Michelle Garcia, PsyD and Associates - "Improving Quality of Life"

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Monthly Informational - February 2013

I recently came across an article discussing thetreatment of aggression in individuals with intellectual or developmentaldisabilities: A Review of BehavioralInterventions for the Treatment of Aggression in Individuals with DevelopmentalDisabilities (2011), by J. Brosnan and O. Healy. The article is an overviewof many other articles exploring differing treatment techniques. The authorscame to the conclusion that behavioral-based techniques, teaching how to do certain behaviors rather than why certain behaviors should be done,tend to be the most effective option available. I found it to be veryinteresting for two reasons.
The article proposed that observation andanalysis should always occur to determine the context of any problem behavior.In this manner, what makes the individual choose an aggressive behavior can beidentified as well as what rewards are gained. One example would be if a childdislikes his toys being taken away, he or she could react in a hostile manner.If this resulted in the toys being returned, the child would then learn thatwith that behavior go the desired results. Consequently, teaching the child toreact differently would require knowing why the child was acting out in thefirst place. At that point, new reactions could be taught that would help thechild cope with situations that occur in a better manner.
The article also discussed the better efficacythat behavioral techniques enjoy over other alternatives such as medicationwith aggressive individuals. While medication tended to control symptoms, theroot causes are not addressed by such methods. Instead, when combined withbehavioral observation and analysis as mentioned above, behavioral techniquescan help the individual learn new behavior and maintain that change into thefuture. Essentially, by focusing on action, or behavior, as the avenue ofintervention communication barriers between client and therapist are brokendown. While it may seem like a basic approach, the emphasis on what is donerather than what is thought ensures that individuals with varying levels ofdisability have an equal chance to succeed.
While these two focuses may seemstraight-forward on the surface, they have a deeper more powerful message. Itpushes the therapist to first understand the individual and their situation,and then focus on involving the person in their own self-improvement. Focusingon first understanding the individual’s context and then creating a treatment plan,which communicates on the individual’s level, does something else important: itembraces their humanity. While intellectual disability or developmentaldisabilities can delay an individual’s growth or limit their cognitiveabilities in some way, that person is no less human for it. Communicationbarriers can happen with any client, and it is a part of the therapist’smission to overcome those barriers. This applies to every client, regardless ofthe challenge that they face. By ensuring that positive regard and empathy forthe client are maintained, and the client is treated as an equal, anoft-marginalized population can be both heard and helped.
Studentat Sam Houston State University

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