Signalling changes to individuals who show resistance to change can reduce challenging behaviour

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Colleges, School and Institutes


BACKGROUND & OBJECTIVES: Several neurodevelopmental disorders are associated with resistance to change and challenging behaviours - including temper outbursts - that ensue following changes to routines, plans or expectations (here, collectively: expectations). Here, a change signalling intervention was tested for proof of concept and potential practical effectiveness.

METHODS: Twelve individuals with Prader-Willi syndrome participated in researcher- and caregiver-led pairing of a distinctive visual-verbal signal with subsequent changes to expectations. Specific expectations for a planned subset of five participants were systematically observed in minimally manipulated natural environments. Nine caregivers completed a temper outburst diary during a four week baseline period and a two week signalling evaluation period.

RESULTS: Participants demonstrated consistently less temper outburst behaviour in the systematic observations when changes imposed to expectations were signalled, compared to when changes were not signalled. Four of the nine participants whose caregivers completed the behaviour diary demonstrated reliable reductions in temper outbursts between baseline and signalling evaluation.

LIMITATIONS: An active control group for the present initial evaluation of the signalling strategy using evidence from caregiver behaviour diaries was outside the scope of the present pilot study. Thus, findings cannot support the clinical efficacy of the present signalling approach.

CONCLUSIONS: Proof of concept evidence that reliable pairing of a distinctive cue with a subsequent change to expectation can reduce associated challenging behaviour is provided. Data provide additional support for the importance of specific practical steps in further evaluations of the change signalling approach.


Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)58-70
JournalJournal of Behavior Therapy and Experimental Psychiatry
Early online date22 Jun 2016
Publication statusPublished - Mar 2017


  • Preference for routine, Tantrum, Intellectual disability, Autism, Stimulus control, Resistance to change, Prader-Willi syndrome, Restricted repetitive behaviour