WHY PUNISHMENT OF CHALLENGING
BEHAVIORS IS DISCOURAGED
Punishment results from applying a penalty for
behavior. It is identified as being an aversive event, meaning that
a person would typically try to avoid it. Punishment is further
defined as being a negative response to behavior. Punishment denies
a person the opportunity and the right to make their own decisions
and to take responsibility for their own behavior.
Even in more severe cases of autism,
people can be provided with choice and opportunities to take responsibility
for their behavior. Research and ethical practice finds that aversive
strategies are inappropriate in the vast majority of cases. Instead,
non-aversive, positive behavior support strategies are encouraged.
Globally, differences exist in what people perceive as punishment
and consequences. These differences exist as a result of the values
and attitudes of society and its members.
a history of punishment
Punishment has been used for centuries as an immediate
response to inappropriate or
challenging behavior. Traditionally, behavior modification
was concerned with controlling and eliminating behavior and relied
on restrictive and negative approaches to do so. This doesn't make
it right. There are several reasons why some people continue to
use punishment as a behavior management strategy.
Punishment usually entails power and control.
Often, after a particularly difficult or emotional incident, humans
feel the need to regain control of the situation by exerting their
authority. The feeling of wanting revenge and restitution for the
behavior is natural, as is the desire to change the behavior.,
protect the person and others and express our emotions. Punishment
has a function to satisfy the punisher, rather than any real function
for the person.
In many situations, people may feel they have
no other options for responding to the behavior.
Child rearing practice
Parents often use punishment in the raising of
their children. It is a learned behavior through family culture.
For example, if you don't do the washing up, there will be no TV
for a week. As a result, many people continue to believe that this
is an appropriate method of responding to adults.
Literature/professional usage/expert’s advice
Historically, punishment was frequently reported
in texts, by professionals and experts in the field, as being the
most effective method of managing challenging behaviors. It is only
recent contemporary thought that has challenged this.
Myth of effectiveness
This method of responding to behavior usually
results in immediate, although only short-term changes of the behavior
within a specific environment. There is a belief held by many that
punishment is the most rapid way of gaining control over a situation.
Punishment works to gain control over a situation,
yet does not provide long-term behavior change. As a result, when
people find themselves in situations where they are challenged and
need an immediate response, because punishment has had an immediate
response in the past, they will often resort to such strategies
Why use alternatives to punishment?
Alternatives to punishment are used for a number
• Ethical considerations
• Administrative and legal considerations
• Empirical and clinical considerations.
Behavior occurs in a number of different contexts.
Punishment however only results in change in the immediate context.
The underlying purpose of the behavior is to communicate a message.
Punishment denies this attempt to communicate. It is also important
to reflect ethically on whether the response to challenging behavior
improves the person’s quality of life.
Administrative and legal considerations
In an increasing number of countries, there are
laws which prohibit the use of punishment techniques and promote
dignity, respect and least restrictive alternatives.
Empirical and clinical considerations
Punishment is not effective in the long term with
regard to changing behavior. Whilst it is an immediate response
and produces rapid and significant change in behavior, it is not
proactive and does not teach alternatives for a long-term change
in behavior to occur. It is generally accepted that punishment
is only effective for its duration, and once the response is complete,
the behavior generally returns. Also punishment almost always elicits
aggression from the person.
alternatives to punishment
Parents are strongly encouraged to read about
the wide range of behavior strategies available that provide alternatives
to punishment. A number of these feature on the Behavioral
Issues and Life skills page of this website.
Click here for the full
range of Asperger's and autism fact sheets at www.autism-help.org
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