Behavioral challenges and individuals with Down syndrome

Discovering working behavior strategies for your family

Although the behavioral challenges seen in children with Down syndrome are often not much different from those seen with typically developing children, they may occur later in life and have a longer duration of presence. While the definition of a behavior problem may vary by child, certain guidelines can help in determining if a particular behavior may have developed to be significant – such as if it interferes with development or learning, is disruptive to others in the family/school/workplace or may be potentially harmful to the child.

When deciding how best to approach behavior management for a child, parents should first consider if there are outside factors contributing (i.e. health issues) and then understand  what should be expected when making a transition into strategies to change behavior.

Recently, the DSAGSL was lucky enough to have Lisa Gilbertson, BCBA, LBA, from Behavior Solutions in St. Louis attend our second Education Specialist session to talk about effective behavior strategies for children with Down syndrome. Lisa’s presentation provided our attendees with valuable information to take back to their schools and parents. We summarize some of the key understandings about approaching behavior strategy implementation:

What to expect when changing behavior and understanding behavior characteristics

  • One of the most important things to realize is that behavior didn’t become a problem overnight and won’t be fixed in that timeframe, either. It is possible that the behavior could get worse before it gets better, can change or can improve more quickly than expected – so be prepared to roll with the punches.
  • All behaviors serve a purpose – they are the result of an interaction between biology and environment. Identifying the function and replacement for the behavior will help to start change it. The focus of changing the behavior should be on decreasing the likelihood of future behaviors.
  • The correct use of behavior strategies can lead to rapid changes in behavior – although some behaviors of concern may not cease quickly even with correct implementation. If the environment reinforces the behavior, it becomes more likely to occur; conversely, if punished with a consequence the behavior becomes less likely

Goals and steps in behavior intervention

  • Behavior intervention has two main goals: teach skills that are needed that meet the same needs as the behavior and reduce the behavior itself.
  • As stated above, defining and measuring the behavior will help to understand specific behaviors and any external causes, but is also useful in measuring the effectiveness of a future behavior strategy
  • Once the behavior is identified, a parent can work with a behavior specialist to develop and implement a behavior intervention plan which is both cause specific and individualized for the child.
  • Established behavior plans should be closely monitored, consistent and adjusted as needed.

Developing and using a behavior plan to teach new behavior

  • Behavior plans should identify function based strategies for the child and specify what to do for all possible outcomes of the tactics used.
  • Everyone involved, including parents and other caregivers, should be trained to be consistent in strategy and know how to monitor effects of the strategies on the recurring behavior.
  • If there is no initial improvement, first check with the consistency of the strategy implementation and then consider revision or change.

Changing behavior can seem overwhelming but it is important to know you and your child are not alone. If your family or school needs help or advice in determining behavior management solutions for an individual with special needs, contact the DSAGSL office at  314.261.9504.

Presentation on 10/18/2012 by Lisa Gilbertson, BCBA, LBA on behalf of Behavior Solutions: Effective Behavior Strategies for Common but Difficult Behavior Problems in Individuals with Down Syndrome, Managing Behavior