If you saw the title of this post and clicked on it with eager trepidation because you know it’s meant for you – welcome. You have been given the immense challenge of reducing a disruptive behavior. Maybe you’ve been tiptoeing around your classroom for weeks trying a little bit of this and a little bit of that but mostly just silently hoping that this behavior will up and disappear. I’m so sorry my sweet friend, you aren’t that lucky. That behavior is here to stay until you decide to rip off the band-aide and tackle it head on. It’s scary to get it rolling because it can be so unclear of how to even go about approaching this behavior. It’s scary because you don’t know what will happen. What if you make it worse? You might. But letting it continue in the same way isn’t making anything better either. And if you approach this behavior is a systematic and functional way – you have a pretty good shot of making some positive progress.
This behavior is functional for your student. It is working for them. The behavior is consistently being reinforced in some way and it may have a long history of receiving reinforcement.
All behavior occurs for a reason. Nothing happens without purpose. Your student is engaging in the behavior to gain attention, escape a task, target a sensory need, or gain access to an item. And guess what? It’s working. You know how I know that? Because he continues to do the behavior. If it wasn’t working anymore, he would stop. Once you start to view the behavior through this “function-based” lens, sometimes things become a little clearer.
All behavior is communication. The disruptive behavior is communicating the function.
If step one is viewing all behavior as having a function (or reason) it is occurring, step two is viewing the behavior as a method to communicate this reason. Your student wants something they just have a real bad way of asking right. They want attention from you. They want a break. They want some dang gummy bears! Identifying behavior as functional and communicative will help you later when you are setting up interventions and replacement behaviors.
First things first. You have to know where you started to know if you are making progress.
It’s baseline data time! It’s very, very, very tempting to skip this step. Some of the behaviors you may be dealing with are dangerous and extremely disruptive so the thought of spending even one moment not in intervention-mode seems insane. But guess what this baseline data serves TWO important purposes that you can’t pass up. One, it shows you where you are starting so you know if you are making progress or not. We special ed teachers are pretty adaptable. What’s a bad day in September is just a regular ole’ Tuesday in February. So instead of “thinking” the behavior is improving, let’s go ahead and know that those numbers are going down. Two, the baseline data will help you determine function (aka the reason the behaviors is occurring). If you don’t know why the behavior is occurring, you won’t know how to intervene. Ahhhhh. See? You can’t skip this step.
Also check out this indirect assessment questionarie you can use with parents or previous teachers: QABF – Questions About Behavioral Function.
Since all behavior is functional, your intervention needs to be function-based as well.
Now it’s time to get to the meat and potatoes of the behavioral intervention. I’ve got way more information than one little blog post can handle. Again, you need to determine the function in order to decide how to intervene. If you skip this step, you could potentially be doing more harm than good. Check out this post on the types of behavioral function. Then be sure to check out these posts on attention behaviors, escape behaviors, and sensory behaviors.