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Behavior Intervention Plans should include instruction

When students who have disabilities show a pattern of challenging behavior, schools are encouraged to use positive behavior interventions and supports (PBIS). PBIS is an approach to addressing behavior and not a specific “program.” Individual PBIS seeks to find reasons for why a behavior is happening so that effective strategies can be identified that will meet the needs of each unique student.

Unfortunately, there are still too many schools that do not promote the use of PBIS. It is not uncommon to find Behavior Intervention Plans (BIP) that focus mainly on how the staff will respond to behaviors after they occur. Many of those schools respond to challenging behavior with things like silent lunches, in and out-of-school suspensions, behavior contracts, shortened school days, etc. All of these strategies seem to assume that the child will improve their behavior on their own in order to avoid punishment. These actions may work once in a while, with some students. However, they are not likely to be effective when the behaviors are directly or indirectly related to a child’s disability.

Many students with disabilities have developmental delays and/or weak skills in certain areas. These skill weaknesses, or deficits, can contribute to challenging behavior in many different ways. Children who cannot clearly communicate their wants and needs experience a lot of frustration, and may even resort to challenging behavior just to get someone’s attention. Children who lack the social skills to have positive interactions with other children or make friends, often experience rejection, anger, loneliness and frustration. They may even become anxious and stressed when they are placed in social situations because they expect something to go wrong. Some children use behaviors to hide academic skill weaknesses because they don’t want to look “dumb.” Other students may act out simply because they don’t know what else to do when they are given assignments that they don’t understand.

Those were just a few examples of ways that skill deficits may play a big role in why a child might have challenging behaviors. In order to create lasting change it is important to help the child improve their skills. The IEP team should consider using instruction as an important proactive way to help prevent challenging behaviors from occurring in the first place.

IEP goals can be written to improve academic and functional skills. Some of these skills will need to be worked on for a long time. For more immediate relief, children may need to learn to use assistive technology or other strategies to help make up for their weak skills. Meanwhile, children can also be taught better ways to handle situations that are difficult for them. They can learn new things to say or do that are more appropriate than what they are currently doing. These “replacement behaviors” will allow the child to meet an immediate need. Children can also be taught self-regulation and coping skills so that they can function better in a world where things are not always going to go the way that they would like. A lot of this instruction can happen during real-life activities that offer teachable moments. Other skills can be taught and practiced at times when the student is not under stress.

When students begin to use the new behaviors, they may get a natural reward such as a positive reaction from another child, or being able to get a desired outcome. Adults should be sure to praise or otherwise encourage the child so that they see the new behavior as something that works for them.

Challenging behaviors often have ripple effects that are mostly negative. Viewing those same behaviors as a sign that the child needs some instruction can lead to positive ripple effects such as  higher self-esteem, better relationships with others and improved school performance.