way, so he could practice saying, ‘Look out!’  Oliver and I had also practiced saying, ‘Excuse me,’ around the same time.  After three days, Oliver would say, ‘Look out!’ without prompting. 

Around this time, the aide recruited some of Oliver’s friends to play basketball with him and watch his behavior.  After two weeks of this, the aide was able to fade out completely, and Oliver hasn’t’ injured anyone while playing basketball since."  Do you have a Zeke whose autistic child is trying to adopt replacement behaviors?  Would playing this track be helpful for him or her? 

On this track, we discussed replacement behaviors.  This included practicing, self-management and not letting little things slide.

On the next track, we will discuss Floor-time with a Family Approach.  This will include time for siblings and time for parents.

Peer-Reviewed Journal Article References:
Field, T. (2017). Imitation enhances social behavior of children with autism spectrum disorder: A review. Behavioral Development Bulletin, 22(1), 86–93.

Hassan, M., Thomson, K. M., Khan, M., Burnham Riosa, P., & Weiss, J. A. (2017). Behavioral skills training for graduate students providing cognitive behavior therapy to children with autism spectrum disorder. Behavior Analysis: Research and Practice, 17(2), 155–165.

Hillman, H. (2018). Child-centered play therapy as an intervention for children with autism: A literature review. International Journal of Play Therapy, 27(4), 198–204.

Pelaez, M. (2017). Autism and other child developmental disorders: Early behavior-analytic interventions. Behavioral Development Bulletin, 22(1), 1–3. 

Rispoli, K. M., Mathes, N. E., & Malcolm, A. L. (2019). Characterizing the parent role in school-based interventions for autism: A systematic literature review. School Psychology, 34(4), 444–457. 

Yi, H., Siu, Q. K. Y., Ngan, O. M. Y., & Chan, D. F. Y. (2020). Parents’ experiences of screening, diagnosis, and intervention for children with autism spectrum disorder. American Journal of Orthopsychiatry, 90(3), 297–311.

What are three parts to replacement behaviors? To select and enter your answer go to Test.

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