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Deconstructing Destructive Behavior

Monday, January 4, 2010
Photo of Mambu Sherman, Dean Williams and Yusuke Hayashi

Mambu Sherman, Dean Williams and Yusuke Hayashi discuss research
which focuses on transitions to pinpoint triggers of aggression and self-injury
in people with intellectual disabilities.

Despite increasing community integration of people with intellectual disabilities in the last 20 years, rates of serious behavior disorders in this population remain high and psychoactive medication remains the treatment of choice.

But a multi-university research team headed by Dean Williams, Parsons senior scientist, is unscrambling the triggers of Chronic Aberrant Behavior (CAB), marked by aggression, head banging, biting and other forms of self-injury. With Parsons colleague Kathryn Saunders and researchers at Johns Hopkins University and West Virginia University, Williams is pinpointing the interplay of environmental and individual differences that cause CAB.

While clinicians know that transitioning between activities generates agitation and the characteristic behaviors in people with CAB, understanding which transitions, and why, remains a challenge.

Williams’ team has observed that some activities cause problems only when they follow more favored activities. “A person might have problems in math class when it follows recess, but not when it follows spelling class.”

The take-home point? “It may not be transitions, per se, or the particular activities that generate problem behavior,” Williams asserts. “A solution may be looking closely at the context of activities and ways of making activities equivalent to individuals.”

CAB strains families, communities and the health care system and causes immeasurable suffering for those with the disorder. Williams hopes to translate this research to therapeutic approaches across settings, people and circumstances, a priority of the funding agency, the National Institutes of Health.



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