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The author, who trained as a behaviorist, has used behavioral techniques for the past 30+ years across a variety of applications and settings. Over the years, I have noticed some common errors individuals make if they were not vigorously trained in behavioral psychology. In this section, I describe some of the common pitfalls as they apply to attempts by school personnel to modify symptoms or behavioral features of neurobehavioral conditions. These pitfalls also apply to home-based behavior modification plans, however, so parents may also find these considerations important.


If the child is not capable of consistently inhibiting the undesirable behavior, then introducing contingencies is only likely to distress the student and lead to further behavioral problems. Children with regulatory disorders (such as Tourette's, OCD, inattention, mood disorders) will have variable ability to regulate movements, sounds, thoughts, behaviors, and mood, even if they are highly motivated.


While something may seem like it should be "reinforcing" or usable as a reward, don't assume. A good strategy is to ask the child what they think would work for them.


Students with multiple diagnoses often have a number of problems, but you are unlikely to be successful if you try to tackle too many symptoms or behaviors at once. Prioritize.


Some processes, like attention, are continuous. If you want to increase on-task time, make sure that you have a clearly defined "response" that can be measured and rewarded.


Too many parents and teachers rush to "behavior modification" without really studying the pattern of behavior first to see what drives it and what maintains it. One of the most common errors is to erroneously conclude that a behavior is "attention-seeking" because whenever the child exhibits the symptom or behavior, we respond to it! Another error is setting a time span (like 20 minutes) to earn a reward without first seeing if a 20-minute span is even remotely within the student's current abilities.


The most effective way to shape or increase a desired behavior is to reinforce it every time it occurs and to reinforce it immediately. But if we look at what schools and parents often do, we find them saying things like, "If you're good today in school, you'll get a reward when you get home." or "If you earn [x] number of points every day this week, you'll get [this great reward] on Friday." At the beginning, you need to provide the reinforcers immediately or quickly after the behavior occurs. You can also use larger rewards for longer time periods (e.g., the week), but do not neglect to have immediate and effective positive reinforcers.

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