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Behavior as Communication and How Assistive Technology Helps

written by: Lisa Pulsifer • edited by: Elizabeth Wistrom • updated: 8/2/2012

Students display various behaviors throughout the school day. When those behaviors prevent the student from learning, distract others from learning or potentially cause harm to anyone, there is cause for concern. Communication devices for special needs kids can be a solution.

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    Behavior as Communication

    Students with disabilities often have difficulty advocating for themselves due to a lack of ability to communicate. Because of this, behaviors that are likely to be noticed are used in order to have their wants and needs met. This can lead to unwanted behaviors that will prevent the student from learning and potentially hurt himself or others around him. To the outsider, these behaviors may look like a student that is just behaving badly, but in reality they are trying to communicate with those around them in order to accomplish something.

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    Defining the Function

    Every behavior has a function, or something that it is trying to communicate. There are three main functions that unwanted behaviors serve. Those are: behaviors seeking attention, behaviors done to escape a situation and sensory seeking behaviors. For example, every time a student is asked to complete a task, they begin screaming and hitting themselves. The result is that they are taken away from the desk and moved away from the class. In this case, the function of the behavior is to escape or get out of doing the task.

    Determining the function of the unwanted behavior often requires input and data collection. One way to accomplish this is to use a functional behavior analysis in order to determine what is happening before and after the behavior occurs. This would be completed by anyone that witnesses the behavior on a regular basis. By understanding what causes the behavior and what the result is in every situation, a pattern will be identified. Knowing what the student is trying to communicate with the behavior will allow an alternative and more appropriate behavior to be taught.

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    Providing an Alternative

    Introducing a new behavior involves preparation. Determining something that the student will be willing to use, teaching them how and when to use it, and setting up ways for him to be successful will insure that the alternative behavior is accepted as a way to communicate his needs. It is important to consider the individual student’s needs when making the choice. When possible, the student should be included in finding a solution. Alternative behaviors such as utilizing communication devices for special needs kids can be as simple or as complex as needed. In the example of the student who yells to get out of a task, she could use a communication device that plays a recorded message asking for a break.

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    Assistive Technology

    One example of an alternative solution is to provide the student with a piece of assistive technology that will give him a voice and allow him to make requests without having to act in an inappropriate way. Communication devices for special needs kids can range from a simple photograph that the student chooses to express a thought, to more complex augmentative communication devices with voice output such as the Dynavox. However, it is important to think about a student's common behaviors when deciding on assistive technology. Expensive breakable equipment is not the best choice for a student who throws things. When deciding on what assistive technology might work, always use age appropriate equipment. Take the student's cognitive ability into account when choosing equipment and be careful not to choose something that will be too difficult to use properly.

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