The research evidence regarding the role that communication deficits play in the emergence, remediation, and maintenance of reduction in problem behaviors is particularly robust across researchers and methodologies (Carr et al., 1999b; Koegel et al., 1992; Schroeder et al., 1986; Wacker et al., 1998). Interventions that deal with receptive communication—for example, use of schedules, work systems, and task organization (Schopler et al., 1995) that assist students in understanding classroom routines and requirements as well as effective instruction in spontaneous, expressive communication (Schreibman et al., 2000; Wacker et al., 1996)—are needed to prevent problems and maintain reductions in those behaviors (see a more detailed discussion of functional behavioral analysis below).
Most empirically based intervention approaches designed to reduce or eliminate specific, identified problem behaviors have an applied behavior analysis theoretical base. From this perspective, problem behavior is viewed as being composed of two environmental features and one behavior or set of behaviors that have a temporal relationship. Antecedents, the first feature, are events (e.g., mother tells child it is time to go to the store) or internal conditions (e.g., child feels pain or hunger) that occur before a problem behavior (e.g., running around the house instead of going to the door) occurs. Consequences are events that follow the behavior and that either increase the likelihood that the behavior (running) will be repeated (reinforcement, e.g., mother makes a game of chasing the child to get him into the car) or decrease the likelihood that the behavior will be repeated (e.g., mother shouts “No!” when the child runs away).
One approach rewards behaviors that are incompatible with the problem behavior: for example, rewarding a child for taking his mother’s hand to go to the car so the child cannot engage in running away at the same time (differential reinforcement of alternative behavior). Another approach removes the consequences of the behavior that are thought to be reinforcing (extinction-based procedures). For example, when adult attention is thought to be a reinforcer for the child’s running away from his mother, an extinction-based strategy would be for the mother to demonstrate no attention to the running, provided the child is safe. In the example above, for some children, the parent’s shouted “No!” functions as a punisher and reduces running behavior. For others, the parent’s