Adaptive behaviors

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Adaptive behavior refers to behavior that enables a person (usually used in the context of children) to get along in his or her environment with greatest success and least conflict with others. This is a term used in the areas of psychology and special education. Adaptive behavior relates to every day skills or tasks that the average person is able to complete, similar to the term life skills. For example, a child born with cerebral palsy will most likely have a form of Hemiparesis or Hemiplegia (the weakening, or loss of use, of one side of the body). In order to adapt to one's environment, the child may use these limbs as helpers, in some cases even adapt the use of their mouth and teeth as a tool used for more than just eating or conversation. This is only one example of an adaptive behavior for one's physical environment. There are also other ways one can adapt their behavior for their emotional or communicative environment. For instance, frustration from lack of the ability to verbalize one's own needs can lead to tantrums. In addition, it may lead to the use of signs or sign language to communicate one's desires. One subject that is pertinent to this article is ABA therapy. "Applied means that interventions are geared toward achieving socially-important goals, helping people be more successful in natural settings such as homes, schools, and communities. Behavioral means that ABA focuses on what people say or do, rather than interpretations or assumptions about behavior. And analytic means that assessments are used to identify relationships between behavior and aspects of the environment (e.g., screaming occurs most when Johnny is given a difficult task and allows him to delay or avoid that activity) before proceeding to intervention." referenced from[abatherapy 1]

In education, adaptive behavior is defined as that which (1) meets the needs of the community of stakeholders (parents, teachers, peers, and later employers) and (2) meets the needs of the learner, now and in the future. Specifically, these behaviors include such things as effective speech, self-help, using money, cooking, and reading, for example.

Training in adaptive behavior is a key component of any educational program, but is critically important for children with special needs. The US Department of Education has allocated billions of dollars ($12.3 billion in 2008) for Special Education programs aimed at improving educational and early intervention outcomes for children with disabilities. In 2001, the United States National Research Council published a comprehensive review of interventions for children and adults diagnosed with autism. The review indicates that interventions based on applied behavior analysis have been effective with these groups.

Adaptive behavior includes socially responsible and independent performance of daily activities. However, the specific activities and skills needed may differ from setting to setting. When a student is going to school, school and academic skills are adaptive. However, some of those same skills might be useless or maladaptive in a job settings, so the transition between school and job needs careful attention.

Advanced definition: concept[edit]

Adaptive behaviors:

  • the natural occasion for the response
  • the independent performance of the daily activity
  • and the natural consequences for the response
  • within the context of the home/host culture

Adaptive skills encompass a range of daily situations and they usually start with a task analysis. The task analysis will reveal all the steps necessary to perform the task in the natural environment. The use of behavior analytic procedures has been documented, with children, adolescents and adults, under the guidance of behavior analysts[1] and supervised behavioral technicians. The list of applications has a broad scope and it is in continuous expansion as more research is carried out in applied behavior analysis (see Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis, The Analysis of Verbal Behavior).

Importance and relevance[edit]

Every human being must learn a set of skills that is beneficial for the environments and communities they live in. Adaptive skills are stepping stones toward accessing and benefiting from local or remote communities. This means that, in urban environments, to go to the movies, a child will have to learn to navigate through the town or take the bus, read the movie schedule, and pay for the movie. Adaptive skills allow for safer exploration because they provide the learner with an increased awareness of his/her surroundings and of changes in context, that require new adaptive responses to meet the demands and dangers of that new context. Adaptive skills may generate more opportunities to engage in meaningful social interactions and acceptance. Adaptive skills are socially acceptable and desirable at any age and regardless of gender (with the exception of gender specific biological differences such as menstrual care skills, etc.)

Some domains of application of behavior analytic interventions[edit]

  • Community access skills
  1. Bus riding (Neef et al. 1978)[2]
  2. Independent walking (Gruber et al. 1979)[3]
  3. Coin summation (Lowe and Cuvo, 1976; Miller et al. 1977)[4]
  4. Ordering food in a restaurant (Haring 1987)
  5. Vending machine use (Sprague and Horner, 1984)
  6. Eating in public places (van den Pol at al. 1981)[5]
  7. Pedestrian safety (Page et al. 1976)
  • Peer access and retention
  1. Clothing selection skills (Nutter and Reid, 1978)[6]
  2. Appropriate mealtime behaviors (McGrath et al. 2004; O'Brien et al. 1972; Wilson et al. 1984)[7][8][9]
  3. Toy play skills (Haring 1985) and playful activities (Lifter et al., 1993)[10][11]
  4. Oral hygiene and teeth brushing (Singh et al., 1982; Horner & Keilitz, 1975)[12][13]
  5. Soccer play (Luyben et al. 1986)

Adaptive behaviors are considered to change due to the persons culture and surroundings. Professors have to delve into the students technical and comprehension skills to measure how adaptive their behavior is.[14]

  • Barriers to access to peers and communities
  1. Diurnal bruxism (Blount et al. 1982)[15]
  2. Controlling rumination and vomiting (Kholenberg, 1970; Rast et al. 1981)[16][17]
  3. Pica (Mace and Knight, 1986)

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Professional practice of behavior analysis
  2. ^ Neef, A.N.; Iwata, B.A.; Page T.J. et al. (1978). Public Transportation Skills. In vivo versus classroom instruction. Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis, 11, 331–4.
  3. ^ Gruber, B.; Reeser R.; Reid, D.H. (1979). Providing a less restrictive environment to retarded persons by teaching independent walking skills. Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis, 12, 285–97.
  4. ^ Lowe, M.L. & Cuvo, A.J. (1976). Teaching coin summation to the mentally retarded. Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis, 9, 483–9.
  5. ^ Van den Pol, R.A.; Iwata, B.A.; Ivancic M.T.; Page, T.J.; Neef N.A. & Whitley (1981). Teaching the handicapped to eat in public places: Acquisition, generalization, and maintenance of restaurant skills. JABA. 14, 61–9.
  6. ^ Nutter D. & Reid D.H. (1978). Teaching retarded women a clothing selection skill using community norms. Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis, 11, 475–87.
  7. ^ McGrath, A.; Bosch, S.; Sullivan, C.; Fuqua, R.W. (2003). Teaching reciprocal social interactions between preschoolers and a child diagnosed with autism. Journal of Positive Behavioral Interventions, 5, 47–54.
  8. ^ O'Brien, F.; Bugle, C. & Azrin N.H. (1972). Training and maintaining a retarded child's proper eating. JABA, 5, 67–72.
  9. ^ Wilson, P.G.; Reid, D.H.; Phillips, J.F. & Burgio, L.D. (1984). Normalization of institutional mealtimes for profoundly retarded persons. Effects and non-effects of teaching family-style dining. JABA, 17, 189–201.
  10. ^ Haring, T.G. (1985). Teaching between class generalization of toy play behavior to handicapped children. JABA, 18, 127–39.
  11. ^ Lifter, K.; Sulzer-Azaroff, B.; Anderson, S.R. & Cowdery, G.E. (1993) Teaching Play Activities to Preschool Children with Disabilities: The Importance of Developmental Considerations. Journal of Early Intervention, 17, 139–59.
  12. ^ Singh, N.N.; Manning, P.J. & Angell M.J. (1982). Effects of an oral hyegene punishment procedure on chronic rumination and collateral behaviors in monozygous twins. JABA, 15, 309–14.
  13. ^ Horner, R.D. & Keilitz, I. (1975). Training mentally retarded adolescents to brush their teeth. JABA, 8, 301–9.
  14. ^ "Psychology: Adaptive Behavior". Retrieved 2 October 2011. 
  15. ^ Blount, R.L.; Drabman, R.S.; Wilson, N.; Stewart D. (1982). Reducing severe diurnal bruxism ib tw profoundly retarded females. JABA, 15, 565–71.
  16. ^ Kholenberg (1970). Punishment of persitant vomiting: A case study. Journal of Applied Behavior Analyis, 3, 241–5.
  17. ^ Rast, J.; Johnston, J.M.; Drum, C. & Corin, J. (1981). The relation of food quantity to rumination behavior. Journal of Applied Behavior Anlaysis, 14, 121–30.
  1. ^ Hieneman, Meme; Viviana Gonzalez; Paula Chan. "What is ABA Therapy now, really?". Autism Support Network. p. 2. Retrieved 10 May 2013. 

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