So you have identified the problem behavior. What’s next? Just because you’ve picked the behavior you are targeting – doesn’t mean you have clearly defined it. Behavior is subjective. What I view as an instance of behavior may not be the same as what you view.

You need to create and write out a very specific behavioral definition. You’d be surprised how much your perception can change of what you are counting as a behavior. Us in the special ed world have this nasty/awesome habituation issue. We get used to things. Real quick. What’s a horrible, wine-guzzling inducing, devastating day in September is a hey, today wasn’t so bad day in March. I have definitely said to my paras at the end of school day, “You know today went really well” and one of them responded “Didn’t you get bit this morning?” “Well yea after I got bit it was great.” What?? Seriously? That sentence should never be uttered. But that’s us. We are resilient. And while that keeps us going – it also skews our data ridiculously. Consistency is key!

We need to make sure that not only are we counting behavior consistently but also that our staff members will count behaviors equally. It’s not just you – you are part of team and they all need to be on the same page.


A Great Behavioral Definition:

  • clearly identifies what the inappropriate behavior looks like
  • include only what you can see/observe – not what you think the child is doing
  • include non-examples
  • explains how to count 1 occurrence

Counting 1 behavior can be tricky! Show me one tantrum. One scream. One meltdown. Those can look extremely different from day to day.

Good example: During independent work time, the students gets up and walks away from his desk and begins talking to other students and taking items such as pencils or paper off their desk and throwing it on the floor.

Bad example: When the student wants attention, he bugs other students to get a rise out of them.

– don’t make assumptions about why the student is doing what they are doing yet! That student could be bugging his friends because the independent work is too hard!

The key is consistency among staff.

What you are counting as 6 occurrence of a problem behavior needs to be the same as what your para is counting as 6 occurrences. If you and your staff are counting behavior differently OR if the way you count behavior shifts throughout the school year you will NEVER know if your interventions are working. Let’s face it – there is no point it wasting time on intervention if it isn’t working. So we want to know where we started. If you start taking data using that behavior definition and continue taking data the same way – you will know how things are going. 


What do I do with the behavior definition? 

That behavioral definition will be key in the next step of reducing problem behavior – taking baseline data. You’ll learn more than you ever wanted to know about that next week but there is one more quick thing you must do before that.

Share the definition with your team. Print out copies. Post it in the room. Go through it. Let them ask questions. Ask them questions. Ensure that everyone is on the same team. And I mean everyone. Include your therapists, case manager, social worker, etc. Two years ago we were knee deep an intensive planned ignoring procedure and it was working! Bah success! Then the OT walked in and immediately said, “Jack, honey, stop yelling.” Well great lady. You just threw my past 4 painful days in the trash. But it was my fault for not sharing the behavior plan with her. 

Point out the behaviors and non-behaviors in-situation. Be discrete. When a student engages in the response, whisper to you para, “I would count that as two behaviors.” “Or that something we wouldn’t count.”

Sasha Long
Sasha Long

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