Got Problem Behaviors? – Turn them into Communication

By Ashley Hudson, M.Ed., CCC-SLP, Speech-Language Pathologist, Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools

Every classroom has a system in place to manage student behavior.  Schools in Chapel Hill-Carrboro Schools (CHCCS) implement Positive Behavior Intervention and Supports (PBIS).  Some schools within CHCCS implement complementary approaches, such as Conscious Discipline, but what do you do when these approaches are not working for a student?

FUNCTIONAL COMMUNICATION

Functional communication is a method for understanding the communicative intent of problem behavior and finding an appropriate replacement for that behavior.  Functional communication teaches us that the primary function of communication, and therefore behavior, is to get things (e.g., attention, objects), or escape things (e.g., avoiding attention, avoiding work).

Central assumptions to this approach are that:

  • All problem behavior has a purpose for the person
  • Children can/should be taught how to communicate, and not just how to reduce undesired behaviors
  • A single behavior can have multiple purposes (e.g., escape demands, getting a preferred toy)
  • The goal of intervention is not solely to reduce undesirable behavior,  rather the goal is to change the environment, so that the student is able to communicate more effectively
  • Most communicative behavior serves as a means of requesting (e.g., attention, sensory)
  • Many children with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) or language disorders may lack the skills to request in a socially acceptable manner

VERBAL COMMUNICATION

Speech is not required for verbal communication, although it is the most common medium.  Verbal communication is a behavior that is communicative in nature.  In a child with a language impairment, such as a child with Autism, verbal communication may be not characterized by the use of speech. For example, rather than saying that he/she wants more time with the iPad, the child may fall on the floor when it is time to transition to a non-preferred task.  The Functional Communication model suggests that the child needs to be taught socially acceptable language to request more time with the iPad (e.g., “I want more time with the iPad”).

FUNCTIONAL COMMUNICATION MODEL

Environmental Events

Observable Behavior

Change in Environment

*Important note: This model also stresses that both positive and negative reinforcement increase behavior.

CONCLUSIONboy-with-backpack

The Functional Communication model states that behavior has communicative intent. It further states that it is imperative that the intent/function of behavior is determined so that socially appropriate communication (i.e., requests) can be increased, and problem-behavior decreased.

KEY IDEAS

  1. Consequences (i.e., desired outcomes) cause behavior, not antecedents
  2. Problem behavior is serving a purpose
  3. Use the purpose/intent of the behavior in context to teach appropriate communication
  4. Teach a child to tell you that they want/don’t want something (e.g., I need a break, I want more time with the iPad)  rather than focusing on compliance with a task demand

REFERENCES

  1. Travers, Jason, Turning Problem Behavior Into Effective Communication, ASHA Professional Development
  2. Travers, Jason.  GET THE MESSAGE! The Communicate Nature of Inappropriate Behavior in Learners with ASD. ASHA Presentation.

RESOURCES

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gk-si6X4FXY

Photo courtesy of Pixabay

Quick Guide: Pragmatic Language

by Rena Dadolf, M.S., CCC-SLP and Theresa Menz, M.S., CCC-SLP

We’re hearing a lot these days about Pragmatic Language Disorders…

The first question many teachers and parents have is “What is Pragmatic Language?”

Pragmatics is the understanding and use of language in social situations – in other words, successfully having conversations with other people.

Pragmatic skills involve understanding and using nonverbal skills such as body language as well as what we say, how we say it, and the appropriateness of what we say.

Pragmatic skills are vital for communicating our personal thoughts, ideas and feelings. Children with pragmatic language weakness may misinterpret others’ communicative intent and have difficulty responding appropriately verbally or non-verbally. Conversation skills are often weak and children with this disorder may not engage in the back and forth fluid flow of questioning, answering, and commenting that comes so naturally to most of us.

Pragmatic Language Skills:

  1. Using language for different functions: greeting, informing, requesting
  2. Changing your language based on the needs of the person you are talking to:
    • Speaking differently in the library than on a playground
    • Giving background information
    • Talking differently to a baby than an adult
  3. Following Conversation Rules:
    • Taking turns in conversation
    • Staying on topic
  4. Rephrasing when misunderstood
  5. Using appropriate facial expressions and eye contact
  6. Understanding how to take another person’s perspective

While all children need to be taught these skills, children with pragmatic language weaknesses need explicit instruction involving these skills. The use of visual supports, practice, and role play are key. Contact your school’s speech-language pathologist to learn more!