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Providing information, education, and training to build knowledge, develop skills, and change attitudes that will lead to increased independence, productivity, self determination, integration and inclusion (IPSII) for people with developmental disabilities and their families.

Positive Behavior Supports

Mike Mayer

What are other out of date practices that still exist in this country?

Mike Mayer: Well, unfortunately, the biggest out-of-date practice that exists is for us to behave like we are the parents and they are the kids. And that we have the right to say or do or behave in any way that we think is somehow justified because that's the way somebody behaved with us once upon a time.

So the single biggest out of date practice is pseudo parent. There's a Latin phrase called in loco parentis, and it even exists in laws and some teachers are identified as in loco parentis, as in place of the parent. The thing is, is that we're not in place of the parent. We are supposed to be supporting people to have as full a life as they possibly can. It's not supposed to be about, "No, you can't do that." It's supposed be about, "How can I help you do that?" So I would have to say that the single biggest thing that is out of date, that people are still being allowed to do on a regular basis, is to treat people like children.

Then we can get into all kinds of other techniques. Extinction, where we ignore the behavior, which often winds up being we ignore the person because we can't figure out how to ignore the hitting, so we just ignore the person, and then the person accelerates the behavior until we don't have a choice but to respond. And then when we respond to the behavior, oh good, now we've got a higher new baseline of behavior because they know that's what they have to do in order to get attention.

Restrictions. "No, you can't have your cigarette. No, you can't have your cigarette. No, it's not time for you to have your cigarette." What do you think they're thinking about the whole time they're having to wait for another hour to have a cigarette? I think they're thinking about cigarettes. And when they actually get their cigarette, it's like hitting the lottery. But as soon as they're done smoking their cigarette, what are they thinking about? The deprivation, the fight, the challenge, wanting another cigarette. So restrictions that keep people artificially from being able to do stuff that normal, typical—whatever language you want to use—adults get to do just because they're adults.

So when we treat people like children and we call it a program, it's somehow okay, even though they're supposed to be allowed to make those choices and those decisions for themselves. Is it good? No. Is it good for us to speed on the highway? No. Do we get to do it? Yeah. Oh, we're not supposed to, but we can. Do we have to live with the consequences if we get caught? Yeah. How many of you have gotten a ticket and then you speed again anyway? Almost everybody. You don't change behavior on the basis of restriction because usually what it means is you're spending more and more time thinking about it.

The biggest way to lose weight is not by not eating; it's by learning how to eat right. The reality is, is that 95% of all the people who go on diets gain weight. They gain weight. They don't lose weight because it's a restriction-based environment. Rather than learning how to control your behavior in your relationship with food, you set up a deprivation mindset. And a deprivation mindset is guaranteed to fail because eventually you will say, "I no longer want to deprive myself of this. I want it, and I'm going to have it. I've earned it, it's my right, and the chocolate cake can go into my stomach because I want it to." So restrictions like that don't sense.

Token economies. We already have a token economy. It's called money. You get a dime. The dime in and of itself has no value. It only has value when you take it the store and you put it on the counter and you buy a dime's worth of something. Same thing is true of a dollar. The dollar is just paper with stuff on it until you exchange it with somebody else who wants it

One of the biggest problems with token economies is that they often become response-cost situations. So our token economies start off with artificial reasoning and artificial judgments and artificial planning and all this other kind of stuff. And it's pretend and it's not real and we're trying to teach people who have a hard time differentiating between good and bad and right and wrong and real and not real, and we give them something else that's not real in a system that doesn't make sense to them, and then we want them to change their behavior so that they can have this thing that doesn't make sense to them. It doesn't make sense to me.

The other part of that token economy thing that I started to talk about is the response-cost aspect of it. So if you do what I want you do, I'll give you this. But if you do something I don't want you to do, I'm going to take it back away from you. So I can fine you, I can punish you. I can find you, I can arrest you essentially and find you guilty, and act as judge and jury and bailiff all in one. Because you did something I didn't want you to do, so I get to take your money away from you. Because a token is just another way of representing something that has value to someone else.

Well, I don't know about you but, if every time I made somebody mad I had to give them a dollar, I'd have no dollars, because I tend to be a little bit passionate about stuff and it irritates some folks. Well, I don't think that they should get to decide when they get to take my money because they're upset. So if I wouldn't let them do it to me, why would I…? If they can't do it to me, why is it okay to do it to anybody else?

So response-cost, token systems, treating people like kids, unnecessary restrictions, deprivation mindsets, and making people earn things that they should be allowed to have access to anyway. It wasn't that long ago that I was at a self-advocacy conference, and there was this little group saying, "Don't tell, don't tell, don't tell." And I was like, don't tell what? Are we talking about sexual stuff? Are we talking about don't tell what? Don't tell them what you like because they'll take it away from you and make you earn it. And that's ethical? That's moral? That's rational? That creates healthy, trusting relationships? I don't think so.

I don't think it makes sense to make people earn respect and dignity and all the stuff that everybody else has. You know, typical stuff. You know, food and shelter and the right to be a distinct individual with their own preferences and those kinds of things. Do I think we need to give everything to everybody all the time? No. Do I think it's okay for people to earn stuff that is special and unique and to be able to save to go on the vacation they want to go on instead of having to save to go on the vacation that everybody else decided they wanted to go on? Yeah, that makes sense.

The last think I would say is, is that anything that resembles a group behavior plan or a group must-do, that's an outdated practice. That needs to stop. We're not supposed to be teaching people how to fit into groups of other people who have disabilities. We're supposed to be teaching people who have disabilities how to fit into the group that's called the world.

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This project was supported, in part by grant number 2001MNSCDD-03, from the U.S. Administration for Community Living, Department of Health and Human Services, Washington, D.C. 20201. Grantees undertaking projects with government sponsorship are encouraged to express freely their findings and conclusions. Points of view or opinions do not, therefore, necessarily represent official ACL policy.

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