What? Why? That's not fair!

Posted by Kris Baker on 1/25/2019 7:00:00 AM

What?  Why? That’s not fair!  These questions and phrases are often what staff hear when negative consequences are enforced after a student has exhibited an inappropriate or maladaptive behavior.  Many times, when students are engaging in a meltdown or other behavior escalation, they are actually unaware of the present circumstances and how things got so out of control.  “During a meltdown, the child is literally out of their mind. Their emotions take over, overriding the frontal cortex of the brain, the area that makes decisions and judgments” (Driesbsach, 2016).  There are strategies and interventions that staff can implement before a behavior is exhibited to help students see the path of their behavior, both positive and negative, and help them process and understand the sequence of events when things go well, and when things go wrong.  

“A majority of kids who have frequent meltdowns do it in very predictable, circumscribed situations: when it’s homework time, bedtime, time to stop playing,” explains Dr. Vasco Lopes, a clinical psychologist. “The trigger is usually being asked to do something that’s aversive to them or to stop doing something that is fun for them” (Miller, 2016).  Despite the fact that their pattern may be predictable to others, it is often difficult for students to see this pattern. Additionally, many children, if not taught explicitly, do not have effective coping skills to handle adversity and therefore struggle to stop the progression of their behavior.

One effective way to help students see this progression, both positive and negative, is to use behavior mapping.  Behavior mapping visualizes for students the natural progression of events for exhibiting socially appropriate behaviors as well as maladaptive behaviors in whatever setting you are choosing to target.  For the positive, I want the behavior map to target the positive or expected behaviors and coping skills we want the student to exhibit, as well as the positive reinforcement for displaying those positive behaviors or using their coping skills.  Additionally, I want the map to identify the specific maladaptive behaviors the student struggles with, and what the potential consequences might be should the student engage in those maladaptive behaviors. See the examples below for elementary and secondary students.  



At times these maps are beneficial to help streamline staff responses to students, especially when you have multiple staff members working with one student.  These maps help ensure consistency when responding to students who struggle with misbehavior and the potential consequences of such behavior. The map should illustrate for staff how the student receives their positive reinforcement, both contingent and non-contingent as well as how staff should respond should behaviors escalate.  Below is an example of a staff intervention map:

Mapping 2

Students and staff can benefit from seeing the path for the progression of events at school, both positive and negative.  It is important that we take the time to proactively teach students how to earn positive reinforcement and how to prevent negative situations that lead to negative consequences. The program, Lucidchart , is an excellent tool for helping create consequence charts and is much easier than typical word processing programs.  


Free Resources on Social Behavior Mapping from Social Thinking ®


Miller. C. (2016).  https://childmind.org/article/how-to-handle-tantrums-and-meltdowns/


Kris Baker, Autism Consultant