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Perhaps the most common and all-encompassing behavior intervention for kids on the autistic spectrum is the use of positive reinforcement. Specific behavior interventions for PDD (pervasive development disorder) that fall under the umbrella of positive reinforcement include behavior charts, tangible or edible rewards, conditional privileges or social approval, and token economies. Positive reinforcement works best when the child with PDD knows that the goal is achievable. Reinforcement should be given in small pieces and as soon as possible after the action, and the child with PDD should be weaned gradually off it as the goal is achieved.
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A second way to improve the behavior of a child with PDD is to "come in through the back door" by using social stories. Social stories are true-to-life stories used to help children, especially those with various disabilities, understand how to react in certain situations. For example, if a child reacts inappropriately at birthday parties, a parent might tell the child a social story about a child who goes to a birthday party. The social story would include all of the emotions that the child felt, the appropriate actions that she did, and the inappropriate actions that she did not do. These stories can give children with PDD information about proper social interactions and help to reduce their anxiety about unfamiliar or frustrating situations.
Social stories are most often used in connection with social situations, but they can also be used to introduce new rules or routines, and to help children deal with negative emotions more effectively. Social stories can be used alongside other specific behavior interventions for PDD.
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Although many parents recoil from the thought of "ignoring" their children, tactical ignoring is another behavioral intervention that can work for children with PDD. Many times, a child with PDD may misbehave purely to get a parent or teacher's attention. In these cases, parents or teachers can use tactical ignoring by intentionally turning away from the child and refraining from being pulled into the argument. This behavioral intervention is best used for behaviors such as yelling, using bad language, or sulking.
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The intervention of differential reinforcement is similar to positive reinforcement, but it can be applied to negative behaviors as well, and it does not need to include a material reward. For example, if the child with PDD has a particular behavior problem, a parent or teacher might give positive attention after a given amount of time that he does not engage in the negative behavior. Children with PDD should receive attention, but that attention should not increase when the child increases in a particular negative behavior. Setting up a differential reinforcement system can help avoid this situation by tying the positive attention to the time that the negative behavior was not displayed.
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Self-Management of Behavior
Of course, the end goal of any behavioral plan is for the child with PDD to be disciplined enough to behave without the aforementioned interventions. Therefore, teaching the child how to perform the three steps of self-management of behavior - self-monitoring, self-evaluation, self-reinforcement - is an important step to independence. These specific behavior interventions for PDD should be the goal of any behavioral program.
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Autism-Help.org, retrieved at http://www.autism-help.org/behavioral-issues-autism-asperger.htm
AutismTreatment.info. What Is Differential Reinforcment? retrieved at http://www.autismtreatment.info/what+is+differential+reinforcement.aspx
Image credit: sxc.hu/rockpuppet
Top Five Specific Behavior Interventions for PDD
Children with PDD have many unique characteristics and needs. This series will discuss these needs and how to fill them effectively.