Many parents have behaviors they wish they could change in their children. And while we try to celebrate our children for exactly who they are, there may be times when behaviors are negatively impacting your child’s life and it is time to look for more options.
Understanding the Behavior
Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) is the practice of understanding behaviors in detail and clearly identifying the target behavior we want to change. Once we have identified the behavior, then we seek to understand the function of that behavior. Most of the time, children display behaviors for a reason and behaviors can meet a variety of needs. For example, a student might not like a teacher or the peer they are sitting next to in the class. So they might be disruptive in order to get out of the class to escape. Or it might be reading time and the student has dyslexia and they hate reading. So they act out whenever reading time comes up in order to avoid the embarrassment of their reading struggles. Understanding the reasons for the behavior and the function the behavior serves is crucial to designing behavioral interventions.
A Unique Approach to Rewards and Motivation
Using ABA with teenagers can be more complex than with younger children, as they have been practicing negative behaviors longer than a young child, so those behaviors tend to be more ingrained. For teens, it is important to use a very targeted and individualized approach. Part of using ABA with this age group is that when we choose a reward, that reward needs to be motivating to the teen. A piece of candy to complete a task may be motivating to a six-year-old, but a sixteen-year-old will need something different.
At Seven Stars we use a token economy system. As students go through their day, they have a structured schedule and there are clear expectations for what our students should be doing throughout the day. When the student is on task and doing what they are supposed to do, like showing prosocial healthy behaviors, staff will give them tickets. Students can use those tickets to buy their own rewards of their choosing. Every Friday, they can use their tickets to buy treats in the student store, but the student store also includes things that are motivating to those kids who are a little more mature and socially motivated. They can buy activities that they prefer like time on a video game, or time doing a special activity, like going on a walk with a preferred staff or going off-campus with a therapist.
That’s how ABA is used at Seven Stars. The token economy allows the student to choose their preferred reward and this increases motivation.
Why Traditional Level Systems Don’t Work With Most Of Our Students
One of the things that’s unique about Seven Stars is that we avoid the use of level systems whenever possible. Over the years it’s really been apparent that traditional level systems are typically not as effective for our students. In a more classic level system, a student starts out on the first level and they have to show certain required behaviors for a certain amount of time before they can get onto the second level. Often that takes several days if not several weeks. Moving to subsequent higher levels can often take months to achieve. This timeline is very difficult for our students because of their executive functioning and other processing deficits. They don’t have the ability to understand: “I want to graduate from this program so I have to focus on these behaviors for this amount of time, and then they will move me up to the next level.” That’s a challenging system for our students and they often fail. They may go up a level and then maybe they get a level taken away and they may be punished today for something they did two weeks ago. They may really struggle in lower levels and not make it in upper levels like their neurotypical peers might be able to do.
At Seven Stars, the token economy, frequent coaching and feedback and individualized behavioral goals take the place of the level system. This allows our students to reset frequently and to recover quickly from mistakes. This kind of motivation and intervention fits their processing abilities better than a traditional level-based approach.
Seven Stars Can Help
One foundation of success for the Seven Stars’ program is our focus on positive psychology. Our goal is not only to assess the previous and current challenges, but also to help students find their strengths and build upon them through our personalized, strengths-based, mentoring approach.
The Seven Stars’ approach looks for ways around power struggles. We seek to find each student’s natural motivation to succeed. Rather than focus on level systems or punitive or material punishments, we teach our students about the natural and logical outcomes of their behaviors. We work to challenge each student at the optimum level and seek to avoid breakdowns, establish quick resets and encourage community involvement. Seven Stars students have struggled because they lack awareness, understanding, and skills. It is through teaching, mentoring, experience, and challenge that we grow. For more information, please call (385) 217-6170.
Since 2003, Dr. Gordon Day has passionately helped young people with a wide range of family, emotional, social, neurodevelopmental and behavioral problems. Gordon’s mission has been to help people find their strengths and their own passion for living a full and rewarding life. He is particularly sensitive to the pressures, frustrations and disappointments that adolescents face that can sometimes cause them and their loved ones to want to withdraw and throw their hands up in despair.
Dr. Day knows that you really have to understand where a student is coming from and understand their patterns of strengths and needs. When we truly know an individual and their struggles, only then can we truly help.
Dr. Day has pioneered the use of outdoor therapy activities and outdoor living as a dynamic and effective therapeutic tool for learning, confidence building and skill building. His programs provide effective, supportive and encouraging environments that help students find their strengths and power.