This is the third and last blog in our series on how to deal with challenging behaviour. In this post I will discuss antecedent-based interventions. In my previous post of this series I discussed differential reinforcement strategies. You can read the second post of this series by clicking here.
Antecedent-based strategies are used to reduce the likelihood of a challenging behaviour occurring. These differ to consequence-based strategies, which focus on the response to challenging behaviours. For example, if a child throws their book during maths class, an antecedent-based strategy would schedule regular breaks during this class. Conversely, a consequence-based strategy may use reinforcement to praise a child for remaining in the class calmly. Antecedent based strategies include environmental adaptations, providing choices, taking learning preferences into account, adapting how instructions are given and enriching the environment. These attempt to make the environment and situations more positive and enjoyable, thus reducing the likelihood of challenging behaviour occurring. Therefore, the aim of these interventions is to identify the function of the challenging behaviour and then change the environmental or activitiy so that this no longer elicits the challenging behaviour.
Altering the environment
This strategy is helpful in reducing sensory overload and can be effective when you know certain tasks or times of day are particularly problematic. For example, reducing noise, removing distracting items, use of transitional objects during transitions or providing activities during waiting times. This also includes the use of activity schedules or altering communication to make it easier to understand and reduce experiences of stress or frustration.
The Premack Principle (First-Then)
The Premack Principle consists of scheduling a non-preferred activity just prior to a preferred activity, to increase the likelihood that the person will engage in the first activity. For example, scheduling homework prior to tv/ipad/mobile phone access. This can also be used to increase engagement in smaller tasks or to explain a schedule of activities; for example ‘first put on your coat, then get on the bus’.
Non-contingent reinforcement may consist of non-contingent attention or non-contingent access to items. Simply put, this refers to providing items or social reinforcement without seeking a specific behaviour to precede it. For example, instead of providing breaks when a certain task is completed, one might schedule several breaks throughout the task. This is to reduce the likelihood that any frustration will occur and thus reduce the likelihood of challenging behaviour occurring in order to escape the difficult situation. Similarly, one might ensure to provide regular positive feedback throughout a task, rather than waiting until task completion. Again, this works by reducing the need for engaging in challenging behaviour to get this need met, and furthermore, increases motivation to continue the task. Using this strategy, one might also incorporate the person’s interests into activities or tasks. For example, using Peppa pig notebooks or Spiderman pencils.
Providing choices prior to and/or during activities. This may include choice of where to sit, which task to complete first, or choice of which materials to use.
In summary, the function of a challenging behaviour will allow you to determine which strategy to use. For example, if the function is attention then non-contingent attention is likely to be useful. Likewise, if the function is to access tangibles then non-contingent access to these items may be a useful starting point. The use of first-then strategies might be useful if the function is escape; while activity scheduling or environmental adaptations might work best if the function is sensory. Remember, starting with a functional assessment is always key!