The Misfit Behaviorists - Practical Strategies for Special Education and ABA Professionals

Ep. 12: Managing Problem Behaviors Through Replacement Skills

April 24, 2024 Audra Jensen, Caitlin Beltran
Ep. 12: Managing Problem Behaviors Through Replacement Skills
The Misfit Behaviorists - Practical Strategies for Special Education and ABA Professionals
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The Misfit Behaviorists - Practical Strategies for Special Education and ABA Professionals
Ep. 12: Managing Problem Behaviors Through Replacement Skills
Apr 24, 2024
Audra Jensen, Caitlin Beltran

We dive into the crucial topic of managing problem behaviors by teaching essential replacement skills. Listen as we explore effective strategies for teaching functional skills such as requesting wants and needs, teaching waiting & tolerating hearing “no”. Listen for practical insights & evidence-based techniques to support positive behavior change.

Join our Facebook Group for a FREE handout with actionable tips on teaching learners to tolerate hearing NO! 🙌🏼

😍 More, you say? We’re here for you!

🖱️ Rate, Review, Like & Subscribe so you don’t miss an episode!

Show Notes Transcript

We dive into the crucial topic of managing problem behaviors by teaching essential replacement skills. Listen as we explore effective strategies for teaching functional skills such as requesting wants and needs, teaching waiting & tolerating hearing “no”. Listen for practical insights & evidence-based techniques to support positive behavior change.

Join our Facebook Group for a FREE handout with actionable tips on teaching learners to tolerate hearing NO! 🙌🏼

😍 More, you say? We’re here for you!

🖱️ Rate, Review, Like & Subscribe so you don’t miss an episode!

Caitlin Beltran: Are they going to get a job doing all of these great math and science and social studies skills if they cannot manage their emotions? And for sure, the answer is going to be no, 

Welcome to the Misfit Behaviorist Podcast. Join your hosts, Audra Jensen and Caitlin Beltran, here to bring you evidence based strategies with a student centered focus. Let's get started. 

Caitlin Beltran: . Hey, everybody. Welcome back to the Misfit Behaviorist podcast. This week, we are talking about addressing or managing behaviors from a skill building lens. And before we dive in, just a reminder to join our Facebook group, The Misfit Behaviorists, to keep the conversation going. And that's also where we share any free resources that we talk about. So, Audra, right off the bat, what does the term replacement skill mean to you?

Audra Jensen: so when I think of a replacement skill, I think of a skill that's already in the learner's repertoire that's going to allow them access to the same reinforcement that they're seeking, but in a more socially acceptable way. So something like trading an old tool for a better one, a new tool that does the same job, but easier to use that makes it safer for everybody.

Caitlin Beltran: Yeah, for sure. And I think sometimes, I will just speak for myself here, but as a BCBA who, lots of students are getting referred for this behavior and that behavior, I'm not always privy to see what that function is right off the bat. however, if we can determine that, whether it's through a full FBA or if it's a student where I just need to observe a couple of times and come up with what skills they have in their repertoire that I can help reinforce or help strengthen, I should say.

So that they can get that thing that they want to get in a more socially appropriate way. So like that classic example of like student calling out for attention, calling out, calling out, calling out, all of a sudden they learn to raise their hand. They get reinforcement for raising their hand. So it's like that old path.

We want to break that connection. We don't want that calling out to lead to attention, which of course it has to in the classroom setting often. And that new connection between oh, raising hand gets more attention or better attention or that's their new way of doing that. So sometimes I do feel like trying to extinguish behaviors, it's like you're playing whack a mole.

Like you are trying to get rid of a behavior is like the hardest thing to do, even in ourselves. Like how many times do we say I'm just going to stop eating junk food? Like it's so hard to not do something. It's so much easier to say No, I'm going to eat healthier. Like just not eating junk food is virtually impossible because you wouldn't be eating anything.

So what is there a placement of that? You want to eat healthier foods, right? Do you feel like we spend enough time teaching skills to replace behaviors? And do we focus on this as much as we do traditional academic skills?

Audra Jensen: I was thinking about two things when you were talking about that. When we think about, eating food is a great example. When you think about, I'm not going to eat junk food. I'm, you think about, what am I going to replace that with? If you just say, I'm going to eat lettuce. That's not going to give me the same fix that I'm seeking when I eat candy bars.

So what am I going to replace it with that's going to give me the same fix? Well, maybe I need to eat more fruit that gives me a little bit of that same fix, that I'm seeking, or I'm going to, I'm going to slowly bring myself off of this and replace it with these other things that are healthy, but you know, it's not just a, I'm going to stop doing this one thing that gives me this, brain fixation that I really get.

I'm going to have to have a plan and I'm going to replace it with something that, that does get me there in a different way. That's just, it's better for me. So that's definitely something.

Caitlin Beltran: That's a great way to break down that really global general example I gave because you're talking about 1, it's going to take time and two really fine tuning it to make sure you have, as close of a functionally equivalent replacement as you possibly can. I mean, that example is perfect, nobody's going to eat lettuce all the time. Although there was a really funny TikTok where the woman was trying to get summer body ready. And so she's eating lettuce and then sniffing the KitKat and then eating lettuce and then sniffing the KitKat. So I guess it could work. It's possible, but probably not.

Audra Jensen: Well, then your other question about, academics, we spend a lot of time teaching academics and, in today's world of, importance of, getting all this stuff in, we tend to neglect a lot of the needs of that social emotional that is so vital. And I think we neglect some of those skills that are important, just as important for our kids to have going on and living in the adult world.

And those social emotional tools are just as important as those academic tools. So imagine if a kid asking for help instead of melting down, and they're signaling that they're overwhelmed instead of hitting someone. I mean, that's just as much progress as two plus two equals four.

Caitlin Beltran: Absolutely, and I don't know how many times I've said as well when I have teachers who rightfully so are concerned that if we're, take having the student ask for more breaks and then allowing the breaks and then saying, oh, they're going to miss out on their academics. They're losing some instructional time.

And I think we've all given the classic example of are they going to get a job doing all of these great math and science and social studies skills if they cannot manage their emotions? And for sure, the answer is going to be no, if we haven't successfully taught them how to successfully self regulate and manage.

So some of the examples you gave, like requesting wants and needs, and that one is a big one to me because like you mentioned, oftentimes it's already in the learner's repertoire. And so it becomes well, I know they can do it. They're just not doing it in the moment. But that could be a separate skill, right?

Like learning to advocate for yourself when you're heightened just because you can do it. You can walk into class in the morning and say, I'm hungry. I want a granola bar. Doesn't mean that you can say, Hey, I really need a break when they're frustrated. So that's again, just fine tuning it and looking at that, like a global skill, as much as we break down learning letters, learning numbers, learning sounds, breaking the skill of requesting what they want or need down to all those different scenarios and allowing for positive practice.

So, again, going back to the example of we're teaching academics all day long, but are we carving out enough time to practice these kind of in between functional replacement

I've also talked to teachers and paras about looking at, are we looking at a skill deficit or a, what are the two words, skill deficit or, and there's another term because I'm old and don't remember things, Yeah, whether they want to or they He says, I

Audra Jensen: can't do or won't do. Thank you. But, because that's really important, whether they're engaging in a behavior cause they can't do something, or if they're engaging in behavior, cause they don't want to do something and it really is different. Cause you're going to go at it in different ways.

Caitlin Beltran: Yes. If they can't do it, you got to teach the skill. If they won't do it, you got to find that motivation. And sometimes it could be in the middle for sure. but other than requesting some examples I were thinking of, and you touched on requesting a break for learners who are frustrated, who want to escape demands or need breaks from demands or need breaks from overstimulating situations, requesting attention, like learning for someone to learn,

I want to talk to you or can I have a minute to talk to you? That one I think is huge with kids of all ages because if they run up to you and say hey I want to tell you about my weekend and you're like, okay Just wait a minute first we have to unpack and then comes a meltdown or a tantrum or something They have the skill they're already in the middle of telling you something but they might not learn to one know how to say can I talk to you or two tolerate that denied access and that one is huge too, whether it's hearing the word no or just hearing something that indicates no, not right now, but later.

Audra Jensen: And that's a really good skill of teaching for fronting or for front loading that attention, if you know, your student, you're going to know that's a student that needs that attention, that connection, how can I build that into their schedule? So they're really, you're filling up their bucket in certain ways so that you can get that attention.

So, you know, are you building in our, do they have special jobs? Do they come in right from the beginning from off the bus and you have, that 30 seconds undivided attention for them. Are you building that into this year? They're filling that bucket. So those are good. you can do that forefront stuff so you don't get those behaviors when they need that because they're already their buckets are full.

Caitlin Beltran: Absolutely. It's both. I think learning to wait can apply to so many different settings and depending on that function of that, the individual learners behavior serve for them. I've done so many examples where we use visuals. to indicate a little timer visual. I'll try to link this one too in the Facebook group.

It's just like a timer and it's broken down into like maybe four or six strips and we'll teach it like a skill. So for example, you have a protocol to teach numbers, right? Like you have your Q or SD, you have your target list. And that's the kind of thing that, I've been trying to get better at is carving out those protocols, putting it on the data sheets. if you have a learner who has a really hard time waiting, we can't just wait for those natural opportunities because most times in real life, it's going to be variable. So maybe they have to wait for the slide and they have to wait for Johnny to finish and it's going to take a minute and a half.

But if I'm systematically contriving that opportunity, I can start really small and reinforce appropriate waiting for 5 seconds. And I can say, hey, we're going outside time for the slide. Wait, and then show them the visual. Oh, my gosh. Nice job waiting. And now all of a sudden they had a very small opportunity to wait for a small amount of time, but they linked it to something positive and that stimulus repetition that stimulus queue of waiting became a positive and I'm going to slowly build that out.

Whereas, again, I'm just waiting for that natural opportunity. They might wait 1 day for 5 minutes. Maybe 1 day, they have to wait a whole day because it's raining and the slide is covered in water. But if I'm putting it on a skill protocol and on their data sheet, and I'm tracking it, I can shape that as slowly and systematically as I see fit. 

Audra Jensen: I think what you're doing here is really, really important. I think what we do as teachers, just your regular teachers, what we all do. With all of our skills, academic skills and everything, and breaking it down and planning it that way, you're using it in such a way that we do all the time, but not every teacher thinks to do it with skills like waiting, which I think we need to be better about using our teaching skills that we use for everything else in little things like waiting. We use the exact same skills that we use to teach math and stuff. I mean, it's the exact same thing. You're breaking down the skill and you're practicing it and you're giving positive practice and your positive opportunities and you're reinforcing it in the same way you teach any other skill that we do. Anything that a learner needs to learn can learn it in the same way that you learn anything else.

Caitlin Beltran: Absolutely, I think I shared this story where we had a learner who had such a hard time tolerating "no", and it would lead to an instant aggression, really unsafe behaviors. And we had to shape that so small. we would literally had to just desensitize the word now and we would hold his preferred reward.

It may be his iPad and say, okay, Have him ask and then we would say no and then immediately give it to him just so he could literally hear the word no and break that habit of not hearing no and engaging in a behavior. And then we literally went to, 1 second, but again, we tracked it like a skill. So we waited for him to have maybe whatever the criteria was 5 successful trials before we increase that time interval. It was really controlled. Do you have any other good replacement skill stories to share?


Audra Jensen: The same ones that you've, you've seen before. I mean, we have many, many incidents of, I had students who chucked pencils at my head because they didn't want to do the work. And so you teach them to say no, thank you, get rid of that skill. And I had another student who was overwhelmed by the amount of work that he was given.

So he had a red green token that he would flip over when he would get to the point where he started to feel overwhelmed. He needed to flip it over and get the red side up. And he'd be able to put the work away, put it on the, in the note that, I think it was a later bucket. So we were able to get rid of that behavior.

I wanted to think about different types of behaviors. And so I think of a sensory one. My son used to eat through the Xbox controllers because he had a sensory need of chewing. And so we gave him a replacement behavior of chewing gum. And eventually we got rid of that because he needed that sensory.

But, and that, that was a replacement behavior that was definitely more,it's more socially acceptable than eating the Xbox controllers. And so, yeah, you're just thinking about what type of replacement behavior is more socially acceptable and, gets them the same need that they're seeking. So those are the things that, those successes don't happen overnight. It's a process and nothing we give them, just like the diet, everything we do. It takes time. It takes, practice and it's an adjustment. It takes time.

Caitlin Beltran: I always think of when I heard you say like it takes time like the example of when the power goes out and you could have a big hurricane your power goes out for the first like hour I know I'm gonna flip my bedroom light switch like at least half a dozen times because it's just such muscle memory like it's habit like of course I remember we in Hurricane Sandy their power's out for a week day four I'm still hitting the light switch when I wake up, you know?

Um, but that's just so natural because I'm like, how many years later of waking up and hitting the light switch? I'm used to doing that. It's ingrained in me. So to expect our kids to learn a new skill and then do it the next day, especially one as powerful. more meaningful, more emotional, more heightened than an academic skill for them to immediately choose that more appropriate skill over what they've been used to doing their whole life is so unrealistic.

So thinking about it from that lens really helps me sometimes break it down into small, like the really small chunks that I need.

Audra Jensen: When you also think about some of the behaviors, especially the most challenging maladaptive behaviors, usually has gotten them what they wanted much quicker than what we have to teach them to now do it. And especially in a home environment and a big behavior is often going to get them what they want. So it's going to take some time to rewire those pathways. 

Caitlin Beltran: And I think for us, too, we have to rewire our expectations because it can be really hard to adjust our expectation of, a learner is upset doing a math worksheet and he asks for a break. And my 1st instinct is yeah, it's just 1 worksheet, finish the worksheet and then take a break. But if this is a learner with a history of, what, I'll show you how I can get a break and he throws the paper to the floor and he breaks the pencil.

Instantly, he's gotten his break. So how can I compete with that? Well, the only way is to grant him that break immediately. If he's telling me he needs that break, then immediately I'm granting that and I'm shaping that over time. that can be a hard thing to reframe with ourselves, because it's not how I want it to look right away.

But we know that our ultimate goal is for him to request a break and then be able to tolerate okay, in a minute. And then he'll have comfort because he knows it's coming.

Audra Jensen: Then you also have, an opportunity to teach your teachers that it's okay if you have learners who are just learning these skills, that they get access to things that maybe your other students don't get opportunities to get access to. So maybe you have an expectation that everybody has a certain expectation, but you have this one learner who's just learning something, and maybe he gets out of a certain task or something because he's learning a skill.

and we sometimes we have teachers, why does he get to do it? Because he's, learning this, he gets to say he doesn't want to do this and he gets to why does everybody else have to do this? he's learning the skill he's now I use the analogy we have our local community college is Clark College here, right?

I like to say I have a student who, he's not able to go to Harvard yet, so we're just going to go to Clark College right now, so we're going to aim for Clark College, eventually we'll get to Harvard, so our expectation is Clark College. And I don't mean literally Clark College, it's just our aim is right here, everybody else is here, we're going to aim for right here, and we're going to be okay with that.

And so sometimes we need to, to help our teachers understand that expectations can be different for the different students, and that's okay.

Caitlin Beltran: Yeah, I've seen some really cool examples of teachers teaching that as a skill, which I think can be a huge skill for, the peers and the whole class, because it's always gonna come up year after year with somebody. And I've seen such cool examples where they'll pretend to get a paper cut or something and then pass out Band Aids to the whole class.

I'm like, all right, put your Band Aid on, hurry up, you need a Band Aid, and the kids are sitting there do I?

Audra Jensen: I like that one.

Caitlin Beltran: What am I supposed to do with this Band Aid? And it's like, oh, right. You don't need it. I need it. I'm getting what I need. Everybody does not need the same thing. So something like really tangible for kids. Or here, put on your glasses. And the kids are like, wait, now I can't see right because I don't need glasses.

Audra Jensen: I like that.

Caitlin Beltran: So just something tangible for the little guys. So I feel like this week's gem, for me personally, I am really going to try to shift my thinking even more so into this path. Instead of thinking, how do I stop this behavior, start thinking, what skill can I teach the learner to get what they want in a more functionally appropriate way. So I know you had mentioned some of the awesome motivational tools that we can help them along the way. 

Audra Jensen: Right. I mean, those sticker charts, token systems, they're great motivators. That's just half the battle. we want to teach whether it's attention or escaping something. We want those are great, strategies. We want them to, we want everything we teaching. If we don't teach them that replacement skill, all those old behaviors are going to come back and they're going to come back with a vengeance.

So we got to teach them the replacement skills that will get them what they were seeking, but in a more associate, socially appropriate way.

Caitlin Beltran: Yeah, or they just morph into a new behavior and then we're back to the whack a mole game, which nobody wants to play. so I do have a resource, just like a one page handout with some resources. So I'm gonna link that in the Facebook group files this week. Again, that's Misfit Behaviorists on the Facebook, or you can find us on Instagram, Misfit Behaviorists Podcast.

And then just remember to follow us on Apple Podcasts or subscribe on YouTube or wherever you are listening. Just show us some love and we appreciate it so much. 

Audra Jensen: Right. And next week I'm going to be sharing a few of my favorite ways to put together a skills binder. so different options for different kids and settings. So more of like skill development and IEP goals. And so we will see you next time.

Caitlin Beltran: Thanks. See ya. 

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