Monday, January 4, 2016

Creating a Positive Behavior Support Plan for Learners on the Autism Spectrum


The problem behaviors of children on the autism spectrum are among the most challenging and stressful issues faced by schools and parents. The current best practice in treating and preventing unwanted or challenging behaviors utilizes the principles and practices of positive behavior support (PBS). PBS has been demonstrated to be effective with individuals across a wide range of problem behaviors and settings. 

Although used successfully both in the classroom and school-wide, PBS is not a specific intervention per se, but rather an approach that has evolved from traditional behavioral management methods. PBS refers to a set of research-based strategies that are intended to decrease problem behaviors by designing effective environments and teaching students appropriate social and communication skills. PBS utilizes primary (universal, school-wide), secondary (targeted group), and tertiary ( individual support) levels or tiers of intervention, each level providing an increasing level of intensity and support. 
An essential component of PBS is a functional behavior assessment (FBA) to help determine the events that influence and maintain an individual student’s persistent and challenging behavior. FBA methods are considered best practice in identifying and designing behavioral intervention plans for students who demonstrate serious problem behaviors that require more intensive and individualized supports. An important goal of a functional assessment is to identify antecedents or environmental situations that will predict the occurrence and nonoccurrence of the student’s challenging behavior. Another goal is to obtain and expand information that will improve the effectiveness and efficiency of intervention strategies. FBA identifies the function(s) that the behavior appears to serve for the student. For example, a student might exhibit challenging behaviors with the goal of escape or the goal of seeking attention. When the curriculum is difficult or demanding, he or she may attempt to avoid or escape work through challenging behavior (e.g., refusal, passive aggression, disruption, etc.). Similarly, they may use challenging behavior to get focused attention from adults and peers, or to gain access to a preferred object or participate in an enjoyable activity. Problematic behavior may also occur because of sensory aversions. Because students with ASD also have significant social and pragmatic skills deficits, they may experience difficulty effectively communicating their needs or influencing the environment. Thus, challenging classroom behavior may serve a purpose for communicating or a communicative function. When we understand the goal of student behavior then we can begin to teach alternative replacement behavior and new interactional skills. 
The process of conducting an FBA is best described as (a) an strategy to discover the purposes, goals, or functions of a student’s behavior; (b) an attempt to identify the conditions under which the behavior is most likely and least likely to occur; (c) a process for developing a useful understanding of how a student’s behavior is influenced by or relates to the environment; and (d) an attempt to identify clear, predictive relationships between events in the student’s environments and occurrences of challenging behavior and the contingent events that maintain the problem behavior.   
An FBA can be conducted in a variety of ways. There are two general assessment tools to assist in the collection of information about the variables and events that surround the occurrence (or nonoccurrence) of the student’s challenging behavior. The first are interviews and rating scales that provide information from the individuals (parents, teachers) who know the student best, along with the student themselves. The second method is direct observation of the student in his or her natural daily environments. One observation strategy for collecting observational information is the A-B-C format. The observer records the Antecedent to the behavior (what happened immediately before the behavior), describes the Behavior, and the Consequence of the behavior (what happened immediately after). The following steps are a general guide to developing a comprehensive student behavior intervention or support plan. 

  • The behavior support plan should be developed collaboratively and begin with a functional behavior functional behavior assessment (FBA) of the problem behavior to understand the student and the nature of the challenging behavior in the context of the environment.
  • Next, the professional team examines the results of the functional assessment and develops hypothesis statements as to why the student engages in the challenging behavior. The hypothesis statement is an informed, assessment-based explanation of the challenging behavior that indicates the possible function or functions served for the student. This includes a description of the behavior, triggers or antecedents for the behavior, maintaining consequences, and purpose of the problem behavior.
  • Once developed, the hypothesis provides the foundation for the development of intervention strategies. The focus of intervention plan is not only on behavior reduction, but for also teaching appropriate, functional (generally communicative) skills that serve as alternative/replacement behaviors for the undesirable behavior. Changes should be identified that will be made in the classroom or other setting to reduce or eliminate problem behaviors. Prevention strategies may include environmental arrangements, personal support, changes in activities, new ways to prompt the student, and changes in expectations. These strategies should be integrated into the student's overall program and daily routines, rather than being separate from the curriculum.  
  • A positive behavior intervention plan must be implemented as planned (with integrity). Following implementation of the plan, the team regularly reviews and evaluates its effectiveness and makes modifications as needed.      
Research indicates that PBS can be effective for reducing and preventing problem behaviors of children with ASD. For example, a review of published research studies found that in cases where PBS strategies were used, there was as much as an 80% reduction in challenging behavior for approximately two-thirds of the cases studied. The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) has endorsed PBS as a preferred form of intervention for managing the problematic behavior of students with disabilities and requires that "positive behavioral interventions, strategies, and supports" be used when addressing the needs of students who demonstrate persistent challenging behavior that impedes their learning or the learning of others. 

3 comments:

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Martha Gabler said...

Dr. Wilkinson,

Thank you for this outstanding article explaining the role of Positive Behavioral Supports in helping children with autism. Thanks too for stressing that PBS is a process, and that it is an evidence-based intervention with strong research support.

Child behavior problems and support said...

Thank you so much for sharing your general guide to developing a comprehensive student behavior intervention plan. This is of big help to us.

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