Behavior Modification for Children with Disabilities

Subject: Psychology
Type: Synthesis Essay
Pages: 5
Word count: 1330
Topics: Childhood, Adolescence

Behavioral modification for children could be defined as tailored treatment methods that are aimed at substituting unwanted children behaviors with desirable ones. To achieve this kind of treatment, principles of operant conditioning are implemented together with additional reinforcement, which could vary positively or negatively depending on the kind of behavior that is being dealt with. As with the reference materials used in the study, experts believe that behavioral modification for children with disabilities yields positive results. Behavioral modification reshapes the child’s behavior by rewarding on things done right. In reverse, through behavioral modification, unacceptable behavior is discouraged with criticism, withdrawal of privileges and placement of stringent measures to ensure improvement. All the three texts discussed herein aim at showing that behavioral modification is possible when used correctly for children and adolescents with disabilities.

Luiselli, Kane, Treml and Young’s text investigated behavioral interventions to moderate physical restraint among adolescents with development disabilities (2000). With the findings tabled, they argue that other methods apart from restraint should be used to achieve behavioral modification. Though clinically, approved, use of restraint should, therefore, be reviewed and mitigated in favor of more humane methods. To aid bring out their purpose of study, Luiselli, Kane, Treml & Young have used two adolescents with developmental disabilities and aggressive behaviors as their treatment models (2000). Glenn, the first adolescent was 16 years while his counterpart Paul was 14 years. Both had pervasive development disorder (Luiselli, Kane, Treml & Young, 2000). Before implementation of treatment methodology, background information was done on both adolescents to determine their environment, learning preferences and cognitive abilities. In working with Paul and Glen, their recreational, leisure, daily living, and community skills were targeted as areas of focus, with an aim to make improvements (Luiselli, Kane, Treml & Young, 2000). It was noted that Paul and Glen both had aggressive behaviors and they had to be physically restrained, depending on the frequency of their aggressive moments that included acts of biting, scratching, kicking, hair pulling and hitting. Other than the use of restraint to contain Paul and Glen, two different methodologies were used; intervention I at 6 months and intervention II at 15 months (Luiselli, Kane, Treml & Young, 2000). These were done after a baseline period in which only physical restraint had been practiced. The two methods advocated for lesser use of physical restraint unless completely necessary, where baseline methodology would then be applied. Intervention I and II methods were used in different proportions for Glen and Paul because they displayed different degrees of aggressiveness. With the provided graphs, results indicate that with gradual implementation of intervention I and II, the need for physical restraint reduced to an average of 1.1 per month for Glen and 2.4 for Paul. The reduction of physical restraint occurred after an initial surge in its need in implementation of intervention I in the first few weeks but subsided progressively thereafter (Luiselli, Kane, Treml & Young, 2000). A downside on this study is that behavioral assessments of controlling variables for aggression were not considered before onset of the alternative aggression control methods. Intervention II phase was also introduced simultaneously for both Glen and Paul, which might have affected the intended outcome. Collectively, Luiselli, Kane, Treml and Young’s findings indicate that physical restraint is not the only way to mitigate aggressiveness in disabled children (2000). A careful analysis of their behavior and introduction of alternative methods such as intervention I and II as used in the study prove useful. 

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Durand and Christodulu’s did a study on a sleep restriction program to ease bedtime disturbance and night waking. The study depicts a behavioral intervention scheme aimed at correcting undesirable behavior in children. The purpose of their text is to show how sleep problems can be rectified without necessarily disrupting sleeping time. Sara and Mellisa, 4-year-old girls living with autism and development delay respectively were used in the study to show how possible it was to lessen their bedtime and nighttime sleeping issues (Durand & Christodulu, 2004). In doing so, they were referred to the Albany Center for Autism and Related Disabilities. After an analysis of prior sleeping patterns for these two children, sleep restriction was imposed, where their sleep time was cut down by 10%. The children’s diary was used to record the hours slept, after which new schedules were drafted to reflect the desired sleeping pattern. The new patterns came with sleeping challenges which were combated by taking then children out of bed and engaging them in activities till sleep was induced. With the successful elimination of sleep disorder, bedtime was consequently increased by a quarter of an hour till consistent bedtime routines were formed (Durand & Christodulu, 2004). These routines were to be incorporated into methods to manage bedtime disturbances and nighttime awakening. Sara’s baseline melatonin dose assisted in eliminating her problems. Sleep restriction program obliterated the need for this dosage, with reduced disturbance, night walking, sleepwalking and terrors. In Melissa’s case, sleep restriction program also impacted her positively, reducing her initial disturbances from 7 incidences in a week to an average of 0.25 (Durand & Christodulu, 2004). Durand and Christodulu’s sleep restriction methods have proven advantageous in avoiding long periods of crying for children, and no increased behavioral problems.

The third study conducted by Didden, Seys, and Schouwink was based on a one-and-a-half-year-old child with development disability (1999). The purpose of the study was to investigate how chronic food refusal could be rectified for disabled children through imposed behavioral change. The study refutes previous methods of dealing with food refusals, such as forced feeding, differential and contingent reinforcement of food acceptance and time out from reinforcement. Didden, Seys & Schouwink acknowledge the use of a treatment package in dealing with food refusal (1999). This treatment package consists of escape-avoidance extinction, shaping techniques, and positive reinforcement. Behavioral modification in managing chronic food refusal has to work, though it has not been implemented on toddlers, as is with this study. Ingrid, the subject of study had been feeding through a gastrostomic tube. Baseline process required feeding Ingrid within her usual manners. Thereafter, her treatment sessions comprised of six phases; A to E. Throughout the proposed treatment package, she was rewarded by praises, while disruptive behaviors including crying and turning away her head were ignored. The results as shown by presented graphs show an improved willingness to eat, as Ingrid now accepted types of food that she initially was unable to take in. with prolonged administration of treatment package, food acceptance improved and did not go below 85% (Didden, Seys & Schouwink, 1999). In this study, however, we cannot measure the extent of each of the three components in treating chronic food refusal, since they are generalized. One component, be it extinction of negatively reinforced food refusal, positive reinforcement of food acceptance or shaping could be insignificant to the whole treatment package, as opposed to what we are led to believe. It is however undeniable that behavioral modification works in treating chronic food refusal, as Ingrid’s traditional patterns were manipulated and altered towards a positive direction of food acceptance, irrespective of disorder experienced before.

In conclusion, for all the results revealed from the three studies, it is evident that progressive implementation of an elaborate behavior management plan helps children and adolescents with disabilities recover significantly. The techniques used vary in magnitude and application, and therefore help underline the fact that there exist many methods to rectify abnormalities, as long as the behavioral change is incorporated in the technique in use. Parents or those constantly in contact with children with disabilities are encouraged to manage their children’s behavior. Parents, if equipped with behavioral management skills can provide assistance. They can offer the most effective avenues of behavioral change in children, especially if they have disabilities. Psychological techniques of behavioral change should be used in conjunction with medical techniques to realize an ethical, philosophical and legal balance in handling behavioral modification for children with disabilities. 

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  1. Didden, R., Seys, D., & Schouwink, D. (1999). Treatment of chronic food refusal in a young developmentally disabled child. Behavioral Interventions, 14(4), 213-222.<213::aid-bin36>;2-3
  2. Durand, V., & Christodulu, K. (2004). Description of a Sleep-Restriction Program to Reduce Bedtime Disturbances and Night Waking. Journal Of Positive Behavior Interventions, 6(2), 83-91.
  3. Luiselli, J., Kane, A., Treml, T., & Young, N. (2000). Behavioral intervention to reduce physical restraint of adolescents with developmental disabilities. Behavioral Interventions, 15(4), 317-330.<317::aid-bin64>;2-5
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