Step 2.10 Target self-regulation

Use PRT motivational opportunities to teach and motivate children with ASD to engage in appropriate behaviors that foster early developing self-regulation skills. Implement self-management differently for older children. Refer to the National Professional Development Center on ASD for more information on Self-Management.

Below are strategies that are integral aspects of early PRT programs and designed to teach the toddler to regulate his/her behavior through appropriate communication rather than challenging behaviors.

Teaching “all done” and “break” to terminate activity and transition

  1. Parents and practitioners teach the toddler to terminate an activity and transition by prompting them to communicate, “all done” prior to leaving an activity or areas. This can replace challenging behavior related to frustration and boredom that results in the toddler escaping the task. Or it may replace a toddler’s fleeting engagement as they bounce around from one activity to another.

  2. When the toddler communicates “all done,” naturally reinforce the toddler by allowing them to leave the area/activity.

  3. As the toddler learns to communicate “all done,” parents and practitioners add a clean up component that is brief at first and then gradually more involved. Clean-up occurs prior to allowing the toddler to leave the child-chosen activity.

  4. When toddlers are happy to clean up, parents and practitioners target various skills during clean up and it may be the case that the toddler re-engages in the activity during clean up. Often this leads to increasing a toddler’s duration engaged in the same child-chosen activity.

  5. As the toddler progresses, toddlers learn to terminate the activity by initiating “all done,” cleaning up, and then initiating play with a new activity with an adult (e.g., “come play…!”), prior to engaging in the new child-chosen activity.

  6. Asking for a “break” is taught in a similar fashion, however breaks are limited to a brief termination in the activity followed by re-engagement in the same activity.

Teaching "help" to request assistance

Teaching children to request help can decrease challenging behaviors associated with frustration, avoidance of tasks, and escaping tasks. It is important to be careful of reinforcing challenging behavior by helping a toddler after they just engaged in a tantrum or similar challenging behavior. Prior to providing assistance, parents and practitioners prompt the toddler to communicate, “help,” using an appropriate mode of communication. This teaches the toddler to regulate his/her behavior through appropriate communication.

Replace challenging behavior with Functional Commuication Training (FCT)

PRT can be used to teach appropriate, functionally equivalent (but more efficient) communicative replacement behaviors. During PRT interactions, proactively replace challenging behavior by prompting and differentially reinforcing appropriate communication while placing challenging behavior on extinction (i.e., withdrawing the maintaining consequences when challenging behavior is exhibited.

PRT components also serve as antecedent (preventative) procedures by maintaining a toddler’s motivation and making challenging behaviors less relevant or necessary to the toddler.

Replace challenging behaviors that serve the following functions:

  1. obtain items or activities
  2. obtain attention
  3. avoid or escape task demands and attention

This strategy relies on the adult correctly identifying the function of the challenging behavior, and so the parent or practitioner may need to take data through a functional behavior assessment (FBA). However, clear functions can be actively replaced in the moment across multiple situations. Teaching the toddler to communicate to get his/her needs met is an important early developing self-regulation skill that can be fostered in toddlers. Differentially reinforcing functional communication at a young age could play an important role in the prevention of more serious challenging behavior from developing later in childhood. Combining FCT with the motivational components of PRT is an effective way to decrease interfering challenging behavior and keep children happy and learning during intervention and interaction.

Improve tolerance for delays to reinforcement. For functional communicative acts, it is also important to teacher older toddlers and more advanced learners to tolerate delays to reinforcement. The amount of time before receiving reinforcement for maintenance requests by the toddler can be gradually increased and the reinforcer can be provided contingent on appropriate waiting during the delay (e.g., absence of challenging behavior). Parents and practitioners introduce reinforcement schedule thinning by intermittently reinforcing maintenance behaviors.

Note: There are many positive behavior supports that should be integrated into a toddler’s intervention as needed. Other important techniques for addressing challenging behaviors in toddlers might include systematic desensitization, various antecedent manipulations, differential reinforcement of other behavior, additional applications of differential reinforcement of alternative behavior, and instructions based on the Premack principle.

Using Visual Activity Schedules and Systems

Teaching toddlers to use a visual schedule or activity system is another way to foster early developing self-regulation skills.