Written by Stephen M. Edelson, Ph.D.
Center for the Study of Autism, Salem, Oregon
Self-management is a psychological term used to
describe the process of achieving personal autonomy. The goal of
self-management for the developmentally disabled population is to
shift supervision and control from a parent, caregiver, job coach,
or employer to the person him-/herself. A successful self-management
program will allow these individuals to live and work independently
within their environment. There are three components of self-management.
The aim of self-monitoring is teach the person
to become more aware of his/her own behavior. For those with developmental
disabilities, a target behavior(s) is selected, such as aggression,
making nonsense noises, and staying on task; and the person is taught
to monitor when this behavior(s) occurs. One strategy is to teach
the person to monitor his/her own behavior at short time intervals.
At first a teacher or supervisor may remind the student every 10
or 15 minutes to observe his/her behavior. Later, a kitchen timer
can be used to present an auditory signal every 10 or 15 minutes
to cue the person to observe whether the target behavior occurred.
An eventual goal may be to teach the person to monitor his/her behavior
without a prompt. For example, after performing an undesirable behavior,
he/she may become immediately aware of what he/she is doing. Such
awareness may then prompt the person to stop the behavior before
it escalates. Sometimes there is a reactivity effect in which the
undesirable behavior decreases merely because of the process of
The person determines whether or not he/she engaged
in the target behavior in relation to the goals that have been set.
For example, if the goal is to refrain from self-injury for 10 minutes,
the person and those helping him/her can reflect over the 10-minute
time period to determine if this goal was met. If it was, the person
will proceed to the next stage, self-reinforcement. If not, goals
may need to be revised and self-monitoring will need to take place
again. In order to maximize the likelihood of success, goals should
be realistic and attainable; and they should be made more challenging
as the person experiences consistent success.
Self-reinforcement refers to self-delivery of
rewards for reaching the goals which were set. For example, if the
goal is to refrain from aggression for 30 minutes (e.g., three 10-minute
self-monitoring intervals) and if the person has met the goal, then
he/she would reward him-/herself. Researchers claim that allowing
a person to choose from a variety of rewards is more effective than
simply making only one reward available. Initially, these rewards
may be given to the person immediately, such as eating a food snack;
but similar to the real world, it would be best to establish a token
economy in which the person receives tokens (e.g., coins, stars)
for appropriate behavior, and then exchanges them for a reward at
a later time.
Although tangible, external rewards are often
quite effective, it would be advantageous to have the person eventually
rely on internal rewards, such as knowing he/she performed well.
Also, while continuous reinforcement works well when new behaviors
are being established (e.g., learning not to be aggressive), the
behaviors will be stronger if reinforcement becomes intermittent.
Certainly, self-regulation can be challenging
to teach to a person with a developmental disability; but many professionals
have been quite successful using simple behavioral techniques to
do so. These techniques include: modeling, rehearsal, shaping, prompting,
feedback, fading, and generalization. Initially, the individual
will likely need close supervision but, over time, such supervision
should be gradually removed, if possible. If a self-management program
is successful, it is important to develop some type of maintenance
program, otherwise the person's skills may deteriorate over time.
Such 'booster' training sessions should be integrated into the program.
Self-management may take a great deal of time
and energy to implement. However, having an individual actively
participate in changing his/her own behavior may be the key to reducing
or eliminating behaviors as well as to maintaining appropriate behaviors.
Once the person can monitor, evaluate, and reinforce his/her own
behavior, everyone benefits.
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