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3 tips to reduce Escape-maintained Behaviors

Following last week's blog on Escape-maintained Behaviors, here are the actual strategies you can use to reduce them.

As a refresher, an escape-maintained behavior is used to get away from (escape) something we don't want or don't like. The behavior is reinforced and most likely to re-occur when it succeeds to get us to avoid what we wanted to escape. For example, it can be putting your seatbelt on to stop the beeping noise in the car or pretending your computer camera doesn't work to avoid being on video in an online meeting or screaming to leave the shopping centre.

Here is the link to last week's blog post.

How do you reduce or stop escape-maintained behaviors?

The first step in addressing behaviors of concern is to determine the function (check out the blog post Function Comes First to learn more). In this case, the function of the behavior is escape (or avoid).

Here are three (3) key positive behavior support strategies to reduce or stop escape maintained behaviors:

  • Prepare your child

  • Functional Communication Training

  • Tolerance Training

Five young boys examining a topographic map

Prepare your child for what will be occurring

  1. Visuals & Social Stories

  2. Advance notices

    1. Use timers

    2. Use the "1 more minute" warning and a 5 second countdown

  3. Offer choices and give them some element of control

  4. Predictable routines

Functional Communication Training (FCT)

 This involves teaching your child how to appropriately avoid the demand.

This a behavior intervention approach that focuses on teaching individuals alternative and appropriate ways to communicate their needs and desires, ultimately reducing problem behaviors like escape-maintained behaviors. Here's how you can implement Functional Communication Training with your child:

  • Teach alternative communication skills using words, gestures, visuals or a communication device.

  • As soon as you see pre-cursor behaviors, prompt your child to refuse or express that they don't want to do something.

  • Immediately reinforce the child's communication by removing the demand or expectation.

    • This will teach your child that communicating what they don't want will work better than displaying an inappropriate behavior.

  • Praise your child's use of positive and appropriate communication immediately after it happened.

  • Practice this skill by setting up situations and removing the demand once your child has communicated appropriately. Practicing in a calm and controlled environment supports successful learning opportunities that your child can then generalize.

  • Keep the communication simple. It doesn't need to be fully formed sentence like: "No dad, I do not like to eat broccoli with my soup". Rather, it could be: "No thanks"

  • Initially, you can accept any form of refusal that is better than the inappropriate behavior. Over time, you can use a technique called "shaping" to slowly change the expectation and prompt your child to use more polite and appropriate phrases.

In the beginning, it's important to remove the demand as often as possible so that your child is more often reinforced for appropriate refusal as opposed to negative behavior. This is why it is important to set up situations where you know you can remove the demand (e.g. telling your child to pack away). I know that there are times when you can't remove the undesired event or situation even though your child has requested it appropriately. This is where you will need to work on tolerance training and other skills such as following instructions, turn taking and other cooperation skills. This is all part of a good positive behavior support plan. If you need additional support, it's important to find a practitioner who can individualize support and strategies for your child and your family.

The success of Functional Communication Training depends a lot on the consistency of practice, patience and the timely use of meaningful reinforcers.

Women teaching sign language to a young hearing impaired child and his mom

Tolerance Training

This involves teaching your child to cope with difficult situations, follow less-preferred instructions and tolerate non-preferred tasks. Tolerance training exposes your child to something that might usually trigger escape-maintained behaviors. Over time, the goal is to increase the individual's tolerance to the trigger and reduce inappropriate responses.

  1. Identify triggering situations that lead to escape-maintained behaviors. Understand what might cause discomfort or distress for your child.

  2. Determine strategies that your child could use to help them cope with difficult situations (this might include specific sensory tools, self-talk phrases, going for a run, progressive body relaxation etc.)

  3. Gradually expose your child to the triggering situation in a systemic way. Start with a trigger that causes low escape-maintained behaviors and slowly increase the high-intensity triggers as tolerance builds up. This can be done by breaking down complex tasks into tiny and manageable steps.

  4. Reinforce appropriate behaviors along the way. Support your child by assisting and guiding them through challenging triggers. It is important to praise your child immediately after a positive behavior is used to increase the probability of occurrence in the future.

  5. Capture data - track your child's progress by taking data on the frequency of appropriate behaviors used to respond to triggers and also the frequency and intensity of escape-maintained behaviors to various triggers.

Tolerance training takes time and progress is gradual. When practicing tolerance training, make sure you have the energy and patience to systematically implement the training, take data and remain calm and patient throughout the session. By training often, you will help your child develop alternative coping mechanism and reduce their use of escape-maintained behaviors.

Just like it was mentioned last week, it is important to understand neurodiverse children have unique needs, preferences and strengths. Being conscious of sensory sensitivities and having a way to clearly communicate will help preventing undesirable situations for both you and your child. Pre-teaching before situations happen in a calm and controlled environment will go a long way.

If your child exhibits escape-maintained behaviors and you would like to discuss strategies with our Board Certified Behavior Analyst, book your Complimentary Call today!

If you haven't listen to it already, we highly recommend the fun, accessible and informative podcast "ABA Inside Track" addressing this exact topic:  ABA Inside Track - Episode 261 - Strategies for Addressing Escape-Maintained Behavior


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