How would a behavioral specialist assess behavioural traits for a stubborn 18 month old toddler who cannot speak yet ?

Will the exercise even get to the root of the problem or even achieve desired results ?

  • 3
    Can you give some more detail about how you're assessing (other than observation of actions) and what traits you're interested in?
    – Acire
    Nov 17 '16 at 11:35
  • @Erica I am not assessing. As a passing comment by a community nurse we were nudged to seek a behavioural specialists appointment when we discussed if our 18 month old being stubborn (can cry non-stop for 2 hours, when we explain and take car keys away from him) was normal. Just my curiosity as to how a medical professional will assess this as being a behavioural issue. Even more so as the boy cannot speak yet and understands very basic communication. Nov 17 '16 at 22:33
  • As a side note... you mention explaining why you take the car keys away from him (probably expecting that changes the fact his toy is taken away from him for him) while stating he only understands very basic communication. That seems a little bit contradictory to me.
    – skymningen
    Nov 18 '16 at 10:43
  • @skymningen Since he cannot speak, its only an assumption he can understand "These are car keys, you cannot play with them". I dont know how thats contradictory. I don't know if he really understands what I am telling him - I guess not since he keeps on crying for hours - with no distraction to avail. I guess, its a bit contradictory. Sorry if thats contadictory - I just don't know how to really analyse this situation. Nov 18 '16 at 11:25
  • What country and what kind of 'behavioural specialist'?
    – A E
    Nov 26 '16 at 11:32

Highly trained behavioral specialists do assess children as young as 18 months, e.g. that's a recommended first age to screen for autism.

Research has found that ASD can sometimes be detected at 18 months or younger. By age 2, a diagnosis by an experienced professional can be considered very reliable.

While to you, your child may look 'untestable', to a highly trained professional, he may well show classic symptoms of a particular disorder. If a condition is found, the earlier the diagnosis, the sooner treatment can begin.

I don't make any claims as to whether or not your child has a disorder. Just answering the question.

Screening and Diagnosis for Healthcare Providers

  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat.
    – Rory Alsop
    Nov 18 '16 at 16:54

I have a child with behavioral problems, and I know a fair number of families where a child has behavioral problems too. Based on this experience, I can say that I would be very surprised if a behavioral specialist would be willing to do an assessment on such a young child.

What I've observed is that for children less than five, the parents tend to be told to come back in a couple of years.

However, that comment is limited to my specific geographical region, and my child's particular diagnosis. Your mileage may vary.

Have you talked the situation over with your child's doctor? If not, I encourage you to start there. Ask about early intervention services.

Sign language can be very helpful in that transition period before a child is willing or able to communicate through spoken language.

I don't have any authoritative information for you. But my general impression is that if a child's ability to express his wants, needs, preferences, feelings, etc., is hampered, the child can get extremely frustrated. That can happen to anyone.

There is another possible route, and I don't know how helpful this would be at age 18 months, but you could give it a try, you could see a developmental pediatrician.

The way the system works where I live, the starting point for both of the above avenues is the child's primary care provider.

  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat.
    – Rory Alsop
    Nov 18 '16 at 16:53

It called "Functional Behavior Analysis" (FBA) which can easily be looked up online. The ABC (Antecedent, Behavior, and Consequence) approach is used to evaluate behavior. It will look at what happens before the behavior and after the behavior to determine if there are patterns and why the child is behaving in the manner show.

Getting to the root of the problem or seeing results would be on a case-by-case basis. Like the scientific method, a hypothesis is developed and tested, if the results are not what is expected the hypothesis is modified or replaced and tested again (all until results of some sort are achieved). The specialist would develop a Behavior Intervention Plan that describes in detail the behavior change that is desired and how to achieve that change.

The behavior specialist begins with a form (chart) that steps them and the parent(s) through the process.

The behavior must be replaced, it cannot simply be removed (in this case talking).

Some environmental issues would be examined in these processes, such as: Is there a sibling speaking for them?


Some of the things seen:

Functional behavior assessment is based upon the following assumptions:

  • challenging behaviors do not occur in a vacuum; there is a reason for their occurrence

  • behaviors occur in response to an identifiable stimuli (event)

  • behaviors are governed (weakened or strengthened) by the consequences that follow them

  • behavior is a form of communication (i.e., educators need to figure out what a particular behavior is communicating. The displayed action might be saying, in a non-verbal fashion; "I am tired.", "I am bored.", "I'm still upset at what happened earlier", etc.)

  • "misbehavior" might actually be adaptive (justifiable and understandable) given the circumstances. For example, in a classroom in which the teacher is a ineffective manager of student behavior, the student of concern might engage in "inappropriate" actions designed to bond with, and offer protection from bullies.

  • In this particular case, the "misbehavior" could be designed to avoid victimization by other students in the presence of the non-protective teacher.


This is a summary of information between myself (a programmer) and a special education teacher that I know.

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