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Combined Behavior & Sensory Evaluation

Adding a brief behavioral function assessment enables pediatric occupational therapists to apply sensory strategies that better help youth with complex behavioral challenges. Integrating the QABF and Sensory Profile 2 (Dunn, 2014) assessment can improve pediatric occupational therapy behavioral outcomes (McCall et al., 2016; Lydon et al., 2017). Sensory Integration Intervention is helpful for children and adolescents with complex behavioral challenges because it is one of very few things that they are motivated to do. Understanding the client’s sensory profile and the function or purpose of their most problematic behavior helps guide occupational therapy treatment.

A case study illustrates how combining the Short Sensory Profile and QABF guides integrated sensory and behavioral intervention. The client is a fifteen year old with a diagnosis of Autism Spectrum Disorder and Intellectual Disability who bit and punched his parents and psychiatric hospital staff. Given the severity of his behavioral challenges my occupational therapy assessment included the  “QABF” Questions About Behavior Function and Short Sensory Profile 2 assessments.

The “QABF” Questions About Behavior Function assessment is a quick and reliable parent/staff report rating scale that quickly identifies the reason that the client engages in problematic behavior. The OT identifies the client’s most problematic behavior and describes it objectively. The QABF then asks parents/staff to rate how frequently the client engages in the target behavior (see QABF sample below, included with the permission of Johnny Matson, Ph.D.).

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I determined that this client’s most problematic target behavior was biting & punching. The client’s residential unit staff rated the frequency of the client’s use of biting & punching to achieve 25 possible reinforcers. By adding the total scores for each major function of behavior in the bottom row, the client’s highest scores show that the primary reasons for his biting and punching were Escape and Attention, respectively.

Because Escape and Attention were the primary functions of the client’s inappropriate behavior intervention involved consultation between his occupational, speech/language and mental health therapist to develop a communication and reinforcement system for appropriately requesting attention and to escape tasks. Based on the student’s individual abilities, the team decided that if the student said “no thank you” he would immediately get out of all demands. To avoid over use of the “no thank you” statement to avoid tasks, the amount of work required for receiving rewards was initially reduced by a third. It was also decided that if he approached staff and looked towards them he would immediately receive attention.

The Short Sensory Profile 2 was rated for the client by his residential unit staff. His scores indicated much more than others for sensory sensitivity and sensory seeking. These scores and his clinical observations showed a tendency to become hyper-reactive and not habituate or “get use to” sensory input, as well as sensory seeking of deep pressure touch input. His parents and hospital staff also reported a tendency to bite or hit so he could be restrained, an important contribution of sensory assessments sometimes missed by the QABF assessment.

Research supports that adolescents with a diagnosis of Autism Spectrum and Anxiety Disorder as well as significant sensory sensitivity, tend to be overwhelmed by sound and touch input related to a neurological tendency to not habituate to this stimuli (Green et al., 2016).  It is also often clinically reported that some adolescents with Autism Spectrum and Anxiety Disorder act physically aggressive to obtain the deep pressure input of being physically restrained. The client’s Sensory Profile 2 results and clinical observations were integrated with the QABF results into his treatment by his occupational, speech/language and mental health therapist .

Whenever the client calmly approached the occupational therapist and said “hug” deep pressure was offered. Deep pressure was never given following hitting or punching, because this would have reinforced these inappropriate behaviors. Integrating the QABF and Sensory Profile 2 assessment enabled the team to implement sensory strategies that reinforced appropriate behavior  (McCall et al., 2016; Lydon et al., 2017). 

References

Dunn W. (2014). Sensory profile 2: User’s manual. Psych Corporation. www.sensoryprofile.com

Green, S. A., Hernandez, L., Bookheimer, S. Y., & Dapretto, M. (2016). Salience network connectivity in autism is related to brain and behavioral markers of sensory overresponsivity. Journal of the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry, 55(7), 618-626.

Lydon, Helena, Olive Healy, and Ian Grey. “Comparison of behavioral intervention and sensory integration therapy on challenging behavior of children with autism.” Behavioral Interventions 32, no. 4 (2017): 297-310.

McCall, J., Derby, M. K., & McLaughlin, T. F. (2016). The effects of matching sensory profile results to functional analysis and preference assessment for the in home treatment of aberrant behaviors in two children with Autism Spectrum Disorders. International Journal of English and Education, 5(1), 368-390.

Vollmer, T. R., & Matson, J. L. (1995). User’s guide: Questions about behavioral function (QABF). Baton Rouge, LA: http://www.disabilityconsultants.org 

 

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Using FAB Strategies®

“Functionally Alert Behavior” FAB Strategies® is an evidence-based curriculum of environmental adaptation, sensory modulation, positive behavioral support, and physical self-regulation strategies for improving the functional behavior of children, adolescents and young adults with complex behavioral challenges FAB Strategies ERIC document Complex behavioral challenges involve a combination of inter-related mental health, developmental, sensory and environmental challenges. The FAB Strategies® curriculum is individualized by occupational, physical, speech and mental health therapists for coordinated use in conjunction with the client, their family and teachers.  The FAB Strategies®curriculum emphasizes the use of a coordinated multidisciplinary approach that addresses specific goal-directed functional behaviors in the natural environment.

FAB Strategies® is useful for guiding integrated individual, group, and home program intervention by teachers, family members, as well as occupational, physical, speech and mental health therapists. Teachers, therapists and familys face the challenge of helping students develop the behavioral skills that support learning. This challenge has become more difficult given the increasing academic demands and numbers of students with complex behavioral challenges. It is crucial to help students with complex behavioral challenges because their behaviors interfere with these students’ and their classmates learning. The “Functionally Alert Behavior” FAB Strategies® curriculum can improve self-control in students with complex behavioral challenges.

The FAB Strategies Form guides therapists in developing an individualized program for improving the client’s functional behavior fab-stratform Section A environmental adaptations provide the structural foundation for FAB Strategies. The child’s response related to his functional goal guides the use of environmental adaptations. Environmental adaptations include adaptive equipment such as fidgets, visual schedules and adaptive techniques.

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Environmental enrichment through adaptive equipment, visual schedules, and adaptive techniques reduces aggression in children with behavioral challenges and developmental disabilities. When developing environmental adaptations, it is important to consider the dynamic relationship between the child’s behavioral, sensory, cognitive, and environmental challenges. Environmental structure and behavioral demands are interacting variables, with greater sensory demands suggesting the need for more structure. When children show improved self-control or demands are decreased, structure is reduced to promote independence.

Section B sensory modulation strategies help lower stress and enhance self-regulation, with the massage activities included in this section. Sensory modulation includes body awareness, basic mindfulness, touch, and motor self-control strategies. The Pagano FAB Trigger & Coping forms use pictures visually representing common environmental and body triggers as well as sensory coping strategies for children with behavioral, developmental, and sensory challenges.

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Section C positive behavioral control strategies improve behavior and communication skills. Learning social and communication skills significantly improves the behavior of children with developmental and behavioral challenges. Functional communication can be supported and rewarded through socially embedded reinforcers. For example, when a child says or signs “jump”, the therapist takes the child’s hands and jumps with the child. Section C also includes the FAB Turtle Technique, where a child notices his triggers and does his individualized self-calming strategies in the sensory coping area.

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Section D physical sensory strategies promote attention, behavior, and social skills through cardiovascular, dynamic balance, sensory motor, and sequential bilateral tasks. Children with developmental challenges are motivated to participate in sensory activities, making them an effective means for promoting behavioral change. FAB Strategies attend to a child’s arousal level so he can play without becoming overly excited. For example, if a child rates his energy level as “uncomfortably high” following play ground tasks he is assisted in calming down before returning to class.

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“Functionally Alert Behavior” FAB Strategies® offers an evidence-based curriculum of environmental adaptation, sensory modulation, positive behavioral support, and physical self-regulation strategies for improving the functional behavior of children, adolescents and young adults with complex behavioral challenges.  Application of the FAB Strategies®curriculum emphasizes ta coordinated multidisciplinary approach that addresses specific goal-directed functional behaviors in the natural environment.

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Sensory-Based Interventions (SBIs) Improve Behavior

Occupational therapists use sensory-based interventions (SBIs) to improve the behavior of children, adolescents and adults with developmental and sensory processing challenges. SBIs are the guided use of sensory coping strategies and adaptive equipment to improve sensory modulation skills and behavior. Emerging evidence suggests that SBIs can significantly reduce distress and promote attention.

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SBIs empower clients to actively substitute the sensory input provided through aggressive and self-injurious behavior with sensory coping strategies and adaptive equipment. However, SBI intervention needs to be goal-directed and specifically matched to the client’s needs and preferences. The use of SBIs has been included in the research supported Greenspan Floortime Approach for children with Autism Spectrum Disorders, Collaborative & Proactive Solutions Approach for children and adolescents with Oppositional Defiant Disorder, and treatment models for reducing restraint and seclusion in pediatric and adult mental health facilities as well as schools OTPractSchoolOTRedAgg Reducing-Restraint-and-Seclusion  Continue reading

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Applying FAB Strategies

I developed FAB Strategies (Functionally Alert Behavior Strategies) to help children, adolescents and young adults who have complex behavioral challenges.  The FAB Strategies Form guides the use of environmental adaptation, sensory modulation, positive behavioral support, and physical self-regulation strategies.  The FAB Strategies forms enable teachers, families as well as occupational, physical, speech/language and mental health therapists to work towards the same functional behavioral goals using consistent strategies.  The copyrighted FAB strategies forms are offered free of charge to therapists for use in developing home programs that improve functional behavior.

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FAB Strategies combines positive behavioral support and sensory processing strategies to improve behavior.   School occupational therapists can effectively team with parents and school staff to reduce school aggression, restraint and seclusion.

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Coping with Mental Health Challenges

Daily coping strategies for prevention along with coping interventions when symptoms are first noticed are extremely useful for managing mental health and behavioral challenges.  Many individuals confront mental health and behavioral challenges at some times in their life. Particularly those experiencing difficulties with substance abuse, extreme stress, developmental disorders or subtle sensory motor disorders (e.g., hyper-responsiveness, hypo-responsiveness, involuntary movements) benefit from regularly using coping strategies to manage their mental health and behavioral challenges. Mental health and behavioral challenges are eventually diagnosed as a depression, anxiety, Autism Spectrum, Post-Traumatic Stress, Borderline Personality, Psychotic or some other disorder that carries a stigma not seen in other illnesses.  While help is available it is up to each person to manage their mental health and behavioral strategies by actively using coping strategies.

The most inexpensive evidence-based coping strategy to reduce distress from mental health and behavioral challenges is doing aerobic exercise 30 minutes daily. The best exercises are the ones that individuals enjoy doing regularly. Any combination of walking, yard work, biking, running, swimming, fitness classes, karate, dance and sports are effective. In addition to lowering distress, aerobic exercise contributes to weight management and physical well-being.

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The second coping strategy that is important for people who experience mental health and behavioral challenges to do daily is a relaxation activity. Relaxation activities include progressive relaxation, visualization, yoga, mindfulness, breathing, meditation, Tai chi, Chi Gong and prayer. Like exercise the best forms are any an individual is motivated to do daily for thirty minutes. Relaxation activities can be reinforced through participating in a weekly group class that can be found for little or no cost.

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Despite the proven benefit of regular exercise and relaxation to reduce mental health and behavioral challenges many people experience problematic mental health and behavioral symptoms anyway, and will need to immediately be assessed for their need of counseling and/or medication as appropriate coping strategies. These coping strategies need to be assessed by a licensed mental health counselor, child/adolescent psychiatrist or adult psychiatrist. It is crucial to quickly find a mental health counselor and psychiatrist you trust. In addition,  some individuals also find it helpful to receive services from a licensed massage therapist for stress reduction or occupational therapist to modify their daily routines and life activities. Many individuals experience mental health and behavioral challenges and benefit from regular use of coping strategies to manage them successfully.

References

Brown, R. P. & Gerbarg, P. L. (2012). The healing power of breath. Boston, MA: Shambhala.

Cramer, S. C., Sur, M., Dobkin, B. H., O’Brien, C., Sanger, T. D., Trojanowski, J. Q. . . . & Vinogradov, S. (2011). Harnessing neuroplasticity for clinical applications. Brain, 134(6), 1591-1609.

Levit-Binnun, N., Davidovitch, M., & Golland, Y. (2013). Sensory and motor secondary symptoms as indicators of brain vulnerability. Journal of Neurodevelopmental Disorders, 5, 26. www.jneurodevdisorders.com/content/5/1/26

Perry, B. D. (2009). Examining child maltreatment through a neurodevelopmental lens: Clinical applications of the neurosequential model of therapeutics. Journal of Loss and Trauma, 14(4), 240-255.

Talwar, U. K., Sharma, V., & Singh, R. (2010). Role of Yogic Exercises in Bipolar Affective Disorder and Schizophrenia. Delhi Psychiatry Journal, 13(1), 117-22.

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Body Awareness Intervention Improves Behavior

Many adolescents and young adults with behavioral disorders (e.g., Autism Spectrum, Post Traumatic Stress, Oppositional Defiant Disorder, Anorexia Nervosa) have body image challenges that negatively impact their behavior and social relationships. This is especially true for individuals who have developmental, mental health, and/or sensory processing challenges. Adolescents and young adults with body awareness challenges can be helped to improve their social skills with body awareness interventions.

Developmentally appropriate body awareness intervention involving massage, touch, movement, relaxation and mindfulness activities can take place within their work, school, home and community recreation activities. Body awareness provides the foundation for mindfulness, meditation and other calming activities that have been shown to decrease depression, anxiety, distress, aggression and addiction. Developmentally individualized body awareness tasks promote the emerging development of self-control using individual and group trauma-informed mindfulness, yoga, relaxation, visualization, massage, sensory processing, and movement activities.

Regardless of their chronological body awareness activities must match the adolescent or adult’s developmental level to be effective. The most developmentally basic and clinically effective experiences of embodiment, based on brain gym activities for special needs www.movementbasedlearning.com www.braingym.org , provide sensory awareness of the front, back, top and bottom of the body. Two activities for providing this experience is the X Marks the Spot movement game

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A second basic body orientation activity is the Roll therapyball on client core progression Strategy, in which a therapist specifically rolls a therapyball sequentially over the center, front, back, top and bottom of the body  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LCD9JeFviKY  

Sensory body awareness experiences help develop adolescent and young adults awareness of their body and understanding of body based triggers for early identification of the need for coping strategies.

References

Frank, J. L., Bose, B., & Schrobenhauser-Clonan, A. (2014). Effectiveness of a school-based yoga program on adolescent mental health, stress coping strategies, and attitudes toward violence: Fingdings from a high-risk sample. Journal of Applied School Psychology, 30, 29-49.

Kovacs, M., & Lopez-Duran, N. L. (2012). Contextual emotion regulation therapy: A developmentally-based intervention for pediatric intervention. Child and adolescent psychiatric clinics of North America, 21(2), 327.

Silva, L. M., Schalock, M., & Gabrielsen, K. R. (2015). About face: Evaluating and managing tactile impairment at the time of Autism diagnosis. Autism research and treatment, 2015.

Taylor, S. E., & Stanton, A. L. (2007). Coping resources, coping processes, and mental health. Ann. Rev. Clin. Psychol., 3, 377-401.

 

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Using Sensory Strategies to Improve Behavior

Sensory strategies have a significant impact on the behavior of children and adolescents with developmental, mental health, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and sensory processing challenges. Deep pressure touch provided by pediatric occupational therapists through massage, brushing, weighted blankets, mat sandwiches and other sensory strategies are described as extremely positive experiences for children and adolescents with developmental, mental health, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and sensory processing challenges. Finding preferred activities is helpful because motivation can be a significant problem when treating these youngsters.

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A significant relationship was found between sensory and behavioral problems in children with developmental disorders. Research indicated that deep pressure sensory input functioned as positive reinforcement while matched sensory activities reduced repetitive non-purposeful behaviors in children with Autism Spectrum Disorder. Offering opportunities to use sensory strategies for self-regulation significantly reduced behavioral problems as well as the need for restraint and seclusion in adolescent and adult residential treatment centers for psychiatric and trauma challenges.

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The usefulness of offering clients deep pressure sensory strategies as an alternative to aggression and restraint makes sense, as it can replace the use of restraint as reinforcement for aggression with sensory activities to reinforce avoiding physical aggression. School occupational and physical therapists have begun using sensory activities as reinforcement for avoiding aggression to reduce student restraint and seclusion. SchoolOTRedAgg  The functioning of sensory strategies as positive reinforcement makes it important for therapists to avoid using sensory strategies immediately following aggressive or inappropriate behavior. Despite bitter conflicts between behaviorists, pediatricians and therapists clients would greatly benefit from their collaboration.

References

Canfield, J. M. (2008). Sensory dysfunction and problem behavior in children with autism spectrum and  other developmental disorders.

McGinnis, A. A., Blakely, E. Q., Harvey, A. C., & Rickards, J. B. (2013). The behavioral effects of a procedure used by pediatric occupational therapists. Behavioral Interventions, 28(1), 48-57.

O’Hagen, M., Divis, M., & Long, J. (2008). Best practice in the reduction and and elimination of seclusion and restraint; Seclusion: time for change. Aukland: Te Pou Te Whakaaro Nui: The National Center of Mental Health Research, Information and Workforce Development.

Rapp, J. T. (2006). Toward an empirical method for identifying matched stimulation for automatically reinforced behavior: A preliminary investigation. Journal of Applied Behavioral Analysis, 39(1), 137-140.

Sutton, D., Wilson, M., Van Kessel, K., & Vanderpyl, J. (2013). Optimizing arousal to manage aggression: A pilot study of sensory modulation. International Journal of Mental Health Nursing, 22, 500-511.

Warner, E., Spinazzola, J., Westcott, A., Gunn, C. & Hodon, H. (2014). The body can change the score. Journal of Child & Adolescent Trauma, 7(4), 237-246.