Education of Children with Behavior Disorders

For the past few weeks, I have outlined the essential educational and legal components of how school systems should address the needs of children with behavioral challenges.  I have provided scientific based research on what is a functional behavior assessment and behavior intervention plan. I have provided the statutory and legal framework under the IDEA that school systems are required to follow in developing a behavior intervention plan and functional behavior assessment for children with challenging behaviors. Understandably, this information is highly technical and often difficult to apply.  The real problems facing parents in persuading IEP teams to appropriately address the educational needs of their children with challenging behaviors is daunting.  School systems often take a cookie cutter approach to addressing the needs of children with behavior problems which means that one size does not fit all.  Every child may have different reasons why he or she is exhibiting challenging behaviors and therefore the solutions to address these behaviors must be individualized.

As parents, you should not assume that you what the IEP team proposes for your child to address behavior problems will immediately or shortly resolve these problems. To the contrary, parents should be patient.  Scientific research shows that if the IEP team develops an appropriate and rigorous behavior plan, it is likely your child’s behavior will actually get worse before it gets better. This is because a highly structured behavior plan with intense strategies and intervention will test the child’s ability to learn appropriate behaviors. In many cases this is no easy task. A child is likely to resist the intensive strategies and interventions at first before they become effective in reducing and hopefully eliminating challenging behaviors.  So what should parents do when confronted with their child who is exhibiting challenging behaviors are negatively and adversely affecting the child’s educational performance at school?

The first rule is do not give up.  Behavior modification is part science and part art. The part that is art is often trial and error.  An IEP team can make recommendations for the implementation of strategies, interventions and supports that it thinks will work.  A few weeks or months later it may appear these strategies, intervention and supports are not working. There is no reason to delay switching gears and taking a new approach if the behavior intervention plan is not working. This is why it is very important to review your child’s behavior progress at least every nine weeks or as often as you receive periodic report cards and progress reports from the school about your child’s progress on his or her IEP goals and objectives.  Sometimes it may be necessary to only tweak or make minor adjustments to the behavior plan. On the other hand, it may be necessary to make more significant changes in the behavior plan when there is a consensus the plan is simply not working.  Constant monitoring of the behavior plan is critical.  IEP teams must take data daily  to show how your child is responding to the behavioral interventions, strategies and support.  You should question the process where and when data is collected.  You should ask the IEP team to explain to you any charts and graphs that are developed showing the behavioral progress of your child.  Keep asking questions that probe the results of the behavior interventions and strategies. Which ones work and which ones do not?

There is no talismanic formula for addressing the challenging behaviors of a child with a disability.  One of the key components of any behavior plan, however, is to insure that the IEP provides positive reinforcement for the child. Positive behavioral reinforcement is one of the hallmarks of an appropriate behavior plan. The ideal is to replace the negative or challenging behaviors of your child with positive ones.  For example, if your child repeatedly gets out of his or her seat in class and often has to be redirected to return to the seat, then you obviously want to implement a behavior plan that replaces these challenging behaviors with positive ones such a diminution, reduction or elimination of the child’s behaviors of repeatedly getting out of his or her seat during class. You should insist the IEP team collect data on this behavior problem and show what positive behavior supports and interventions work in reducing these behaviors.  The goal is to initiate positive behavior reinforcement, supports and interventions to replace these challenging behaviors. So instead of your child getting out of his or her seat regularly during class, your child is remaining in the seat for most if not all of the class.  You can use the information that I have provided over the past few weeks to develop such a behavior intervention plan for your child.

In the end, you want to see progress being made to reduce or eliminate the challenging behaviors as much as possible.  If this can be accomplished, then your child will be more focused on classwork and will make more educational and academic progress in school. If you have any questions about functional behavior assessments and behavior intervention plans please feel free to contact me as a special education attorney or someone else who has expertise, knowledge, and experience in this area.