How can we help the person to learn valued skills?

Does the person know what the right thing is?

Individuals who exhibit challenging behaviors may do so because they
don't know how to do something that most people do know how to do (it is difficult to "behave" when you don't know what "behaving" looks like.

Many people are subjected to "readiness" programs to get them "ready" for the "real world."  These programs are based on the failed assumption that you must perform "each component of the activity correctly" before you can perform (and enjoy) the activity in the community.   Learning skills in one environment does not guarantee that you will remember how to use that skill in a new environment (this is a problem for many people with intellectual disabilities).  It makes little  sense to teach someone skills that won't remember in a future environment.  And because many people take more time than usual to learn
some skills (not all), it makes little sense to teach them "dumb stuff."  A fundamental point is that the skill should help the person to achieve a better life.  If the skill can be taught but it does not enhance the person's lifestyle, it should be abandoned.

A very sound strategy for reducing challenging behaviors is to give people opportunities to learn skills that enhance their participation in community life.  Skills taught in isolation of their natural context are often meaningless.  Start by asking the person and other supporters, "What would make for a good day?"  Next, ask yourself, in the context of this day, what skills does the person need to be successful and happy?  Don't wait until the person has mastered the skills , provide whatever support he needs to be successful first.  With your help and encouragement, the person will undoubtedly learn a great deal.   Take a look at the things a person is being taught now.  Ask, "Does this make for a better life?"  If it doesn't, find out what a meaningful life is for the person and revise your teaching goals to reflect this life.   

A significant number of people who exhibit challenging behaviors lack the communication skills to express their needs in ways that most of us understand.  Some individuals may communicate their needs by exhibiting problem behaviors.  For example, it is thought that self-injurious behavior may help some individuals to request relief from unpleasant activities.  The self-injury of these individuals may be functionally equivalent to saying, "I need to take a break."  Knowing this, it should be possible to teach appropriate ways to communicate the need for breaks.  The important point is that if the individual does not have a positive way to meet his\her needs, he/she may choose ways that are hurtful, even self-destructive.

Ask, "What skills would enhance this person's chances for success and personal happiness?  What "messages" might his challenging behaviors be conveying?  Are we teaching worthwhile skills?"   

Question #7:
How can we better support the person's supporters?

7 Questions First Page

© David Pitonyak, Ph.D.