Note: The following blog post is based on a Bierman Caregiver Webinar.
The purpose of this blog is to identify some proactive ways to help parents and guardians prepare for public outings. We want to help your child be as successful as possible in the community. Some of the benefits of doing community outings with your child are:
● A generalization of skills they’re learning in their services. If they’re learning to do something in ABA therapy, we want to make sure that they can do it in any setting- in the community, at the park, at the store, or wherever that skill may be applicable.
● It’s good for family bonding, it is nice to get that quality family time all together.
● It can be an opportunity to learn new things.
Before the outing
Before going out, it’s important to make sure all basic needs are met. It’s important to make sure that you don’t go right before their nap time or before they’ve had a chance to have a snack or lunch. You can also ask your child’s behavior analyst to accompany you to a place that has traditionally been difficult. Your behavior analyst could give you some strategies individualized to your child and help you make a plan prior to the outing or event.
Have a plan
You want to make a plan before the outing. It’s important to ask yourself things like: what is your goal? Are you working on going to a new place? Are you tolerating a different routine? It’s important to keep your goals small and work up to the big goals so that your child is able to achieve success on these outings. You want to start with small or short outings and work up to bigger and longer outings.
Does the environment you are taking your child in have elements that are aversive to them? Does your child have to do something special in this location that he or she does not have to do at home? Routines and expectations can be different from place to place. If there is something different in that environment, you will want to work on it ahead of time. You can practice the rules or exposure to some of the elements in the new environment.
Visual supports can be a useful tool to help your child become more familiar with what to expect during an outing. They can be as detailed or basic as you need and range from a first/then board to a full visual schedule of the events in the outing. In addition to a visual that you take with you on an outing, you can create a social story and describe
all the things that happen at the outing prior to going. For example, a social story about the grocery store might go over what you do in the store, waiting in line, and paying for your groceries. You can read this before the outing and it can help prepare your child for what’s to come or the elements of the outing that you may not have control over.
If you need some assistance, your behavior analyst is here to help. If you think that a visual would be really great for your child when you’re going on outings, then just reach out to your therapy team and they’d be happy to create some of these materials for you.
A reinforcer is a reward that your child earns for doing something good or doing something that you would like them to do. This can be anything that your child likes, and are going to be individualized to your child.. You want to have these items with you during the outing and can let your child know how they can earn them or when they can access them. You can also have preferred items available to give your child during times where they might need to wait or may need a distraction. For example, your child may want to hold a preferred toy while waiting in line. Another important factor of using these items as reinforcers is making sure you are not allowing your child to have them for the whole outing. You want to be able to control when they have them and when they don’t have them. You also want to be able to use these items as a reinforcer for good desirable behavior, rather than allowing them to have them after they’ve engaged in challenging behavior or something you’re not looking for them to do.
Reinforcement vs. Bribery
Reinforcement is provided after a positive behavior happens and bribery is offering the child something to stop once the problem behavior has already started. You do not want to give them these reinforcers just to get them to calm down. You want to only be giving them these reinforcers when they’ve done something to earn them. It’s important that once they do engage in something desirable, reinforce that behavior right away so that they make sure that they understand why they’re accessing that preferred item or activity. An example of bribery would be telling your child, if you stop screaming, we’ll go get a new toy. We want to avoid statements like that because we’re reinforcing the challenging behavior instead of reinforcing something positive or desirable that we want to see.
The main goal is to avoid reinforcing challenging behaviors. If the challenging behavior has already happened, do not offer, or provide reinforcement and instead focus on what you want their behavior to look like instead. We like to refer to these as replacement behaviors. If they’re doing something you don’t want them to do, what could they be doing that you would like them to be doing? You could also limit to only using it as a reinforcer once they’ve worked on that targeted skill.
Responding to challenging behavior
When challenging behavior occurs, the most important thing to do is to breathe. It is going to be okay, it may be tough in the beginning, but the more practice your child has, the better it’s going to be in the future. It’s also important to think about the function of your child’s behavior at that very moment. Try to determine why they are engaging in that behavior, and what was it that caused the behavior to occur.
When talking about the functions of behavior there are four different functions.
1. First, there’s access, do they want an item or an activity? Let’s say you remove something from them, and they want it back. Are they engaging in that behavior to get access to a preferred item or activity?
2. Next there is escape. Are they trying to escape something? Do they want to get away from the situation?
3. They may just want your attention. Do they want your attention? Do they want the attention of other people? When they scream or kick or throw something are they looking at you for your reaction or are they looking to others for their reaction? It could be attention maintained.
4. The last option could be that it’s sensory maintained. Are they engaging in that behavior because they like something about it, maybe the way it feels or sounds.
The most important thing is that you’re learning from the experience and making modifications for the next outing. Do not give up! Your child can do this and so can you, so don’t hesitate to reach out to your behavior analyst for help, because we want to make sure that you can make it through the store or go to the park and leave without challenging behavior. We want to make sure we help you because family outings are significant parts of your lives, and we don’t want you to have to make modifications to that forever.
The main point for this blog post is to always have a plan, reinforce and celebrate even the smallest things. Reach out to your behavior analyst for support. You don’t have to limit yourself to just one outing or one location. If they’re doing a great job, give them that exposure in lots of different places. Just take it as an opportunity to practice!