How Can Applied Behavior Analysis Be Used to Support Students With Trauma?
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How Can Applied Behavior Analysis Be Used to Support Students With Trauma?

Did you know that over 40 percent of children and teens experience trauma? Up to 15 percent of school-aged girls will go on to develop PTSD symptoms. In school systems, recognizing trauma and adverse behaviors can be challenging. 

It is even more challenging to find tools and strategies to help a child. Applied behavior analysis has long been used for students with behavioral issues. 

In this article, we will break down what applied behavior analysis is, strategies to use at school, and how you can receive proper training. Keep reading for more information!

What Is Applied Behavior Analysis?

Applied behavior analysis (ABA) is a therapy focused on modifying behaviors. It uses rewards, positive reinforcement, and consequences. It is used primarily with children with autism, but it has a wide array of uses for other behavioral issues, such as students with past trauma. 

Trauma or post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) behaviors usually present with an antecedent. An antecedent triggers PTSD and can be something as simple as a loud sound. The behavioral response could result in a panic attack or violent behavior. 

These children may remove themselves from others with social isolation techniques. One way behavior analysis tools can help is:

  • Controlled exposure to triggers
  • Assessing behaviors
  • Train students for positive behavioral responses

Training positive responses can be through replacing traumatic experiences with feelings of neutrality. You can also teach ways to face triggers rather than avoid them. This training takes time and patience. 

ABA Classroom Strategies

Facilitating positive classroom behaviors starts with the setup. When disruptions or interruptions occur, it can be more challenging to backtrack. Here are some suggestions for classrooms that use behavior analysis techniques:

  • Personally greet students at the door
  • Maintain relationships
  • Use reminders (e.g., visual, verbal, physical)
  • Assign seats with some flexibility
  • Behavior-specific positive reinforcement
  • Explain expectations and reasoning
  • Supervise
  • Be Consistent

One of the best things you can do to help support students with trauma is to be personable. This could be simple things like standing up to greet a student that comes in, or setting up a more friendly space in your classroom or office. 

Some suggestions might be a couch or comfy chair. These examples can emphasize a warm and friendly environment. However, how you interact with the student makes the most significant difference. 

Other ABA techniques that are useful for treating PTSD and trauma in students can include:

  • Reinforcement
  • Naturalistic teaching
  • Discrete trial training
  • Pivotal response treatment
  • Contingent observation

Pivotal response training helps encourage behavioral changes. It is part of a naturalistic teaching method used for autism.

Pivotal response training doesn’t target one behavior. Instead, it aims to develop social skills, communication, and learning. 

Trauma affects more than a child’s emotions. Having strategies that work collectively is critical. 

Motivation and positive reinforcement are key components. You’ll find this training helps children’s self-management and responsiveness. 

Recognizing Trauma and Behavior

Students with past trauma will likely react differently to situations than those without trauma. For example, students suffering from physical abuse may lash out with mild physical contact. Not every trauma survivor will also respond to situations similarly, and it is vital that you treat each student as an individual case. 

Some of the signs of trauma in elementary students include:

  • Increased fear
  • Talking about the event
  • Physical complaints
  • Aggressiveness
  • Mood changes
  • Childish behavior

Positive reinforcement is critical during this stage since punishment can make emotional and physical symptoms worse. In high school-aged students, you might notice a few different signs. 

For example, students may have a difficult time focusing or recalling information. Other signs of trauma in high-school-aged students include:

  • Lack of participation
  • Disengagement
  • Incomplete assignments

It is also reasonable to assume that you may not know the trauma. Many behavioral analysts work with students who have intellectual or developmental disabilities.

One of the best things you can start doing is establishing trust and safety. It is recommended to aim for the least restrictive procedures when looking at safety. 

Virtual Classroom

How can you facilitate virtual learning and applied behavioral analysis? One study looked at virtual behavioral analysis with patients with an autism diagnosis. Interventions emphasized discrete trial training (DTT) and using the natural environment. 

DTT emphasizes teaching new behaviors by breaking down skills into simple steps. Teaching in a natural environment can facilitate carry-over and better context for students. 

These two strategies should be emphasized in a home or virtual setting and do not need to have caregiver support. The benefit of virtual classroom learning is a better generalization, and it can reduce strain on counselors and teachers. It also allows caregivers to be a part of the process if needed. 

How Can You Help?

As school counselors, psychologists, directors, and behavior interventionists, you want streamlined services that can help you deliver the best practices at your school. Insights to Behavior has multiple university workshop content. 

Selecting Insights to Behavior’s managing student behavior series can give you better insight for:

  • A positive approach to behavior management
  • Research-based strategies
  • Implementation in K-12 schools

Training is critical for recognizing trauma and finding ways to help. Other tools you can use are:

  • Fostering mutual respect and understanding
  • Implementing a safe environment
  • Empowering autonomy
  • Emphasize strengths
  • Explaining assignments

Since each child is different, fostering a community and classroom where a child feels safe can help them learn to cope and heal.

It is also beneficial to spend extra time explaining assignments. This can help encourage learning. Implementing positive reinforcement can also help foster better mental and emotional health. 

Implementing Behavior Analysis

You can receive legally defensible behavior intervention plans through Insights to Behavior. As a director of special education, you need behavior intervention plans that are quick and cost-friendly. We offer applied behavior analysis demos that can be completed in under an hour.

We also include several K12 behavior training workshops for individuals or teachers. Taking the steps today to learn more about effective behavior management can help you make a positive difference in the classroom. 

Are you ready to get started? Check out our website and request a demo today to start learning more!

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