Raising a child who’s been diagnosed with an autism spectrum disorder can be challenging for the whole family. Because every child is different, there is no one plan that will help every child function at home, school or other settings.
For that reason, many families choose to work with a board certified behavior analyst to develop strategies for dealing with the difficult and often frustrating behaviors that are the hallmarks of a child on the spectrum. Diet and, in some cases, medication can help reduce some aspects of autism, but a plan for dealing with behavior is often a requirement. Understanding the triggers for certain behaviors, outlining clear behavioral expectations and consequences, and finding ways to replace negative behaviors with positive ones can help everyone in the family live with the diagnosis.
What Is a Home Behavioral Plan?
In most cases, when a child is diagnosed with an autism spectrum disorder, he or she works with a care team composed of educational and medical professionals, therapists, family members and others who provide care and services to the child. Together, these professionals work together to develop a plan for managing the care of the child, including special education services and a behavioral plan.
The behavioral plan is based on the findings of a behavioral assessment and is designed to target specific behaviors. The plan identifies behaviors and outlines strategies for managing the behaviors, in most cases using a reward system to encourage the child to meet the behavioral expectations. For example, the plan might specify that the child will get dressed in the morning on her own and how she will go about choosing an outfit. When she successfully completes the task without intervention, the plan specifies the reward, or the consequences for not completing the task.
In most cases, the home behavioral plan mimics the plan developed for school (also known as the Individual Education Plan or IEP). According to federal law, all behavioral plans must meet certain requirements to ensure that autistic children receive special education services throughout high school. State teacher-education programs, such as those leading to PA teaching certification, train educators how work with parents to develop a home plan and create a cohesive, consistent environment for the child.
Traits of Successful Plans
The most successful home behavioral plans are specific and focus on rewards rather than punishment. They also need to be goal-oriented; for example, the plan may be one part of the larger goal of teaching the child to work independently. The plan does not set unrealistic goals but is instead designed to encourage incremental changes in behavior that will help the child develop a sense of accomplishment and encourage lasting change.
A behavioral management plan should outline specific rewards to encourage the desired behavior, allowing the child to be an active participant and learn to make good choices. The rewards should also be immediate. Most children do not understand or appreciate the concept of waiting several days or weeks to meet a goal, so provide rewards for smaller victories on a regular basis, within the guidelines of the plan.
The best plans are also consistent, and that’s why it’s important to involve school and medical personnel as well as family in the development of the plan. Teachers and parents work together, for example, to help an autistic child manage schoolwork in both the classroom and at home, creating a consistent and seamless transition between the two environments to ensure success.
Creating an effective home behavioral plan for an autistic child is an ongoing process and must be revisited on a regular basis to determine why negative behaviors occur and to make changes when incentives aren’t working. However, an effective plan can reduce frustration for both the child and her family and ensure that she lives a productive and normal life with autism.