Managing behaviors can be challenging whether working with individuals with disabilities, mental health diagnoses or other needs. Targeting behaviors to support client, or student, success will benefit all stakeholders involved in treatment or educational services.
Behavior management plans can take many different forms and serve multiple purposes. If a student is identified as displaying a behavior that interferes with that student or other students' learning, a behavior plan must be included in the student's individualized education plan. Additionally, behavior plans can be created for community settings, job or adult education settings, time-sensitive programs such as camp, and as part of behavioral health services.
If an individual behavior can escalate, a crisis plan is included as part of this plan as well. Crisis plans are helpful to prevent additional harmful behaviors, as well as to support safety in the event of escalation. Behavior management plans are developed to support students, adults, those who serve them and the general community to ensure positive outcomes for students.
Behaviors to Target
Any behavior can be targeted as part of a behavior modification program. Behaviors can be maladaptive (negative) or adaptive (positive). Maladaptive behaviors include aggression, property disruption, social isolation and self-injurious behaviors. Adaptive behaviors include job skills, coping mechanisms, communication skills and positive replacement behaviors (i.e., raising a hand instead of yelling out). Targets should be measurable, or quantified, as well as an objective, and specific. Ideally, these targets include a positive behavior and also identify the benefit for the student.
Format of Plans
Behavior plans can be written in a variety of formats. Often, the program used to create a student's IEP has a specific format used for behavior plans. In other settings, an agency or setting may have a specific format. Plans can be created using a table that identifies the skill area addressed (i.e., leisure, academic, peer, family) or may be narrative in nature. Plans should identify the current level of performance for a student, followed by appropriate interventions to be utilized, and the desired outcome criteria. If a student participates in his or her own behavior plan, a chart or visual may be an appropriate format to allow for clarity of expectations.
Quantifying Current Level of Performance
One of the most important components in a behavioral plan is the level of current performance. In order to best quantify a behavior, a baseline of current performance needs to be established. Based on single-subject research methodology, baseline is generally established when at least three consecutive data points are stable in the level of behavior. To determine baseline of these types of behaviors, a quantity or score should be established using a frequency count, assessment measure or a numerical value. If the target behavior is rate of responding, it may be appropriate to measure latency of response following a direct question. If the behavior management plan is targeting social skills, a count of positive (or negative) interactions with peers may be appropriate. If the student has a diagnosis of, or concern regarding, depression or depressive symptoms, multiple administrations of the Beck Depression Inventory may be used to establish baseline. Consecutive data points may be from consecutive class periods, consecutive school days or even consecutive weeks, if appropriate for data collection and the behavioral target.
Determining Desired Level of Performance
Target behaviors should also be identified by the desired outcome level of performance following intervention. For positive behaviors, this may include returning eight of 10 homework assignments for nine consecutive weeks, or one grading period. For a negative behavior, this may mean obtaining a rate approaching zero of aggressive behaviors for five consecutive days. In some cases, a criterion may be used to identify the desired outcome based on an assessment measure. This could be a pre- and post-assessment of spelling knowledge, or a score identified as "low risk" on the Student Risk Screening Scale. Level of performance at mastery is best defined in light of the applications of the behavior targeted and requirements for continued success. If a behavior plan is targeting pre-vocational skills, desired outcomes may include a rate of performance, percentage of accuracy or length of time engaged in the task independently. Overall, outcomes should be applied to the student and target behavior.
Crisis plans should identify potential triggers for student behaviors, as well as the topography, or appearance, of an escalation. Crisis plans should include safety components for the student, teachers or other professionals, and other students. For example, a violent student might require that the rest of the class go sit in the hallway, or another designated room. Crisis plans should also include de-escalation behaviors for those involved and follow-up procedures. An incident report might be one follow-up procedure, but it may also be necessary to provide debriefing for other students or staff involved, depending on the severity of behavior. The student involved in the crisis may require medical support, debriefing, sensory input or other measures to ensure a return to typical behaviors.