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Welcome to a forum dedicated to applied behavior analysis. The purpose of this blog is to provide a forum for students, parents and professionals to access information and discuss timely concerns regarding the science of applied behavior analysis in a reader-friendly manner.

I have fallen off the blog recently, mostly due to the completion of my dissertation and spending time with my daughter. As I delve back into the home-based and consultation world, topics to discuss and share with those interested in applied behavior analysis appears endless. I hope to take this blog in a direction of bridging the gap across the various orientations towards working with and teaching children with autism and related disorders...I'm a behavior analyst through and through, but we can do better in various domains that we have been hesitant to discuss in the past. My interests are veering into the realm of self-regulation, problem-solving, relationship development in addition to working with children with substantial interfering behavior. Comments and discussion is both welcome and desired.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Prioritizing Behavior Goals

The first month of school is now in full swing for most of us. I've been working in several schools as a behavior consultant, and while problem behaviors abound, none are particularly unique. What is especially abundant across all classrooms I have worked with is the urgent need to fix everything immediately so that the class can run smoothly. This is not possible and it cannot be understated that this "need" to get the class under control immediately will hinder actual progress.

Priorities need to be made. While all children in a class need to make progress and we want to help them all equally, there are several challenges that we face working in classrooms, and we need to prioritize what is feasible to target. Where do you begin?

First, I would recommend, do not go in with your arms swinging getting ready to change everything immediately. The first few weeks of school are challenging, and many of the challenges subside as children acclimate to their classrooms. The child that is engaging in tantrum behavior because Mommy is leaving, will most likely decrease this behavior as he learns that reinforcement is accessible at school as well. It is easy to feel overwhelmed at the beginning of the school year and that things will never calm down, but wait a few weeks, provide your class with the structure and consistency that you promised, and some of the challenges will subside.

Second, take data. These first couple of weeks will give you invaluable information about where your students have started for you to compare and measure progress come December, March, and finally June. Data doesn't always mean numbers and figures. At the end of the school day, a sentence or two on something eventful for each child in your class will give you an anecdotal record of the child's current level of functioning for you to compare. For example:

- Jonathan 9/13/07 - No verbal behavior today. He watched peers playing for two minutes but kept to himself and engaged in self-stimulatory behavior most of the day.
- Jonathan 10/14/07 - Initiated play with a peer by handing him a block. Said "help build"
- Jonathan 11/5/07 - Used subject object verb to ask for help "alison, open box"

A sentence for each student might give you more information than you thought, and is a nice anecdotal gauge of progress. It shouldn't be the only measure of progress, but in the beginning, when you aren't sure what to target and what areas of concern will be, this anecdotal record may help you to pinpoint some areas of concern or areas of a child's strength.

Third, after a week or two has passed, and you have taken some anecdotal notes, take a look at what some of the significant challenges may be. If you have a child that is tantrumming at high rates in your class, this is a priority. The disruption will hinder learning for other students, disrupt the flow of the class, and affect the atmosphere you may be trying to develop in your classroom. It is when this priority has been identified, that formal functional behavior assessment should begin, and a formal plan should be implemented soon. If five children are engaging in significant interfering behavior, pick ONE to start. You will be more effective putting your energy into one complete assessment at a time, rather than attempting to cover all the students in your class and not being comprehensive across any of the plans.

This is important, as it is more the norm that everything is tackled at once, with less precision and skill. A classroom may have many students engaging in problem behavior and all interferring behaviors are tackled at once in a half-assed manner, more out of desperation than out of carelessness. Take the time now, to work through each child comprehensively, and the benefits will be reaped later on.

Fourth, Communicate with the related service providers and your team on a regular basis. If you are working with a population that requires extra support, weekly meetings should already be in place. If not, make an attempt to touch base with the team members weekly. Priorities should be identified and discussed across a team, and all team members should be consistent.

Fifth, take data. As you identify your priorities, you should be taking data on the levels of interfering behavior before you intervene (baseline) and the levels of interfering behavior after you intervene. For example:

- September summary (baseline) - Jonathan averaged 45 instances of screaming per day
- October summary (intervention - behavior plan implemented) - Jonathan averaged 25 instances of screaming per day.
- November summary (intervention - same) - Jonathan averaged 10 instances of screaming per day.

This simple frequency data gives us information that our plan may be working.

To be clear, I'm not advocating that the rest of the children in the classroom be ignored while Jonathon is our focus, however, as data collection and functional behavior assessment starts for Jonathon, you can move on to identifying the next priority and preliminary data collection can begin on Kaitlin. I am admonishing, however, that to attempt to fix everything in the first month of school will not end in success.

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