Dealing with Challenging Behavior

Kim Ceccarelli is a behavioral coordinator and crisis specialist at the Northshore Education Consortium in Beverly, Massachusetts who has worked in the autism field for 25 years. “My work involved providing safe and effective behavior management—including de-escalation strategies and behavior intervention—for about 25 students who have autism and fall within the ‘severe’ category,” Ceccarelli explains. Her students range from ages 7 to 21 years old and many of them are completely nonverbal.

In her classrooms, she works with her staff to grasp that idea that their behavior is their form of communication. As caretakers, you need to become detectives and actually analyze why your child may be acting out by running around, kicking, or screaming.

Ceccarelli noticed that whenever a child would act out aggressively, they always seemed remorseful after the act, for example by rubbing the area they may have hurt someone, which made her realize that her students didn’t want to act out.  She notes that once she started acknowledging that many of her students didn’t have much control over what their bodies did during a meltdown, she was able to look at their behavior from a different perspective. She began to analyze what exactly was triggering certain behaviors and what she could do avoid this behavior or change it.

“I still remember one 20 year old student who would lose control of his body, flailing forcefully when upset, until finally he slammed his head into a wall—almost as if that was the only way to stop the episode or get relief,” she explains. “At the onset, we began prompting him to sit and put beads in a pipe cleaner with his forearms resting on the table. Having his forearms on the table was incompatible with the flailing. Other students just needed to learn one word—wait—when in a crowded hallway to replace body slamming the walls. These are small interventions, but they made a huge difference.

Whenever she taught a student a replacement behavior, they had a tendency to choose the replacement behavior over their original more challenging behavior, and they appear to be grateful for it. The hardest part is figuring out what it is that your child needs, but even the littlest adjustments can make the biggest difference.

On Day 1 of our upcoming conference, we will have a workshop lead by Dr. Brian Iwata on “Functional Analysis & Treatment of Severe Problem Behavior”. For more information and tickets to the event, click here!

To read more about Ceccarelli’s learning points for children with autism, click here!