Evidencing Behaviour and Strategies

In order to identify triggers or purpose of a behaviour, you will need to record behaviours and what happens before and after them over a period of at least a month.

Keeping records in this way can also provide useful evidence as to what strategies you have tried and what results came from them (for example, were they helpful or did they make things more difficult?). This kind of detailed record can help provide clinicians with clear information during the assessment process.

The ‘STAR Approach’ to the management of behaviours which challenge is described in the book Problem Behaviour and People with Severe Learning Disabilities: The STAR Approach by Ewa Zarkowska and John Clements (1994). 
If traditional parenting strategies and/or standard strategies for Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) are used consistently over a sustained period of time, yet prove to be unsuccessful, this could be evidence in itself that your child may fit the PDA profile of ASD. Bear in mind with the PDA profile that new strategies may work for a short period of time, then suddenly stop working. 
The STAR approach can help identify underlying problems as well as being a useful tool to document/evidence strategies you have tried (it is nothing to do with rewards or stickers!); it stands for Setting, Trigger, Action, Response.

These can also be known known as ABC charts (Antecedent, Behaviour, Consequence), although the STAR chart method is more detailed and records more accurate information.

If your child’s teacher or SENCo are willing, they can also evidence behaviour patterns within school using this method. This method is generally well received by teaching staff as it takes very little time to complete.

Setting: This may be environmental or personal and may include: 
  • The physical environment: busy, noisy, lighting, sensory sensitivities.
  • The social interactions and relationships within the environment (perceived lack of control, fear of uncertainty, any conflict)
  • The activities that the child is doing
  • Child’s physical state: hunger, thirst, tiredness, illness, communication difficulties, anxiety… 
  • Child’s thoughts and mood, self-esteem, boredom
  • Life events (loss, change, trauma)
Trigger: These are the things that may ‘set off’ a particular behaviour and usually occur shortly before the behaviour of concern. However, a trigger can also be something that happened several hours ago, or even the previous day if a child has a significant delay in their processing of information. Triggers which happen just before the behaviour either increase a personal want, suggest a likely threat or signal the availability of a desired reward. Examples include a change in activity, a new instruction, a high noise level, a memory of an event, the presence of a person who always responds in the desired way.
It is acceptable to not initially complete the ‘triggers’ section. The trigger for a behaviour may not immediately be evident and can be completed later, on reviewing several days of recording. 
  • Had the child been asked to do something?
  • Were they requesting something from you, something they wanted?
  • Had the activity just finished/started?
  • Was something happening that the child dislikes or fears?
  • Was it something the child associates with a particular event?  
Action: Actions are the challenging behaviours themselves. The STAR approach emphasises that the challenging behaviour must be defined in term of observable behaviours.
Response: These are the events that follow the action. Results can be positive, negative or neutral.  The results will influence the likelihood of the action happening again. If the results are rewarding for the child, they increase the chances of the behaviour happening again. 
  • Social results: the child gains attention/comfort OR succeeds in avoiding unwanted social contact or successfully avoids a demand
  • Occupational result: the child gets to do a desired activity OR escapes an unwanted activity 
  • Did the child’s behaviour result in them getting something they didn’t have before, e.g. object/food?
  • Sensory results: the child gains sensory satisfaction or avoids sensory overload.
Date & Time Setting Triggers Actions Response Notes  
Sat. 23/09/17 3.00pm Child's Bedroom.
Child playing computer game.
Parent talking to child about concern.  Child has meltdown, hits, swears, shouts and hides. Parent leaves, child avoids discussion and regains personal space. Avoid discussions in child's personal space / bedroom. Negotiate a time and place to talk. Think of less direct ways to communicate concerns.
Sund. 24/09/17 1.00pm Lounge. Child watching TV show. Parent asks child to sit with family at dinner table. Child ignores request. Parent switches off TV. Child hides and shuts down. Child avoids transition and possible sensory / social overload. Negotiate with child re mealtimes, what to eat and where to eat. Consider allowing child to eat in a setting of their choice.
Local Shop.
On way home from school.
Child wants parent to spend too much money in shop. Parent refuses and child has a meltdown in the shop. Child did not get the items, but this doesn't stop a reoccurrence of the issue. Negotiate with child on amount to spend in shop. Allow a small reserve amount if further negotiation needed. Discuss a drive in the car prior to going to the shop to allow a period of calm following school. Have treats in the car instead. Go to shop at quieter time and when child is not so overloaded e.g. in the evening.



Further Information

Some more information about identifying triggers and finding strategies that may work for your child with/with suspected PDA can be found at our website 'strategies to try at home' and our series of webinars. 

You can read more information about behaviours that challenge at ‘Ambitious About Autism - behaviours that challenge' and at the ‘National Autistic Society’.

The PDA Society would like to thank The Jigsaw Tree for preparing this factsheet.

Further information – family resources

You can find further information, leaflets, websites and webinars in our extensive list of family resources and webinars.

Further reading and information about PDA

Further information about PDA can be found in the following areas of our website.

The National Autistic Society also provide an increasing amount of information about PDA.

Please note that the PDA Society are not making any recommendations nor is responsible for the content of sites and links that are external to the PDA Society.

Please contact us if you discover any broken links.