Universal Behavior Management Tools


When dealing with the negative behaviors of a child possessing a neurodevelopmental disorder, there are core universal approaches and strategies that are adaptable to each situation.  Only the degrees of their use and effectiveness will vary, child to child.  

Neurodevelopmental disorders come in several major groups:

  • Intellectual Disabilities
  • Communication Disorders including Speech Sound Disorder and Childhood-onset Fluency Disorder (stuttering)
  • Autism Spectrum Disorder including the full range of autism handicaps, up to and including what was formerly called Asperger’s Syndrome
  • Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder with several sub-types
  • Motor Disorders including problems with coordination, stereotyped movements, and tic disorders including Tourette Syndrome
  • Genetic Disorders including Down syndrome, Williams syndrome and Fragile-X syndrome
  • Other Neurodevelopmental Disorders included specified and unspecified disorders

The strategies form the outline, with rules and parameters, of your behavior management approach.  The content and tools used to fill in this outline share commonalities while allowing for flexibility and creativity.  

The strategies that I find pop up as the mainstays of my work include;

  • Mindfulness: Giving space for your reactions will go a long way in how that reaction impacts your child and how they are either elevated in their negative behavior or eased.
  • Positive behavior rewards (token systems; chips, food, stickers, stars, checks, and anything that motivates): These systems exist in many forms as charts, boards, checklists, etc. There are ample templates to download off the internet. 
  • Structure: Establishing schedules and routines are enormously helpful and create a clear communication and sequence of expectations in a child’s day.  “Provide an organized home and school environment with clear and consistent demands and expectations. Try writing out a daily schedule or creating a picture schedule to help with transitions between activities.” Anna Merrill, Ph.D., HSPP

I do this with all of my clients and the positive growth in their overall performance and improvement in behavior is real. 

  • Clear expectations and clear consequences: Communicating, however it is accessible to your child, what you want them to do and what the rewards will be for their cooperation is necessary for consistent success.  More challenging behaviors may require negative reinforcement in order to change more challenging behaviors.  But this works in conjunction with the strategies above.  For eg., a threat that a favorite activity or object will be taken away or delayed until behavior improves, is reasonable and can work.  For me, I always want to follow this with positive feedback and setting the stage for the next time behaviors arise when we might be ready to use positive reinforcement. 
  • *Picture systems: Whether it’s PECS, using pictures of your child performing activities, clipart, photos of people modeling your theme, etc., pictures offer a tremendous benefit for children who are language delayed and or can’t read.  Pictures are instant reminders and can be incorporated in schedules, routines, conversation, hung in opportune locations throughout your house, in the car and in your emergency meltdown kit.  
  • Creating sensory areas: Exploring sensory issues with professionals such as your child’s teachers, occupational therapist and others can help you identify concerns that might be causing negative behaviors.  Once identified, you can address these sensory needs in your home by creating a sensory area, a sensory board and making sensory objects available to your child.  Sensory areas are great places for your child to be engaged, distracted and calmed. 
  • Planned ignoring: I am a big proponent of planned ignoring.  Feeding into behaviors will tend to cause an escalation and can possibly lead to the harming of your child, yourself or others.  Planned ignoring means that when the negative behavior arises, you don’t acknowledge it.  Waiting out behaviors can take time but is an effective means to a natural extinguishing of the undesirable behavior.  It is incredibly effective if you can remain calm and patient.  “Ignore attention-seeking behavior, in particular when your child has a tantrum. This means avoiding eye contact, keeping facial expressions neutral, and not talking. Return your attention as soon as your child starts engaging in positive behavior. “  Anna Merrill, Ph.D., HSPP
  • Timers: Timers are terrific visual indicators that an agreed upon time frame for an activity is in progress.  Reminding your child as the time runs down prepares them for transitioning out of an activity and into a new one.  There are wonderful visual timers for those children who can’t tell time.  Sand timers are also great and can come in individual time increments.  
  • Social stories: I have come to rely heavily on Social Stories as I see their positive impact on my clients.  Social Stories show a process, explain positive and negative behaviors, describe what to expect from an activity and they occur in a sequence.  They use pictures or pictures with words to help your child understand the world as it relates to them.  These stories can be general or very specific to your child.  
  • Praise:  Nothing beats praise and showing you care to elevate your child and let them know that they are loved.  So while the negative behaviors exist, be sure to catch your child doing the right thing and jump j=on the opportunity to praise and reinforce good choices.  
  • Time, Patience and Consistency: Change doesn’t happen overnight.  You are asked a lot as a parent of a child with special needs. The biggest advantage you can give yourself is to find the patience necessary for success.  And this means giving up your pride at times or letting go of the inconveniences and frustrations that accompany caretaking, to be in the moment with your child.  If you can do this, along with whatever strategies you pick, with consistency, you will benefit from your investment and find that your world will improve, even a little bit for a time and then more and more!  

“When I see … I understand 

When I hear, I forget

In one ear, and out the next.

But it makes more sense to me When there’s something I can see

Whether I’m young, or if I’m old

It helps to see what I am told

A written word, a picture card

Can simplify what might be hard.

A visual aid describes it best

And gives the voice and ears a rest

From making friends to handling fear

Showing me how makes it more clear

There’s not much left to explain

When a picture shows my brain

Who or where or what you mean

On a clear computer screen

To recall what you heard

A picture paints a thousand words.”

Author Unknown

From an article: The Use of Visual Supports for Individuals with Down Syndrome

by Katie Frank, PhD, OTR/L

Peace and Keep Rising!

Published by riseup20

I am a retired teacher with a creative bent and I am excited to bring attention and assistance to parents and caregivers of children with special needs. Mark

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