Effective management for problem behaviors

by Jill Detwiler CCC-SLP July 17, 2018

effective management for problem behaviors

Is managing problem behaviors a struggle for you? Dealing with them can be extremely frustrating. I remember being a new clinician and trying to figure out how to intervene when Tony would bite his hand whenever I tried to engage him academically, or when Kim would fall asleep during circle time, or when Andrew became agitated by the inevitable changes in our classroom schedule. I found that the key was to incorporate my understanding of communication with some basic principles of behavior.   

Here are some important things to know about behavior 

  • difficult behavior happens for complex reasons 
  • difficult behavior is nobody’s fault  
  • correcting difficult behavior takes time and gets better with the right intervention 

Simply put, behavior is communication and when students lack the appropriate skills or communication abilities to express what they think, know, and feel, troubling or difficult behavior are often the result. According to Durand (1990), most problem behaviors occur for the following four reasons: 

  1. attention: seeking the notice or attention of another person
  2. escape: indicating the desire to leave an activity, person or environment  
  3. tangible: indicating the desire for a specific activity or object 
  4. sensory: demonstrating a need for sensory input of some kind 

Determining the motivation for behavior will guide you in choosing the appropriate interventions, including which communication skills to teach.  The behavioral supports listed below are easy to implement, and they can be usedalone, or in combination. I like to introduce one support at a time rather than all at once. It reduces confusion while the student is learning something new and helps me to determine which strategies lead to positive change. The behavioral supports below are included with your subscription to Boardmaker Online. You’ll find both pre-filled examples and editable templates that you can quickly customize and use to minimize problem behaviors.  

Visual schedules and sequences  

Do your students benefit from predictability? Do they need help understanding it? Visual schedules smooth transitions, facilitate communication, and help students stay on task. Find a whole series of pre-made schedule formats in the template picker. 


Does your child respond to reinforcers as a part of day to day activities? Does your child respond to activities in which he or she has a definite structure? When difficulties arise, using a First/Then support to define expectations about the sequence of events can be very calming for children.   

Social narrative  

Does your child benefit from support and conversation about events that will or may happen in the future? For many students, a short narrative is incredibly helpful for calming anxiety and preparing students to understand what might happen, how they might feel, and how to respond. There are several pre-made book templates to choose from that will allow you to create effective and engaging social narratives. 


Is it hard for your child to understand how much longer they need to wait for something? Or do you find it difficult to keep them engaged in an activity when they just wonder when it will be over? Timers help support transitions either in to or out of an activity.  

It is important to remember that change takes time. When you select a strategy, you need to be consistent and give it time. Trying to help students unlearn less effective communication strategies takes time and persistence. The supports outlined above are easy to create and easier to use. Get started today. 

Jill Detwiler CCC-SLP
Jill Detwiler CCC-SLP

Jill Detwiler, CCC-SLP, is a Speech-Language Pathologist who currently holds the position of Content and Curriculum Writer at Tobii Dynavox. Before this, Jill worked in the public schools as a Speech-Language Pathologist supporting kids with diverse abilities. Jill lives in Central Pennsylvania and loves to spend time with her husband and son.

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