Once a special education student with behavioral issues receives an appropriate assessment of his/her behavior, and appropriate IEP goals are written to address the student’s behavioral needs, the IEP team has to determine what services and supports are necessary to see those goals achieved. The types of services and supports a child requires in order to achieve his/her IEP goals can influence placement decisions, which is why placement is the last decision that should be made by the IEP team.
It is necessary to first know what services and supports will be required in order to determine what the Least Restrictive Environment (“LRE”) is for each particular special education student and, as we’ve stated before, the LRE is relative to the unique needs of each individual child. What is the LRE for one student is not necessarily the LRE for another. Placement must be in the least restrictive environment necessary in order for the services and supports to be provided such that the goals can be achieved, which varies from student to student. That means that the selection of services, including the frequency, duration, and times of day they are provided, is a very critical step in the IEP process and it comes into play fairly late in the game.
To recap the process (as described in our prior postings in the “Techically Speaking” category), the IEP process begins with assessment. The data yielded by the assessment is supposed to inform the IEP team of the student’s Present Levels of Performance (sometimes referred to as “PLOPs”). Based on what is understood about the student’s Present Levels, the IEP team then must write measurable annual goals that describe in objective, empirical terms what outcomes the IEP is attempting to achieve – what specifically it is trying to teach the student to do. Once that is known, the next step is the selection of services and supports.
There are a number of tools to address behavioral goals that can be used. One of the most powerful tools is a Behavior Support Plan (“BSP”) or Positive Behavior Support Plan (“PBSP”). Once a functional analysis of a student’s behavior has been conducted, the next step is supposed to be the creation of a BSP/PBSP unless?the analysis reveals that the behaviors do not significantly impact the child’s participation in his/her education.
A properly written BSP/PBSP is a thing of gold, but it’s no good to anyone if not everyone implements it the way it is written. Behavior is a touchy thing. When you have a child who realizes that the same behavior is met with different outcomes depending on who that child is with, what you often produce is a manipulative child who learns how to push peoples’ buttons. When behavior is met with the same outcome regardless of who the child is with, the child gets a consistent message about certain behaviors. For that reason, it is imperative that anyone working with a special education student who exhibits problematic behaviors follow the BSP/PBSP to the letter as best as he/she possibly can.
A BSP/PBSP starts out by describing the problem behavior so people know what they’re looking for. Identifying the function that the behavior serves (i.e. to avoid math problems, to avoid writing, to gain access to more preferred items or activities, etc.) allows people know what need the child is trying to meet and, therefore, the types of responses they should have to the behaviors. The BSP/PBSP should then describe what responses to give to each type of problematic situation if the behavior manifests, but, more importantly, it should describe what replacement behavior will be taught to the child so that he/she has a more appropriate way of seeing his/her needs met without engaging in the problematic behavior.
It’s not enough to tell a kid to stop doing something. You have to tell them what is appropriate for them to do instead. If you’re trying to drive a nail with a banana peel, you’re just going to make a mess. But, if all somebody does is tell you to stop slinging that useless banana peel at the nail and fails to give you a hammer and show you how to use it, you’re still going to be stuck with a nail that hasn’t been driven. What you were attempting to accomplish remains unachieved.
Children need to be taught things. They can’t be expected to somehow magically know things or figure things out as well as more experienced adults. Children with certain types of disabilities have a harder time picking up what seems obvious to most people, requiring explicit instruction on more basic concepts. A BSP/PBSP describes what fundamental concepts are being taught, or refers to the behavioral goals which describe what concepts are being targeted, so that the child acquires the reasoning skills necessary to handle situations more successfully.
I’m a fan of Diana Browning Wright’s work. She’s done trainings in California and I have students whom I represent whose PBSPs are written up on Diana’s forms. They’re very well organized and make total sense.
Another tool that some schools try to use is a “Behavior Contract.” I’m not a huge fan of these at all. A “Behavior Contract” is something usually used in general education in which a student makes a written commitment to follow school rules. It utterly fails to identify what need the student was attempting to meet by engaging in the inappropriate behavior and only speaks to what the child will do; there is nothing that describes what the adult school site personnel will do to assist the student in dealing with whatever is provoking his/her inappropriate behaviors so that they don’t present problems for the student anymore.
Instead, the child is stripped of whatever coping strategies he/she had, even if they were poor ones, and left with nothing he/she can do at all. This creates a great sense of powerlessness, which can turn on its heel in an instant and lead to more escalated behaviors meant to regain whatever power the child feels he/she has lost.
I’ve seen it happen too many times. What was meant to stop a problem behavior only served to reinforce it and is particularly horrible to deal with among children with issues involving anxiety, paranoia, and/or Oppositional Defiant Disorder. Their handicapping conditions magnify, sometimes exponentially, their reactions to having their actual needs ignored and left with no way to see them met, while everyone else is focusing on what they inappropriately did in an effort to see those needs met.
A good BSP/PBSP should also include a description of what consequences and reinforcers should be used to encourage the use of the appropriate replacement behavior and discourage the use of the inappropriate behavior. By consequences, I do not mean punishment. A consequence is anything that results from an occurrence or event.
In the realm of positive behavioral intervention, a consequence is any outcome that discourages a behavior from reoccurring. This is often the intent of punishment, but punishment is an artificial consequence that the child may associate with something other than his/her own inappropriate behavior, such as the person who is punishing him/her.
Consequences should fit the behavior and they work best if they are natural, inadvertent outcomes of doing the wrong thing.? In my example above, the natural consequence of trying to drive a nail with a banana skin is a gooey mess and a nail that still hasn’t been driven. That by itself is enough to discourage me from ever trying to drive a nail with a banana skin again. It clearly didn’t work.
But, associating consequences with one’s own behavior is actually more subtle and difficult than it sounds. For children with relatively inexperienced, growing (and, thus, continually changing) minds, it’s even harder. For children with certain types of special needs, it can often be agonizingly difficult. The connections have to be taught. So, the consequences to inappropriate behaviors and reinforcers of appropriate behaviors should be delivered as soon after the behaviors have manifested as possible, particularly when first starting out with a new behavior program. Over time, the reinforcers can be faded. The idea is that the use of the appropriate behavior will become intrinsically rewarding because it yields success without drama and the need to artificially reinforce will disappear.
The use of appropriate data collection tools is critical. Data collection should be naturally built into the behavior goals and BSP/PBSP. It’s the only way to track progress and measure the degree to which the replacement behavior is taking over for the problematic behavior. Therefore, data sheets have to be created right away at the beginning so that data collection can begin as soon as the school site personnel start implementing the goals.
Parent training is also a really valuable piece to a successful behavioral intervention program. Just as it is imperative that the child be met with the same response to his/her behavior by all of the staff working with the child, it is equally important that he/she is met with the same response at home.
I’ve seen some of the best school-based behavior strategies in the world completely unravel because no one thought to explain to the parents how the behaviors were being responded to at school. The child would go home to a completely different set of expectations and responses to problematic behaviors and an entire school day’s worth of intervention might as well have never happened. The next day, the school site staff would be starting all over again.
By training the parents on the behavioral strategies being used at school, particularly if they can collect at least some data on what they are doing, makes them more involved, gives them greater understanding of what the school site team is trying to do, makes them partners in the process rather than outside observers, makes them more comfortable about how their child’s behavior is being handled by the school site staff, and creates much needed consistency that will help make the intervention successful.
Do you have any other suggestions regarding behavioral supports and services that can be made part of a student’s IEP? Post your comment with your suggestions below.