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My Approach

An Emphasis on Prevention and A Great Life

Behaviour support plans are predominantly proactive.  They are concerned with what to do when the problem behaviour is not happening.  The focus is on improving living environments, building on strengths, teaching skills, improving health, fostering friendships, increasing opportunities for exercising control, and other things we can do to promote physical, psychological, and social well-being and happiness.  

This is in sharp contrast to the past emphasis and reliance on manipulating consequences (e.g., through extinction procedures, and aversive consequences) (Carr et al., 2002*).  Within positive behaviour support when strategies involving the use of consequences are used they utilise powerful incentives to act as reinforcers for positive behaviours.  The design of these strategies is based upon the sophisticated and constantly developing knowledge base of applied behaviour analysis.  

All of this is not to say that there is no place in positive behaviour support for reactive strategies.  However, these are planned with the sole purpose of preventing or managing a behavioural crisis, not to produce long-term behaviour change.

*Carr E.G., Dunlap, G., Horner, R.H. and Koegel, R.L. , Turnbull, A.P., Sailor,W., Anderson,J., Albin, R.W., Koegel, L.K., and Fox, L. (2002) Positive behavior support: Evolution of an applied science  Journal of Positive Behavior Interventions, 4, 4

A Focus on Strengths    

A person’s skills, interests, talents and positive qualities provide a foundation for the creation of new possibilities.

Recognising strengths can counteract the damaging effects of allowing a person’s weaknesses and problem behaviours to overshadow their positive attributes. Unfortunately, failure, frustration, and a lack of self-confidence and poor self-esteem usually result from getting too caught up in a person’s  deficits or problem behaviours.

Once we recognise people's strengths we develop positive expectations about their ability to learn and make valued contributions. Positive expectations, in turn, lead to the provision of opportunities to take part and learn.

As a result the person becomes positively and meaningfully engaged and grows.

Temple Grandin (1995), an American woman with autism, eloquently wrote about how strengths can become the springboard for new learning and meaningful and valued pursuits:

“Many children with autism become fixated on various subjects. Some teachers make the mistake of trying to stamp out the fixation. Instead, they should broaden it and channel it into constructive activities. For example, if a child becomes infatuated with boats, then use boats to motivate him to read and do math. Read books about boats and do arithmetic problems on calculating boat speed. Fixations provide great motivation. Leo Kanner stated that the path to success for some people with autism was to channel their fixation into a career. One of his most successful patients became a bank teller. He was raised by a farm family who found goals for his number fixation. To motivate him to work in the fields, they let him count the rows of corn while the corn was being harvested (Grandin, 1995).”

 “Today, many people with autism become fascinated with computers and become very good at programming. An interest in computers can provide social contacts with other computer people. The Internet is wonderful for such people. Problems that autistic people have with eye contact and awkward gestures are not visible on the Internet, and typewritten messages avoid many of the social problems of face-to-face contact (Grandin, 1995).”

Click here to download a short Tip Sheet on how to Focus on Strengths.

What Works?

Our perspective can be coloured by the distress of our day-to-day experiences.  Facing negative experiences frequently can lead us to think in a black-and-white way.  But the reality is that there is usually lots of grey.  

Sometimes she does cooperate, even if not for very long.  Sometimes he does help - even if extremely rarely. There are times when he seems happy.

What’s different about these occasions?

Is it something about who’s around, the physical environment, the activities on offer, the time of day, week, or year?  Could it be how we have been getting on,  how many people are around, the way we try to communicate with the person?  Or is it something else like having a structure to the day, and predictability and control over what happens?

Such a search can lead to some useful hunches we can put to the test.  What happens when we magnify the things that seem to be working?

It is helpful to look for what creates enjoyment, satisfaction, success and ‘aliveness’.  In an unpublished hand-book, Dr Joe Patterson wrote that in good person-centred planning the participants usually end up saying things like: “Why don’t we just do more of what works?!”, “Boy, if he could do more of that he’d be heaps happier”, “What do we expect if all she gets are the things she doesn’t like?”  People will realise things such as: “We will never be able to support her properly as long as she has to live in this place. It’s everything she hates.”