ASA's 37th National Conference on Autism Spectrum Disorders (July 13-15, 2006)

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Friday, July 14, 2006: 3:30 PM-4:45 PM
553 A-B
#1771- Challenging Behaviors and Young Children with ASD: Perspectives on Prevention and Intervention.
This presentation will describe a validated model for preventing challenging behaviors of children with ASD, ranging from procedures to be used with all children (primary prevention) to strategies for children with the most severe and chronic behavior problems (intensive individualized intervention). The model offers a hierarchy of practical strategies useful for all children with ASD. Examples from the authors’ research and training programs will be included.

Presenter:Glen Dunlap, Ph.D., University of South Florida, Professor - Glen Dunlap has been involved with individuals and families affected by autism for more than 30 years. He has been a teacher, trainer, researcher, and author, and is a long-time member of ASA’s Panel of Professional Advisors. Dr. Dunlap has been instrumental in establishing service and support programs in New Jersey, California, West Virginia, and Florida. Dr. Dunlap’s research focuses on positive behavior support as well as early intervention. He is a member of 12 editorial boards, has published more than 170 articles and books, and has been awarded more that $40 million in research and training grants.
Although challenging behaviors are not a diagnostic criterion, many children with autism spectrum disorders (ASD) display a variety of behavior problems. Such problems range from highly disruptive behaviors (such as aggression, self-injury and intractable, violent tantrums) to repetitive behaviors that are often severely irritating to parents, friends, teachers and other caregivers. Regardless of from, challenging behaviors can be a major concern because they: (1) present risks to the child's physical and social well being, (2) are sources of substantial family stress, and (3) are significant barriers to inclusion, community participation, social interaction and social opportunities, and meaningful instruction and educational experiences. For these reasons, resolving challenging behaviors through effective prevention and/or intervention procedures is an essential priority for young children (and children of all ages) with ASD.

This presentation will describe a practical model for preventing challenging behaviors that is based on the well-known tri-partite Public Health framework. The Public Health paradigm is described as a pyramid comprised of three levels. From bottom to top, the levels are: (1) primary or universal prevention, consisting of inexpensive and efficient procedures applied to the entire population of concern; (2) secondary (or targeted) prevention, consisting usually of group procedures directed at particularly high risk portions of the population; and (3) tertiary prevention, consisting of individualized, relatively intensive intervention strategies designed for individuals within the population who already have fairly serious behavioral manifestations. In recent years, the Public Health model has been applied to the discipline problems of public schools (Sugai et al., 2002; Walker et al., 1996) and the concerns of young children with developmental and social-emotional difficulties (Fox, Dunlap, Hemmeter, Joseph, & Strain, 2003). Even more recently, the model has been adapted to the specific behavioral needs of children with ASD (e.g., Dunlap, 2005).

In this presentation, each level of the framework will be described and illustrated with specific examples of applicable prevention and intervention procedures. The first level, comprised of simple primary prevention strategies, includes universal techniques that can help limit the emergence of behavior problems by insuring (for example) that: (1) the physical environment is organized in a manner that is accessible and understandable for children with ASD, (2) the child is free from pain, physiological deprivation, and obvious needs for attention, affection and stimulation, and (3) clear efforts have been undertaken to establish healthy relationships with vital caregiving adults. The second level involves more focused (and more involved) approaches including structured programs for developing social skills, anger and impulse control and self-management. A variety of empirically-validated program models are relevant at this level (e.g., Joseph & Strain, 2003).

The third level of this framework, intended for those children who do not respond sufficiently to primary and secondary procedures, requires intensive and individualized interventions based on positive behavior support (PBS). This level will be described in more detail than the previous two levels because most children with ASD eventually require individualized support for challenging behaviors, at least at some times and in some contexts. The PBS approach includes procedures of functional assessment and the development and implementation of multi-component, assessment-based intervention strategies (e.g., Dunlap & Fox, 1999; Lucyshyn, Dunlap, & Albin, 2002). Data-based examples of this process will be shared.

The research and perspectives that form the basis for this presentation come largely from two ongoing research projects funded by the US Department of Education: (1) the Center on Evidence-Based Practice: Young Children with Challenging Behavior (awarded to Dunlap, Fox, Smith, and Strain) and (2) Early Intervention – Positive Behavior Support (awarded to Fox and Dunlap), however the content is also based on the work of dozens of researchers, trainers and advocates who have been concerned with autism and challenging behaviors over the past two decades.

The presentation will be conducted with power point and will include some video streaming with audio. Objectives for participants include: (1) gaining familiarity with the model of prevention for challenging behaviors of young children with ASD; (2) being able to describe practical strategies of prevention and intervention at each of the three levels of the prevention framework, and (3) being able to access web sites and other resources that provide additional information about effective prevention and intervention for the challenging behaviors of children with ASD.


Dunlap, G. (2005). Positive behavior support for children with autism spectrum disorders. Workshop series developed and presented for the Autism Society of Minnesota, Minnetonka and St. Cloud, MN, November, 2005.

Dunlap, G., & Fox, L. (1999). A demonstration of behavioral support for young children with autism. Journal of Positive Behavior Interventions, 1, 77-87.

Fox, L., Dunlap, G., Hemmeter, M.L., Jospeh, G.E., & Strain, P.S. (2003, July). The teaching pyramid: A model for supporting social competence and preventing challenging behavior in young children. Young Children, 48-52.

Joseph, G. E. & Strain, P. S. (2003). Comprehensive evidence-based social-emotional curricula for young children: An analysis of efficacious adoption potential. Topics in Early Childhood Special Education, 23, 65-76.

Lucyshyn, J., Dunlap, G., & Albin, R.W. (Eds.) (2002). Families and positive behavior support: Addressing problem behaviors in family contexts. Baltimore, MD: Paul H. Brookes.

Sugai, G., Horner, R.H., Dunlap, G., Hieneman, M., Lewis, T.J., Nelson, C.M., Scott, T., Liaupsin, C., Sailor, W., Turnbull, A.P., Turnbull, H.R. III, Wickham, D., Ruef, M., & Wilcox, B. (2000). Applying positive behavior support and functional behavioral assessment in schools, Journal of Positive Behavior Interventions, 2, 131-143.

Walker, H.M., Horner, R.H., Sugai, G., Bullis, M., Sprague, J.R., Bricker, D., & Kaufman, M. (1996). Integrated approaches to preventing antisocial behavior patterns among school-age children and youth. Journal of Emotional and Behavioral Disorders, 4, 194-209.

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