Behavioral Treatments

Behavioral treatments have been shown to be effective in reducing aggression, self-injurious behaviors, and other learned maladaptive behavioral patterns in persons with mental retardation. In addition, behavioral treatments have improved quality of life via teaching basic living skills. For many years, behavioral strategies have been the most thoroughly researched and widely used group of interventions for persons with mental retardation. These strategies rest on the belief that behavior is regulated by its consequences, and that environmental influences can promote or diminish behaviors. Consequences can increase the probability of a future occurrence of a behavior, or they can reduce the probability of a behavior occurring.

All behavioral therapies involve several key components: operationalizing target behaviors, recognizing antecedents to behaviors, identifying an appropriate array of reinforcers, and specifying when target behaviors will be rewarded or punished. With such knowledge, one can devise appropriate environments in which a person can be reinforced for desirable and adaptive behaviors and not reinforced for maladaptive behaviors.

Behavioral treatments also involve the specification and quantification of the occurrence of the maladap-tive behavior in terms of its context, function, frequency, duration, and intensity. Upon determining the specific maladaptive behavior to target and its potential reinforcers, it is the goal of the professional to determine the purpose or function that one's behavior is serving. A functional analysis attempts to determine the relationship between behavior, antecedents, and consequences, which permits the choice of an appropriate treatment. In conducting a functional analysis, information can be obtained that determines whether a behavior is maintained due to antecedents specific to the environment (e.g., interaction with peers and overstimulation) or due to consequences (e.g., desired avoidance of an event).

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