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Brief Description of PBS Related to Autism Spectrum Disorder

The links below are intended to help you navigate among the pages related to Autism Spectrum Disorder. The references or source material associated with the references on this website do not necessarily reflect the views or policies of the Association for Positive Behavior Support (APBS) nor does mention of trade names, commercial products, or organizations imply endorsement by APBS.

According to the Autism Society of America:

"Autism is a complex developmental disability that typically appears during the first three years of life and is the result of a neurological disorder that affects the normal functioning of the brain, impacting development in the areas of social interaction and communication skills. Both children and adults with autism typically show difficulties in verbal and non-verbal communication, social interactions, and leisure or play activities. One should keep in mind however, that autism is a spectrum disorder and it affects each individual differently and at varying degrees - this is why early diagnosis is so crucial. By learning the signs, a child can begin benefiting from one of the many specialized intervention programs."

Click here for more information about Autism Spectrum Disorder

Positive behavior support (PBS) is a set of processes that can be used to support children and adults with autism who engage in problem behaviors. Problem behaviors often serve a purpose for a child or adult. In many cases, children and adults with autism have difficulty communicating their wants and needs. Engaging in a problem behavior is a signal to a family member or others that the individual may be trying to communicate something important. For instance, a child may engage in problem behavior to escape from noisy or unpleasant settings. This child will engage in self-injury by banging her head against nearby lockers every time she enters a busy school hallway when classes are in transition. The teacher or paraprofessional working with the child quickly tries to block the self-injury during these situations and pulls the child into a quiet classroom until the hallway transition period is over. Over time, this child may learn that engaging in self injury is an effective way to escape from noisy hallway transitions. In the future, the child may be more likely to engage in self-injury again in order to escape from this unpleasant experience. Over time, the child also may learn that she can escape many other situations and settings that are unpleasant by engaging in self injury if the outcome is the same. Children or adults who have trouble communicating may engage in problem behavior in order to get attention from a peer or caretaker, to obtain a preferred item or activity, or to escape or avoid people, places or situations. In some cases, problem behaviors are maintained to obtain or escape from internal physiological events. For more information about how problem behaviors are influenced by biological events, see the PBS Information page on physical and mental health and PBS. The key to an effective PBS plan is to identify the function of a problem behavior and to teach new skills that help replace problem behavior with a new and socially appropriate communication or social skill. In addition, PBS plans involve changing routines, situations, and settings so that the events that trigger problem behavior are removed.

Functional Behavioral Assessment (FBA)

An important part of the PBS process is to learn more about the function a problem behavior serves for a child or adult. The FBA process involves gathering information about what is maintaining a child or adult's problem behavior. Individuals engage in a behavior because it is functional; it helps them acquire some form of reinforcement (e.g., they get something desirable or pleasant, or they avoid something undesirable or unpleasant). A person may engage in problem behavior because circumstances in the external environment (i.e., antecedents) trigger or ‘set the stage’ for problem behavior to occur. FBA is a process for identifying the events that reliably trigger and maintain problem behavior.

Individualized Multi-component Interventions

The team that forms to support a child or adult in order to create a PBS plan should represent all of the situations and settings that are part of the person's life. Information gathered from a functional behavioral assessment helps this team develop and implement behavioral intervention plans that are positive, proactive, educative, and functional. PBS plans include a number of interventions that can be implemented across situations and settings. These interventions include: 1) proactive strategies for changing the environment so triggering events are removed, 2) teaching new skills that replace problem behaviors, 3) eliminating or minimizing natural reinforcement for problem behavior, and 4) maximizing clear reinforcement for appropriate behavior. A hallmark of PBS planning is emphasis on improving overall lifestyle quality (relationships, activities, health) as an integrated part of behavior support.

Lifestyle Enhancement

PBS focuses not only on reducing behavior problems, but on enhancing a person's overall quality of life. Outcomes include lifestyle improvements such as participation in community life, gaining and maintaining satisfying relationships, expressing personal preferences and making choices, and developing personal competencies. Such improvements in quality of life are facilitated by establishing a positive long-range vision with the individual and his/her family (e.g., through person-centered planning) and establishing natural supports through effective teamwork. Person-centered planning or wraparound strategies are used to launch PBS planning. Both person-centered planning and wraparound involve planning meetings that place the individual and his or her family in the lead role of defining the individual child or adult's strengths and preferred quality of life. Goals and objectives are identified and evaluated over time to ensure that progress is being made in reaching a higher quality of life and that the services provided to the child and his or her family are effective.

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