Working with People with Challenging Behaviors

Posted April 2, 2015 by communicationatoz
Categories: Behavior Challenges, Communication, Everyday Life Skills, Parents Corner


People who act out are often upset, agitated or afraid of a situation.  It’s important to remember that their feelings are important and deserve the same amount of attention as anyone else.  Overlooking a person who is experiencing anxiety will often escalate to acting out behaviors.  Being proactive, understanding your consumers’ needs and giving them the attention and respect they deserve is just the beginning of providing a positive environment that fosters independence and self-actualization.


Our consumers, just like everyone else, can become upset about things that are going on in their lives.  We need to identify the stressors that may be present and assess each situation individually.  Often times a person can demonstrate a challenging behavior because they don’t understand what is being asked of them.  Take a moment to make sure you explain things in a calm, clear manner and allow them time to reflect on the situation.  It’s also important to understand what works best for each individual in your care.  Saying the wrong thin, at the wrong time, can really back fire on you in an instant.


Things to remember when responding to an individual who is displaying a challenging behavior:

  • Use their name to draw their attention to you and what you are saying.
  • Make sure you know what the real message is that the person is trying to convey.
  • Set limits that are clear and enforceable to help them understand what is expected of them.
  • Define the challenging behavior and teach the consumer a better way they could respond or react to the situation.

It’s important to acknowledge what type of behavior the consumer is displaying so you can respond correctly or even if the situation really requires your intervention at all. The last thing you want to do is reinforce the behavior by giving in or backing down because it really wasn’t that big of a deal anyway. Are they ignoring you when you are talking to them? Maybe they try challenging or making unkind statements to you when you are talking to them. It’s our job to not take their acting out behavior personally.  We do this by remaining calm, making sure we are in control of our responses and maintaining a professional attitude. It’s important to understand that acting out behavior is a mechanism that individuals use as a means of expressing themselves. Their acting out behavior has been learned over years as a way of coping and/or communicating.  It will not disappear in a minute. Consistency is the key to modify acting out behavior.


Knowing the right intervention for the right level of behavior is paramount to the remediation of unwanted behaviors.  By having a plan or strategy for the individuals we serve we can help them help themselves become more successful and independent in their lives.




Posted March 12, 2015 by communicationatoz
Categories: Uncategorized


As care givers we often find ourselves rushing to get things done like taking care of our clients, cleaning, cooking and writing notes.  I have often said there isn’t enough time in the day to get done.  During the hustle and bustle of our day, we sometimes forget the reason we are here.  It is easy to dismiss our clients concerns and even jump to conclusions of what they may be trying to say.  This increases the anxiety of the people we care for and can even lead to further escalation and contempt.  We need to remember that listening is one of the most important parts of our job.

Empathic listening is the way we listen and respond to what a person is saying. This skill promotes understanding and trust which is essential to providing the needed supports to the clients in our care.  Some of the benefits of empathic listening include:

  • Promote respect and the trust of the person you serve
  • Helps reduce stress or tension you clients may be feeling
  • Promotes continuation of discussions to help reach resolutions
  •  Demonstrates the desire to listen and care about the individual’s needs.

All too often we anticipate the conversation of our clients’ so we become judgmental or assume what they are going to say. This only promotes anxiety and can even lead to the escalation of their anxiety.  If you take a few minutes to listen to your client and what they are really trying to say, you can avert the escalation of their behavior.  Think back to times where you have had to deal with a client that was acting out.  Of those times, were there chances where empathic listening could have stopped the crisis before it happened?

Based on the strategies of Non Violent Crisis Intervention, there are five ways to promote communication and listening.

  1. Pay attention while moving to a quiet are to reduce distractions that may confound the situation.
  2. Show the client that you are listening to what they have to say by giving them eye contact and providing cues like head nods and positive body language.
  3. Restate what the individual is saying to clarify and help them convey what they are truly trying to say.
  4. Allow time for reflection so the person can process what has been said to them.
  5. Provide constructive feedback that promotes positive interactions and allows the individual to feel like you are there to help them.

Taking just a little time when a person in our care comes to you with a concern can make the difference between a positive interaction and an escalation of unwanted behaviors. We are there to help our clients be the best they can be and listening to what they have to say is the cornerstone of “empathic listening.”

Happy New Year from Communication A to Z

Posted January 1, 2015 by communicationatoz
Categories: Uncategorized

Being a caregiver to a person with special needs has its’ own stresses and pressures. The pressure of making sure that the person(s) you are caring for are safe and receiving the things they need can be daunting. I often ask myself, “how can I best help the person I am serving, what can I do better to enrich their lives and the lives of everyone around them.” That is a question that we as caregivers will always ask. It is our primary job to meet the physical and/or emotional needs of the people we serve. People in this field know how rewarding making a difference in someone’s life can be. We also know how challenging and exhausting caring for people with special needs can be.
Being a person who cares for individuals with special needs can be taxing as we look at increased workloads, stressful environments and individuals who may demonstrate challenging behaviors. C. R. Figley described what is called “Compassion Fatigue” which is the “cost of caring” for others who cannot care for themselves. This can lead to emotional exhaustion, decreased empathy for the people in your care and in some cases… physical abuse. For you, it can eventually turn into depression and other stress related illnesses.
Signs of Compassion Fatigue are but not limited to:
  • Exhaustion
  • Anger
  • Irritability
  • Decrease ability to feel sympathy or empathy for the person we care about
  • Poor decision making
  • Inability to separate work from home
  • Reduced desire to come to work and help those around you
So how can we prevent the stressors or “Compassion Fatigue?” The best way to take care of others is to make sure you take care of yourself.
  • Find outlets or hobbies you can do to help reduce the pressures of the job or caring for that special person
  • Recognize your needs
  • Take a break when you start feeling overwhelmed
  • Make plans to get away or just hang out with some friends for a laugh
  • Know what you have and do not have control over
  • Work out or even try meditation, yoga or breathing exercises
  • Find a balance between taking care of yourself and others to make sure you don’t forget your needs
Make sure you take a few minutes each day to do your own personal inventory of what you need to keep you balanced and ready to meet the challenges of caring for the people in our charge. Give yourself a pat on the back and know that you make a difference in someone’s life. Most importantly… know that you make a difference in your own life. Remember to be good to yourselves and the rest will take care of itself.
Wishing you every happiness this Holiday Season and prosperity in the New Year. Thank you for being our customer. We look forward to continuing our relationship in the coming year.
All the best to you and your family,

Carla Walden
Communication A to Z 

What are Social Stories

Posted February 24, 2013 by communicationatoz
Categories: Social Stories

Asking Others To Play "Social Story"

Asking Others To Play “Social Story”

What Are Social Stories

I Will Follow the Rules

Social stories are the visual representation of situations or events that happen in our lives.  Modeling is a powerful tool to teaching children on the autism spectrum, children with communicative disorders as well as other disabilities that affect their ability to understand abstract information.  The story helps depict some particular social skill, life skill or behaviors that are acted out using visual strategies of symbols, pictures and verbal instruction.  These strategies take a concrete approach to learning to help the individual understand what is being said, how they should react and how to recognize situations that occur that they may be struggling with.

What is a good social story?

A good social story will focus on a particular event that provides information to a social, emotional, behavioral, or everyday life skill event.  This can include trips to the store, how to make a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, meeting new people, playing appropriately with others as well as appropriate manners at the table, in community settings or when becoming frustrated or angry.

Social stories should address:

  • Confusing situations for children with autism such as social situations.  They should provide details and information that creates a concrete understanding of abstract thoughts.
  • It should explain how to react to certain situations and the expected behaviors they should engage in during these events.
  • A social story will explain the consequences to unwanted actions and what could happen if they engage in those inappropriate behaviors.
  • Social stories can even explain simple things like everyday life skills such as going to the bathroom and why it is important.  Many of our children struggle in this area.
  • A social story can explain the actions of others and how they should react in those situations such as when someone tries to get you to do something you know is wrong, teases you, or doesn’t want to play with you.  Situations like these are difficult for individuals with poor social skills and creating that concrete understanding helps them develop the coping skills needed to address these situations in everyday life.

Social stories provide a concrete form of learning that is a role model for appropriate behavior.  It creates a main character in a story that allows the child to identify with the story and the strategies they use to respond appropriately to situations they may struggle with in life.  Providing an individual with special needs a solid form of learning everyday life skills is a great way to improve their ability to be more independent and successful in life.


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