Dr Paul Holland

We are really pleased to introduce Dr Paul Holland as this month’s expert guest blogger, Paul is a Positive Behaviour Support (PBS) Consultant who has been working in the field of ASD/ASC (Autism Spectrum Disorder/Autism Spectrum Condition) and Learning Disability for over 20 years. A Chartered Psychologist, Chartered Scientist and Consultant Behaviour Analyst Paul is passionate about improving the lives of individuals with learning disabilities. In this blog Paul provides advice to parents and carers on ways to encourage positive behaviour in children who are disabled and vulnerable. Over to Paul…

As a Positive Behaviour Support (PBS) Consultant it is my primary goal to determine why individuals are possibly engaging in behaviours that we can find challenging; and then to provide them with alternatives so that they do not feel the need to engage in those behaviours in the first place. It is our job as professionals and parents to teach alternative and more appropriate ways of achieving the same outcome for those that we support and love.

Reasons why

Our children and loved ones don’t engage in behaviours that are challenging because they are ‘naughty’ or ‘bad; but rather because these behaviours work for them and because often there are no alternatives available to them. An example of this is to think about attention as a function of behaviour or to put this in other words; think about those individuals that engage in certain behaviours so as to receive attention. People that display certain behaviours in order to receive attention do so for a variety of reasons:

  • It is easier than asking for attention;
  • They cannot ask for attention;
  • We may not be providing them with enough attention when they’re behaving appropriately.

In this last example we need to regularly provide attention to those we love and support when they are engaging in appropriate behaviours and to ensure that they have access to a suitable and usable communication system. This may be speech – Makaton, PECS or many other alternatives. The point to focus on is that we need to first understand why someone is engaging in behaviours that may be considered as challenging and then to provide suitable and appropriate alternatives for our loved ones to achieve the same outcome.

Another example is a child that regularly lashes out when given difficult sums to work on at school. As such when he lashes out he is removed from the class. If he was finding these sums difficult perhaps he lashed out to be removed from the room so that he did not have to do the task at hand, in other words to escape the situation. So again, we need to first identify that the sums are difficult for this young child and then to act accordingly. That is, to simplify the task, provide additional support or work on a task more suited to the individual. That way the young child will be successful and not feel the need to lash out so as to escape a situation that he finds frustrating and difficult.

Similarly, if a child finds school particularly stressful they may engage in certain behaviours to avoid attending. For example, pretending to be unwell.  Again when considering children and adolescents on the Autism spectrum it is vital that we identify ways to reduce the need for avoidance rather that forcing certain behaviour and ignoring these communications.

Alternative ways to reach the same outcome

Many children with a diagnosis of ASD have issues with sensory processing, as a result many children with ASD engage in what professionals call ‘stereotypy’ (the persistent repetition of an act) or as we probably know them ‘stims’. These are particular movements and strategies that are undertaken in an attempt to have sensory needs met. Consider a child who is hyposensitive to light…they may flap their hands in front of their eyes so as to increase visual stimulation. On the other hand, a child that is hypersensitive to sound may cover their ears to reduce the impact that sound has. Again these behaviours are not abnormal or ‘bad’ but rather serve a very important purpose. If such behaviours are problematic, then it is our responsibility to ascertain what the sensory issue is and to provide an alternative. Occupational Therapists trained in Sensory Integration can help in this area.

Individuals with ASD may engage in behaviours that might be perceived as challenging in order to achieve something, for example: food, toys, drinks. This is because, often, it is easier to get items this way rather than using communication. Sometimes they have learnt that certain behaviours lead to the granting of these preferred items. We have all been guilty of giving sweets or preferred toys to our children when they are crying so as to reduce the noise and stop the crying!

So these are the 5 functions of behaviour: attention; escape; avoidance; sensory stimulation and to get preferred items.

Remember it is our responsibility to determine why children are engaging in behaviours that we may find challenging and then to adapt the environment or provide alternatives so that they do not feel the need to engage in these behaviours in the first place.

For more information:

Dr Paul Holland CPsychol CSci AFBPsS
Consultant Behaviour Analyst, Chartered Psychologist, Chartered Scientist
Consultant | Coach | Trainer
(+44) 07710 621 852


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