Positive Behavior Support: Assisting Families with Behavioral Strategies in Home and Community Settings
The most important entity for a child with autism is the child’s family. Parents and other family members are essential resources, and their interactions with their child constitute the most important influences on the child’s learning and development. But the influences are complex and multidirectional. Not only do parental interactions help guide the child’s social, cognitive and emotional growth but, simultaneously, the child’s characteristics and actions continually influence family members’ behavior and, indeed, the functioning of the entire family system.
It is also understood that the presence of a disability, such as autism, produces powerful and indelible changes in the family system. The extent and quality of the changes, however, depends upon the severity of the disability and numerous features of the family system. In some cases, the changes introduced by a disability can be disruptive, sometimes leading to family dissolution, while in other cases the changes can represent a source of new strength and increased family unity (Turnbull & Turnbull, 2001).
One feature that can readily exacerbate challenges in family functioning is the presence of problem behaviors, such as aggression and persistent and violent tantrums. Even when families are cohesive and resolute, uncontrolled problem behaviors of a child with autism can present tremendous disruptions to family routines, both in and outside the home. Problem behaviors can make it extremely difficult to complete ordinary activities, such as getting ready for school, sitting down for a family meal, going to the grocery store or enjoying recreational outings. Many families emphasize that problem behaviors are a major source of parenting stress, and that they oblige elaborate accommodations as families seek to reduce the chances of problem behaviors occurring, especially in public places (Fox, Vaughn, Dunlap, & Bucy, 1997; Fox, Vaughn, Wyatte, & Dunlap, 2002). It is common for families to avoid activities altogether in order to prevent the social humiliation and the physical and emotional risks that can accompany a child’s public display of problem behaviors. Such avoidance, of course, results in fewer occasions for the child to benefit from home and community learning opportunities and for the family to participate in typical community outings. In short, severe problem behaviors can impose significant impairment on a family’s functioning and quality of life.
Given the serious consequences associated with uncontrolled problem behaviors, a need exists for interventions that are effective in preventing or substantially reducing these behavior patterns in home and community contexts. The principles of Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) and the pragmatic procedures of positive behavior support provide such workable solutions.
Reprinted with the permission of the Autism Society.
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