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Deaf/Blind News The Use of Positive Practice to Reduce Self-Stimulatory Behaviors Corinne K. Jensema Self-stimulatory behaviors are defined as any type of repetitious action performed by an individual upon himself for the purpose of rendering pleasure and/or heightened sensory feedback. All human beings engage in forms of self-stimulation to varying degrees and of varying kinds. However, children with sensory deficits , emotional handicaps, autism, and mental deficiency often engage in forms of selfstimulatory behaviors which are conventionally unacceptable and to a degree wherein the child cannot easily attend to other activities. The single-mindedness with which these behaviors are pursued acts as an obstruction to communication and training. A national survey of 217 school-age deafblind children and youth in the fall of 1979 by this author revealed that 62.7% of the children engage in at least one form of socially unacceptable self-stimulation to a degree wherein communication is greatly restricted. The survey broke down the behaviors into five categories: "blindisms," "deafisms," "autistic-like," sexual , and motoric. "Blindisms" were defined as any stimulatory behaviors which altered input to the eyes, such as light filtering (waving the fingers between the eyes and a light source to create a strobe effect) and eye-gouging. Repetitious sound making was used as an example of "deafisms." "Autistic-like" behaviors were considered other perseverative actions involving objects, such as twirling sticks or watching water go down a drain. Sexual stimulation was defined as any kind of masturbation. Motoric stimulation was considered as involving bodily movements such as rocking, twirling , or flapping. Table 1 shows the percentage of the survey population which have each form of self-stimulatory behavior. DESCRIPTION It has long been understood by educators of The author is with the Maryland School for the Deaf, P.O. Box 894, Columbia, Md. 21044. Table 1. Self-Stimulatory Behaviors which Obstruct Learning and Communication. N % of 217 "blindisms" "deafisms" "autistic-like" sexual motoric at least one form of self-stimulatory behavior reported 86 61 38 44 78 136 39.6 28.1 17.5 20.3 35.5 62.7 deaf-blind children that little learning can occur unless the frequency of these behaviors is reduced . At the Maryland School for the Deaf, a behavioral program combining the principles of "positive practice" and positive reinforcement has been employed successfully to reduce selfstimulatory behaviors in autistic-like hearingimpaired children. Positive practice is an overcorrection procedure . It is a punishment system which attempts to suppress undesirable behaviors while replacing them with socially appropriate ones. The literature reports that this is a successful technique for reducing self-stimulation and aggression toward persons, or increasing attention span and eye contact in autistic and retarded children (Colyer, 1980; Foxx, 1977). The value of the system is that it gives children desirable alternatives while reducing the unwanted behaviors . It is important to note that because it is a punishment procedure, the law requires data to be kept, parental permission to be obtained, and a positive reinforcer to be applied. A positive practice program can be set up in the following way: 1. Take baseline data of the frequency of self-stimulation or the time intervals between these unwanted behaviors. Determine the time frame in which the program will operate (e.g., all the time, only during work activities, etc.). 524 A.A.D. I August 1980 Deaf !Blind News Set up a positive reinforcement contingency whereby reinforcement can be earned at time intervals slightly greater than baseline data. For example, if a child hand-flaps once every 18-19 seconds, reinforce him/her every 20-25 seconds that hand-flaps have not occurred. 2. Select a repertoire of preferred behaviors which will be practiced immediately after the child performs the unwanted behavior during the allotted time interval. Foxx and Azrin have designed exercises specific to the part of the body moving inappropriately (1973). Figure 1 shows some exercises which could be used to replace hand-flapping and mimic normal sitting and standing behaviors . It is important that the child be given models for both sitting and standing. Figure1.Examplesofappropriatehandbehavior. 3.Whenthechilddoestheunwantedbehavior , immediately take him to another part of the room and begin the exercises. The...


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