Supporting Positive Behavior Through Contingency Mapping
This month we’re focusing on visual supports and strategies to support positive behavior. We’ve talked about transition supports and environmental arrangements. Another way to help therapy sessions run smoothly and keep the focus on learning (rather than managing behavior) is to take proactive steps to make the expectations clear. For most people who are learning AAC, that means making sure there is a visual representation that accompanies the verbal explanation.
Many SLPs create a list of rules for expected behavior. In this post, we’ll talk about the research-supported strategy of using contingency maps. Contingency maps are a visual depiction that shows the desired behavior and the outcomes of two divergent paths: one where the learners engage in the desired behavior and the other that shows what happens if they don’t engage in the desired behavior. If you’re familiar with behavioral approaches, this strategy is right up your alley. The contingency map generally shows the ABCs: antecedent (A), the desired behavior (B), and the consequences (C ). There are two paths: one that shows the desired behavior and consequence for it and the other that shows what happens if the learner engages in the problem behavior. Two paths, two consequences.
Trina, a 9-year-old girl with soulful eyes and a limber body, taught me the power of contingency maps one summer. Among other things, Trina loved to climb and loved to be barefoot. I wasn’t crazy about her being barefoot, but I could live with it. Climbing, however, was another matter. In a split second, she could hoist herself on top of a table, shelf unit, or cabinet. Scary stuff. (Ever woke up in the night from dreams of a bookcase crashing down onto one of your little ones? You know what I’m talking about.) The climbing thing had to be addressed.
For Trina, we used her love of being barefoot to help us manage the climbing and keep her safe.
- Desired outcome: Feet on the floor.
- Consequence for the desired behavior: Get to keep shoes off
- Undesired or problem behavior: Climbing
- Consequence for the undesired behavior: Putting shoes on
Trina’s understanding of language was quite limited, so it took a few repetitions of the contingency map and some tussles over getting shoes on once she had climbed, but within days, she understood. After that, we reviewed the contingency map in the morning and after lunch, and had few additional problems. Trina learned, the other kids were safer, and I slept better. Thanks, Drs. Brown and Mirenda, for your research on this strategy!
What we like about contingency maps is that they show the likely outcome for what happens when you follow the expectations and what happens when you don’t. Social thinking and advanced planning doesn’t come easily to some of our AAC learners, so what may be obvious to us (the consequences), may not be something they can foresee. Having a visual representation can make all the difference.
Here are some tips on making contingency maps work in your clinical practice.
- Use natural consequences whenever possible. It’s easier to sustain the positive changes when the consequences remain after the training ends. That’s more likely when natural consequences are used.
- Teach the strategy. Use the visual support (the actual contingency map you created) to show the learner what will happen if he/she chooses each path.
- Practice. Go through each path and simulate what happens for each choice.
- Keep the contingency map in a visible location so that you can refer to it throughout the day. Consider keeping a small, portable version of it with you (e.g., hooked to a belt loop) for behaviors that you have to manage immediately
- Give a meaningful rationale for the consequences. If Trina chose to climb, we’d have her put shoes on. Maybe having shoes on would help her feet stay on the floor and keep her safe. That was the story and we stuck to it.
- Consider adding the contingency map to the person’s AAC device. That gives you another way to talk about what will happen (future) and/or what did happen (past).
- Share the news. It’s helpful for everyone to know what strategies you are using. Go over the contingency map when mom comes at the end of the session, or show the aide when you take the student back to the classroom. When your client does well, you can use the map to show what happened and celebrate the success.
We love the way that contingency maps fit in with our overall approach of making language visible. Hope you get good results with this prAACtical strategy.
Brown, K. & Mirenda, P. (2006). Contingency mapping: Use of a novel visual strategy as an adjunct to functional equivalence training. Journal of Positive Behaviour Interventions,
8 (3), 155-164.
Filed under: Strategy of the Month
This post was written by Carole Zangari