Positively ABA: The Relationship Between Positive Behavior Interventions and Supports and Applied Behavior Analysis

Over the last two decades, research on positive behavior interventions and supports (PBIS) has exploded. Schools across the nation are implementing school-wide PBIS programs, and the results indicate a drastic decrease in problem behaviors in students with and without disabilities (Cheney, et al., 2010; Sherrod, Getch, & Ziomek-Daigle, 2009; Warren, et al., 2006). A school-wide PBIS program is a three-tiered intervention that takes a proactive, systematic approach to decreasing problem behaviors. PBIS focuses on determining the cause of the behavior, teaching new behaviors, and positively reinforcing desired behaviors. This makes PBIS similar to ABA, which also focuses to assess, change, respond to, and monitor behaviors (Weiss, DelPizzo-Cheng, LaRue, & Sloman, 2009).

According to Weiss et al. (2009), PBIS takes the principles of ABA and applies them to a three-tiered program in which all students participate. Typically, ABA is implemented to change the behavior of one individual. In a PBIS program, all students participate in some interventions (tier-one), small groups of students participate in more direct interventions (tier-two), and individual students participate in personalized behavior modification programs (tier-three).

In addition to having a school-wide PBIS program, teachers can implement a PBIS approach into their classrooms to manipulate antecedents and consequences to increase desired behaviors (Rodecki & Witzel, 2011).  To do this, teachers must rely heavily on the principles of behaviorism. Components of ABA such as stimulus control, positive reinforcement, self-monitoring, and direct instruction are tools that teachers can incorporate within their classroom to modify student behaviors.

Baer, Wolf, and Risley (1968) defined the characteristics of ABA as applied, behavioral, analytic, technological, systematic, effective, and having generality. This means that implemented evidence-based interventions have a direct, positive impact on the lives of the participants, which can be generalized across contexts. PBIS uses a compilation of research-based behavioral strategies to directly affect behaviors in all students, and ultimately enhances educational opportunities (Rodecki & Witzel, 2011).

 In order for students with ASD and other disabilities to experience success in inclusive classrooms, ABA and PBIS approaches must be implemented by the classroom teacher. According to Leach (2010), students with ASD benefit from receiving explicit instruction on rules and procedures, reinforcement when engaging in expected behaviors, and positive redirection when not meeting those expectations. These systematic procedures for behavioral interventions branch from the foundations of ABA, and therefore, PBIS cannot sustain without the principles of ABA. For effective inclusion, there must be a collaborative approach among practitioners.


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Baer, D. M., Wolf, M. M., & Risley, T. (1968). Current dimensions of applied behavior analysis. Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis, 1, 91 – 97.

Cheney, D., Lynass, L., Flower, A., Waugh, M., Iwaszuk, W., Mielenz, C., & Hawken, L. (2010). The check, connect, and expect program: A targeted, tier 2 intervention in the schoolwide positive behavior support model. Preventing School Failure, 54(3), 152-158.

Leach, D. (2010). Brining ABA into your inclusive classroom: A guide to improving outcomes for students with autism spectrum disorders. Baltimore, MD: Paul H. Brooks Publishing Co.

Rodecki, J. N., & Witzel, B. S. (2011). Positively decreasing disruption and discipline referrals. Focus on Middle School, 42(2), 1-4. Retrieved May 29, 2012 from http://www.acei.org/images/stories/MiddleWinter11.pdf

Written by Jennifer Rodecki, M.Ed.

Posted in Behavior Tagged with: , , , , ,

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