Bullying has been recognized as a serious national health issue. Because of social media, this long time social problem has now reached new levels of concern. Bullying is a fear of all parents, for parents of children with disabilities, the fear is exasperated.
Parents of children with disabilities fear that their child may not be able to defend themselves against bullying, or even worse, not be able to communicate what is going on.
This led me to start researching bullying policies in school boards across the nation. As I looked at the campaigns and interventions that had been developed, I realized that little research has been done on effective preventative and intervention strategies for both the bully and the bullied.
The status quo for prevention is awareness, and this is not enough. Current intervention strategies, based on punishment, can result in a temporary decrease but it is not a long-term solution (reference Anderson & Kincaid, 2005 paper). Alternatively, interventions geared towards the bully are often group-treatment interventions, which have been reported to teach bullies new bullying behaviors (reference Ross & Horner, 2009 paper).
There is little research on bullying intervention and prevention based on principles of applied behavior analysis, ABA. As a BCBA I have experienced first hand the benefits of using ABA therapy with children with ASD (autism spectrum disorder) and suggest in this blog that ABA therapy can be applied for both bullying intervention and prevention.
- For schools interested in pursuing the idea of ABA therapy they will need a very comprehensive plan with several layers of training. Schools will need to be trained on antecedent manipulations, reinforcement, and extinction at a very minimum. Below are several articles to help a behavior analyst design a treatment plan for preventative and intervention strategies for bullying.Antecedent Manipulations: Anderson & Kincaid (2005) discuss antecedent manipulations in the environment, which focuses on creating and clearly outlining school rules for behavior. For instance, instead of ‘no yelling in the cafeteria’, the rule might be to ‘use an indoor voice, remain seated, and ‘keep hands to yourself’. Some environments might signal the availability of reinforcement for bullies (environments with low supervision). For example, the bathroom may be a signal for the reduction in authority and therefore may increase bullying behavior.
- Reinforcement: Positive reinforcement is a powerful tool for changing behaviors and when implemented systematically, reinforcement delivered immediately after the desired behavior will help facilitate behavior change (Cooper, Heron, & Heward, 2007). Christensen et al (2004) have created a plan that includes self-monitoring, teacher-peer mediated support, and positive reinforcement with praise and tokens.
- Extinction: Ross & Horner (2009) designed a specific extinction procedure called “stop, walk, talk”. By decreasing the social awards that may be maintaining bullying, it may also decrease the incidents of bullying as well as the attention from bystanders. Teachers were taught to teach victims, who experience any specific behavior, to tell the bullying individual to ‘stop’ and simply walk away. If the ‘bully’ continues to engage in the target behavior, they are to walk away and tell an authority figure. Teachers were taught to practice these procedures from the student’s perspective as well as practice how to identify the correct use and incorrect uses. If a student reports an incident of bullying, the teacher will say to the student, ‘Did you do the stop, walk, talk?’ If the student did not, the teacher will practice this with the student. The teachers and administrators will also be taught what to do if a bully does not respond to the ‘stop, walk, talk’.
Christensen et al. (2007) examined the effects of an intervention directed toward the student in need of learning social skills (the bully). Christensen and his colleagues set up individual goals with self-monitoring systems for the ‘bully’, teacher and peer-mediated support and positive reinforcement through the use of tokens and positive peer reporting from the other students They found that the student showed immediate improvement and that it was maintained over time.
We need to find the function and design of an individualized treatment plan for bullies. Strategies need to be taught to victims and potential future victims so that we see systemic change.
Anderson, M.C., & Kincaid, D. (2005). Applying Behavior Analysis to School Violence and Discipline Problems: School wide Positive Behavior Support. The Behavior Analyst. 28, 49-63.
Ross, W. S., Horner, H. R. (2009). Bully Prevention in Positive Behavior Support. Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis, 42, 747-759.
Christensen, L., Young, K. R., & Marchant, M. (2004). The effects of a peer-mediated positive behavior support program on socially appropriate classroom behavior. Education and Treatment of Children, 27(3), 199-234.
Christensen, L., Young, K. R., & Marchant, M. (2007). Behavior Intervention Planning: Increasing appropriate behavior of a socially withdrawn student, 30(4), 81-103.
The information in this blog is for general information purposes only and is not intended to provide any type of professional advice. Portia does not guaranty the accuracy or reliability of any information contained in this blog from third party sources. You should consult a Board Certified Behavior Analyst or other qualified professional for specific advice. Portia International assumes no responsibility for any reliance made on or misuse or omissions of the information contained in this blog.