Behavior is Communication

Behavior is communication. That is a truth that we as parents of special needs children understand.  We listen to our children and seek to understand what they are trying to communicate.  A child does not “have” challenging behaviors.  A child with challenging behaviors is screaming to be heard and understood.  Therefore, we as parents must demand that our children be heard and understood. But how can we get the school to listen? I would like to share two strategies for listening and understanding challenging behavior.


If your child is resorting to challenging behavior for communication in school/home you can request a Board Certified Behavior Analyst or BCBA join the IEP team or work with one privately. A BCBA is the professional to manage and implement the listening process.  This professional will have a master’s degree and a license.  (A license in a specific field certifies that the person is ethical and competent.) Each single behavior has a FUNCTION or a “why”.  A competent BCBA will complete a functional behavior analysis or FBA for each behavior.  The process, if done correctly, takes weeks of data collection and focuses on a single behavior.  After the function of the behavior is determined then you can start to form a behavior plan.  If the team does not have a BCBA execute this process, then you can expect the behavior plan to FAIL.  You can look this process up online and learn more about it.  A BCBA costs money and a FBA that has utility will cost money and time.  So, if you request one, expect districts to try to “districtsplain” why you don’t need one.


Another approach to “listening” to behavior is neuroscience or brain science. This field is really taking off and discoveries are being made every day.   One of my favorite books is called “Beyond Behaviors” by Mona Delahooke, PhD. On the cover of the book it reads “Using Brain Science and Compassion to Understand and Solve Children’s Behavioral Challenges.” Dr. Delahooke uses an iceberg as an example for behavior.  The top of the iceberg is the behavior and what we see. Below the water is the massive iceberg that explains the etiology or origin of the behavior.  It’s the part we don’t “see” that we must learn about the child so we can understand the behavior.  


The methods above both first seek to understand the child and their behavior.  The following link is from the ODE website explaining how the state “listens” to our children’s behaviors. Rule: Positive Behavior Interventions and Support and Restraint and Seclusion | Ohio Department of Education .  I don’t believe in a method that has restraint and seclusion as a part of its solution.  If that is the case, then the process is doomed to fail before it begins.  If you are a parent of a child who primarily communicates with behavior you must go to this website and learn what your child’s rights are in situations where the school personnel misunderstand your child.  Then you must find team members that can help you advocate for your child to be heard and understood in the school setting.


            Remember, a challenging behavior is a cry for help.  When we as a society hear a neighbor cry for help: we stop, listen and help.  As parents, professionals and society we are duty bound to listen to our children’s cries for help as well and offer them the same kindness and compassion as we offer our neighbors in need.