Write a Behavioral Definition

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 recently 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!

An example, I recently wrote:

Screen Shot 2014-06-12 at 6.33.31 PM

So get writing. Actually write it. For real. Don’t just think about your behavioral definition. Get it down on paper!

This post is part of Summer Series: Reducing Problem Behavior. Click here to see more in this series!

The Autism Helper - Summer Series



  1. I liked how provided specific examples. I didn’t know about ‘non-examples’ but from your example I can see how important it is to include those. Thanks for the informative post

  2. So funny! I was hit and bit one day in May and all I could think was how excited I was that it’d been 6 weeks since this student had been aggressive.

  3. Yea those non-examples are great to clarify! Especially when multiple people will be taking data on the same behavior.

  4. Hahaha! I love it! Only a special ed teacher 🙂

  5. I am a Special Ed student olmost finished with my degree, this website is helping me to learn how to write better report in terms of how to detail a behavior and how to write better reports . Thanks.

  6. Thanks for reading!


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