Some students with disabilities may show behaviors which are challenging for parents and teachers to handle at home and at school. Often, the behaviors rise from a difficulty related to the child's disability- such as the ability to communicate what they need, the abIlity to regulate their emotional state, the ability to tolerate changes to the environment, or sensory sensitivities to light, touch or sounds. For students in Special Education, the Individualized Education Program (IEP) team will address any behavioral issues which are getting in the way of the student participating in the classroom and interacting with peers.
COMMUNICATIVE FUNCTION: The first step in addressing behvaior is for the team to figure out what "function" the bevior is serving for the student. All behavior meets a need for the person using it, so in the case of a challenging behavior the question is, what need are they trying to meet when they use the challenging behavior? This is called the "communicative function," and the team will work together to make a hypothesis. School staff may collect information about when, where, how often and with whom the challenging behavior is used, to come up with a hypothesis of "why" the behavior is happening.
ENVIRONMENTAL CHANGES: Once there is a hypothesis of the function of the behavior, the IEP team can come up with strategies and supports to address the need which the student is trying to meet. For example, if the student is frustrated by tasks, the way tasks are presented can be changed. If they are frustrated by interpersonal relationships with peers, staff can assist the student in navigating them. If the need is a fear of transitions, staff can provide supports to be aware of upcoming transitions, and provide support to the student in making them.
REPLACEMENT BEHAVIOR: Once the function of the behavior is determined, the team can determine other behaviors the student can use to get their needs met, which are socially appropriate for the setting. Examples might be asking for a break when frustrated, letting the teacher know the order in which they would like to complete their work, raising a hand to ask for help with an assignment, asking to speak to a trusted adult to help manage a social situation, or pointing to a choice of picture cards to indicate what they need. These behaviors are taught in the same way other skills are taught, by modeling, shaping, and reinforcing. Once the student learns to use the new skill (replacement behavior) it should be equally rewarding to use as was the challenging behavior, with a lot more social benefit from peers and adults.
Behavior Continuum Chart
There are a variety of ways that challenging behaviors may be addressed on the IEP:
BEHAVIOR GOALS: If the student has challenging behaviors which are getting in the way of learning and/or social interactions, there will be at least one IEP goal to address it. There should be a goal to measure the increase of the new behavior being taught (replacement behavior) and there may be one to measure the reduction of the challenging behvaior.
BEHAVIOR CONTRACTS: For some students, a behavior contract may be helpful. In a behavior contract, the student, teacher and family agree how the student will be reinforced for using the new replacement behavior, or not using the challenging behavior. School staff will collect data on the specified skill, and reinforcements given for the student achieving the desired rate. Reinforcements should be selected by the student, and can be provided by either parents or school staff.
IN-CLASS BEHAVIOR SYSTEMS: Most Special Education staff have a variety of in-class sytems which they use to encourage students to use their socially appropriate behaviors. These may include "if...then" cards or desk top checklists for individual students as well as classroom-wide reinforcement systems. As much as possible, students are involved in selecting what they want to "work for."
POSITIVE BEHAVIOR INTERVENTION PLAN (PBIP): If the above interventions are not effective enough, a PBIP is an additional page to the IEP which lays out the whole process for behavior intervention for a student. It includes the following elements:
FUNCTIONAL BEHAVIOR ASSESSMENT (FBA) AND COMPREHENSIVE BEHAVIOR INTERVENTION PLAN (CBIP):
If the behavior is not changing as a result of a PBIP, the IEP team may request a Funtctional Behavior Assessment (FBA). And FBA is an in-depth review including observaton, interviews and checklists to get a better undertstanding of the "why" the student continues to use the behavior. It requires parent permission via an Assessment Plan, and results in an Assessment Report presented at an IEP team meeting. At the meeting, the team will decide whether or not the student needs a Comprehensive Behavior Interention Plan (CBIP). A CBIP is a more intensive plan for providing supports and teaching replacement behaviors.
EMERGENCY INTERVENTIONS- NON-VIOLENT CRISIS PREVENTION AND INTERVENTION (NCPI):
Sometimes a student may demonstrate a behavior which is dangerous to themself or to others. To avoid someone getting hurt, staff may need to provide emergency interventions. This includes verbal de-escalation, blocking or a brief physical hold or transport. In the Ventura County SELPA, staff are only allowed to use emergency interventions sanctioned by the CrisistPrevention Institute and must be trained and certified. If your child is involved in an emergency intervention, you receive a Behavior Emergency Report by the next school day.