Behaviour support? Forget punishment

Anthony Warren

Psychologist Anthony Warren.

Punishment doesn’t work for any child – especially for children who have Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), or a learning disability.

But positive behaviour support does work, and Anthony Warren is a psychologist and ASD professional who speaks from vast experience.

He’s devoted much of his career to supporting children, their parents, and schools, has held various roles at Autism Spectrum Australia including Director Children, Young People and Families, and now works in private practice.

“Positive behaviour support is an evidence-based proactive way for a child’s support team including parents, to think about, to understand, and to manage behaviour,” he said.

“Take the example of a nine year old who has ASD and a learning disability. By observing what happens before we might get an idea about what triggers the screaming, biting, and running away behaviours,” said Mr Warren.

If the purpose of the child’s behaviour is to get away from noise, or an overwhelming task (or both), he said, then we can consider eliminating the noise, teaching communication skills such as requesting help, or changing the environment.

Mr Warren said we also need to understand what happens after the behaviours such as how students, teachers and others react.

“This is an important step because we want to avoid rewarding (unintentionally) behaviours we aim to reduce or stop,” he said.

Once we understand these, we can plan changes, including the child’s communication skills, to prevent the need for the behaviour and teach replacement behaviours that may be as simple as asking the child to put a hand up and say: “Help, please”.

He said punishment is a reactive strategy and doesn’t work because it fails to teach practical communication skills.

Mr Warren said two of the fundamental issues we’ve overlooked in people with ASD continued to be their social, and their emotional development.

“A good start would be to teach awareness of positive emotions, by providing joyful experiences along with the language and emotional awareness that ought to accompany these,” he explained.

 

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