Sunday, September 8, 2013

How to Write a Behavior Plan

Children with challenging behaviors need positive behavior supports to meet success in the home and school settings. Negative or inappropriate behaviors may be the result of any number of things-- environmental conditions, neurological conditions, intellectual or developmental disabilities, sensory needs, or emotional/behavioral disorders. These conditions and behaviors may impede the learning of the child and his or her peers. Parents and teachers can work to develop a positive behavior support plan to help promote success and happiness in the child. This article explains how to collect and analyze behavioral data, note patterns, develop interventions, and assess progress.

1. Collect the A-B-C Data. Our first goal is to determine why this child is demonstrating the behavior, and we need to collect data to find out.
  • To do this, collect anecdotal notes and A-B-C Data. A= Antecedent (what was happening before/when the behavior occurred?) B= Behavior (what was the behavior?)C= Consequence (what happened as a result of the behavior?)
  • You can create your own ABC form by folding a sheet of paper into three columns, or use mine.
  • Note trends, such as the time of day, subject or class, nearby people, or other common patterns.
  • Keep track of frequency (how many times behavior occurred) and duration (how long the behavior lasted).
  • View a Frequency and Interval Data form and Excel Spreadsheet that automatically calculates averages from this sheet.
2. Determine the Function of the Behavior. Once we have noted patterns in the behavior, we can begin to analyze it.
  • Use the A-B-C data to determine the function of the behavior. The function explains why the student engaged in the behavior. What was the student seeking to gain or avoid?
  • Determine what motivated the behavior.
  • Escape, Avoid, or Postpone: Was the behavior an attempt to escape, postpone, or avoid a non-preferred or difficult task or assignment? Was the child attempting to stop a transition from one activity to another? Did the child want to leave the situation?
    • If so, the child was engaging in escape-motivated behavior.
  • Gain Attention: Was the child seeking peer or adult attention by engaging in this behavior? Was the child attempting to gain positive or negative attention?
    • If so, the child was engaging in attention-seeking behavior.
  • Gain or Avoid Sensory Input: Was the child seeking to gain sensory input by accessing taste, touch, feel, or smell objects? Was the child engaging in self-stimulation (i.e., "stimming")? Was the child flapping arms, clapping, spinning, pulling on ears, mouthing objects, humming loudly, or standing? Was the child attempting to escape or avoid sensory overload-- loud sound, overstimulating situation, uncomfortable clothing, crowds, etc.?
    • If so, the child was engaging in sensory-motivated behavior.
  • Gain Access: Was the child motivated to have demands met immediately? Did the child attempt to overpower or control someone? Did the child grab an item from someone else?
    • If so, the child was engaging in tangible behavior.

3. Write a Behavior Plan. Now that we have a function of the behavior, we can write a behavior plan.

We first want to focus on antecedent procedures that can help to keep this behavior from re-occurring. For example, if the student is seeking sensory input, we can implement sensory diet activities. Ask your school occupational therapist about proprioceptive and sensory activities like brushing, compression vests, weighted vests or blankets, vestibular seats or balls, jumping on a trampoline, or playing with putty. If the child is seeking to escape or avoid overstimulating activities, we can provide ear plugs or headphones during loud activities or give the child access to a quiet space. If the child is seeking to escape difficult works tasks, we can implement procedures for asking for breaks or help.

We also need to teach coping skills. Teach the child to use communication skills to verbalize wants and needs appropriately. Use social stories to teach clear expectations.

If it is believed that the behaviors may be the result of a neurological, sensory, or emotional/behavioral disorder, parents may wish to consult a pediatrician, neurologist, or psychiatrist. It is helpful to rule out disabilities and discuss options.

Parents or teachers may also refer the child for testing by the school psychologist. The child will be assigned a case manager, and the school team and parents may convene for a meeting to develop an Individualized Education Program (IEP) to help support the child's behavior in the school setting. Parents of children who are not school aged may also wish to consult Early Intervention (EI) services. Teachers should seek the help of the child's case manager in the school to develop a Positive Behavior Support Plan (PBSP). Case managers will find that PBSP formats may vary based on state requirements. View a Pennsylvania annotated PBSP.

4. Stay Positive. Do not get discouraged if you try a behavior plan that is not successful, or if you find that a behavior plan stops working after a couple of days or weeks. It is recommended that behavior plans are constantly assessed and updated to reflect preferences, motivation, and maturity. Think of a behavior plan like your favorite dessert-- No matter how much you enjoy it, you may eventually satiate on it and want something else. This is natural. Give it time, and stay positive.

Children with challenging behavior need our love, positive attention, guidance, and support. It is already apparent that you are willing to provide those, as you have already begun to seek out resources to help your child.

5. Continue collecting and assessing data. Assess how well interventions are working. Has the child satiated on current interventions? How could we tweak them to help the child? Get the child's input. Allow the child to self-monitor progress. Fun programs like Class Dojo help children self-monitoring and also help teachers note time of day and day of the week trends. I've created an Excel Spreadsheet where adults can enter daily frequency and interval (time of day and percentage of time) data, and the spreadsheet automatically calculates a bi-weekly average percentage and frequency total.

For additional information: Check out the book Challenging Kids, Challenged Teachers: Teaching Students With Tourette's, Bipolar Disorder, Executive Dysfunction, OCD, ADHD, and More by Leslie E. Packer Ph.D. and Sheryl K. Pruitt, M.S.Ed. I really can't recommend this book enough!

Share your helpful behavior plan writing tips in the comments below!

Happy PBSPing!

A Peach for the Teach


  1. Hey Brandi,

    I love this blog post! You really explained everything. I shared it on my FB page and I pinned it too, but it does not have an image specific to this post, so I just used your blog button.

    Great start on the blog!


  2. Thank you SO much, Rachel! So glad you found it helpful. Thanks for reminding me to add an image-- I updated it. Thanks again!


  3. This is great! As a BCBA and special education classroom teacher for students with emotional and behavioral disabilities, I love that you have laid out the processes so clearly. Thank you! I'm pinning this for sure!

    Mindful Rambles

  4. Hi, Rae,

    It's great to hear that! You're welcome! Thank YOU! I'm your newest follower-- I would love to learn more from another teacher who shares the same special population!