Understanding the ABCs of Behavior

There are two fundamental principles of behavior: (1) challenging behavior occurs within the context of a child's interaction with his or her environment. As a result, changing the inappropriate behavior of a child requires educators first to identify, and second to change, relevant aspects of the environment that may contribute to the problem (for example, instructional, curricular, or classroom variables). And (2) challenging behavior is meaningful, has a purpose, and serves a function for the child (Ryan, Halsey, & Matthews, 2003).

Behavior (B) is always something that can be observed and measured. For example, the number of times a child was out of his or her seat or how many times a student blurted out in class (during a certain time frame), the length of time it took to complete an in-class assignment, and so forth. With the ABCs of behavior, "B" stands for the behavior itself—what the child is actually doing that can be observed and measured objectively.

Prior to any behavior occurring, there are antecedents (A) to that behavior. The antecedents, as was discussed in Section 2.1, are typically the events or conditions that trigger the misbehavior. Teachers can prevent or minimize many undesired student behaviors by making adjustments to those antecedents. For example, making changes to the environment (change of seating, adding more structure or visual supports), to the instruction (providing more direct assistance, reducing the amount of time required to remain quiet by incorporating more partner talk opportunities during the lesson, modifying tasks/assignments), and so forth.

Following the misbehavior is some kind of consequence (C). The consequence may be either reinforcing or punishing to the child. It depends on an individual's needs and motivations. What could be perceived as a punishing consequence (for example, being sent out of the classroom) to the teacher, could actually be a reward for a student (who seeks to escape a task or enjoys the attention or stimulation received out of the classroom setting). Any time a problematic behavior repeatedly occurs, something is reinforcing or maintaining that behavior.

Often the functions or goals of target student behavior is to either obtain something (tangible item, attention, control, sensory stimulation) or to avoid or escape something (assigned tasks, activities, embarrassment, or neg ative emotions) (O'Neill, Horner, Albin, et al., 1997). Once the underlying motivation or function of a child's behavior is identified, that motivation may be used to determine the most logical and powerful behavioral consequences. For example, if the child is acting out in class to gain the attention of classmates, a behavioral program can be designed that rewards the child with peer attention for appropriate rather than inappropriate behavior (Illes, 2002).

In addition to classroom (group) behavior management systems (discussed in Section 2.1), students with ADHD will benefit greatly from individualized daily and/or weekly monitoring and reinforcement plans. When designing an individual behavior plan as an intervention for a student, it must be

• Tailored to address one or no more than a few specific, observable behaviors

• Tied to a reward or choice of rewards that is highly motivating for that individual student—a powerful enough incentive to motivate behavioral change

• Implemented consistently, reviewed frequently, and revised when it begins to lose its effectiveness

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