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Educating Children with Autism
and Havercamp, 1997; Carr et al., 1999c), and more may exist, including multiple functions for some behaviors. Prominent among these functions or motives for problem behaviors are: a means of communicating needs and wants effectively; social attention; social avoidance; escape from difficult or boring tasks or other aversive situations; access to desirable tangible items and preferred activities; and generation of sensory reinforcement in the form of auditory, visual, tactile, olfactory, and gustatory stimulation.
For example, problem behaviors such as self-injury or destructive behavior often produce reliable changes in the child’s environment. A child bites his hand and learns over time that the parent or teacher may approach and soothe the child, provide a favorite toy, or “rescue” the child from a difficult situation. For young children with autistic spectrum disorders, who often have little or no ability to communicate using conventional words or even gestures, hand-biting, tantrums, or other disruptive behaviors become effective ways for the child to convey a message. Wacker and colleagues (Wacker et al., 1998) trained parents, in their homes, to conduct functional analyses of the problem behaviors of their young children (between 1 and 6 years of age) with autism or other severe developmental disorders. Parents were then trained to use a functional communication system with their children, based on their own child’s existing communication skills. Children learned from their parents verbal or nonverbal appropriate means (such as signing “please” to gain parent attention, “break” to get a brief break from tasks, or “help” to obtain parent assistance in completing a task) to obtain what they wanted. After treatment, aberrant behavior had decreased an average 87 percent across the range of children, and appropriate social behavior had increased an average 69 percent. The intervention took approximately 10 minutes per day. On a parent-rating measure of acceptability (from 1= not acceptable to 7=very acceptable), the average overall acceptability was 6.35.
Three findings on functional behavioral assessment emerge from 10 reviews of research from 1988 to 2000 on problem behaviors in persons with developmental disabilities including autistic spectrum disorders (Horner et al., 2000): (1) functional behavioral assessment results more frequently in the choice of positive rather than punishment procedures than do problem reduction strategies not starting from functional behavioral assessment; (2) interventions developed from functional behavioral assessment information are more likely to result in significant reductions in problem behaviors than those that do not systematically assess the function of the problem behavior; and (3) in some cases in which functional behavioral assessments were conducted, interventions were designed that were not consistent with or may even have been contraindicated by the assessment information (Scotti et al., 1996). Thus, additional