Have Special Educators Given Up on Inclusion?

When it comes to including kids with autism spectrum disorders (and other kids with disabilities for that matter), we have a ton of work to do.  It seems to me that because of the challenges that arise, special educators are giving up on inclusion.  There are many instances in which kids are placed in inclusive settings without the appropriate supports, and the educators (general and special) agree "it just didn't work."  In order for kids with ASD to learn new skills in inclusive classrooms, general education teachers need support from special education teachers to provide effective instruction and intervention.  We shouldn't be sending kids with ASD into inclusive classrooms, waiting for them to fail, and then blaming general education teachers for the failures thinking "we can do it better in special education classrooms."  It is our job as special educators to redesign our roles when kids are in inclusive classrooms and become co-teachers, collaborators, consultants, facilitators, and coaches to ensure success for the kids and the general education teachers.  No matter how hard we try, we cannot replicate the learning opportunities that occur in general education classrooms in special education classrooms.  Instead, we should be putting our efforts into supporting general education teachers and joining them in structuring the classroom environment and learning activities so that children with ASD can have full access to the general education curriculum and learn individualized social and communication skills they need to fully function in this world.  The reason why I wrote, Bringing ABA into Your Inclusive Classroom and Bringing ABA into Home, School, and Play was to provide educators with a framework for embedding individualized interventions within the natural context of general education classrooms instead of removing kids from all of the wonderful learning opportunities these settings provide.

It never fails that the main argument against the promotion of inclusion is money.  I think that is a cop-out.  I know that school districts are faced with major budget challenges, however, providing the necessary services and supports to make inclusive classrooms work must be a priority.  We need to have co-teaching models in order to provide the differentiated instruction and individualized interventions that children with ASD need to benefit from general education classroom instruction.  Research shows that co-teaching models improve learning outcomes for all students so making this a priority is not just serving students with disabilities.  Yes, it may cost more money (in some cases it doesn't), but this needs to be made a priority.  I don't here that the cost of smart boards in the classroom, laptops,  IPADs, or any other forms instructional technology are too expensive so teachers have to stick with just using textbooks and overhead projectors.  Yet, it seems ok to continue to use archaic service delivery models for students with disabilities without moving to models that are socially just and provide students with disabilities with what research shows is best practice.

The typical service delivery model for students in inclusive classrooms in many states is this: There is a resource teacher with a ridiculously large caseload who serves students in a pull-out model all or the majority of the school day and is also expected to provide support to the general education teachers who have the students in the classroom when they are not in the resource room.  Well, it is impossible for resource teachers to be in two places at the same time.  So what typically happens is the resource teacher rarely interacts with the general education teachers and focuses on providing academic intervention in the resource room.  This results in special education being a place; not a system of supports and services designed to meet the unique needs of individuals with disabilities across school (and community) settings. The students are not receiving specialized supports and intervention throughout their school day; only when they are sent to the resource room.  When they are in the general education classroom, it is a sink or swim service delivery model.  Of course there are teachers, schools, school districts, and states who provide more than a pull-out service delivery model.  There just is not enough of authentic inclusion occurring across the county.  It seems that we are still in the mindset of getting the students ready for the general education classroom (which could take a lifetime) instead of getting the general education classrooms ready for the students.  In order to move to authentic inclusion service delivery models we need:

1.  Administrative Support: School district and building level administrators who commit to restructuring service delivery models moving away from pull-out models and increasing co-teaching models. 

2.  Special Educators' Commitment: Special education teachers who will rise to the challenges (and the challenges are many) of making inclusion work.  This means working through the resistance they may face with some general education teachers by using effective interpersonal communication skills to form collaborative relationships to best serve all students. 

3.  Training: Training provided to special education teachers, general education teachers and paraprofessionals on topics of collaboration, co-teaching, differentiated instruction, positive behavioral interventions and supports, evidence-based teaching practices for diverse learners, and progress monitoring procedures.

4.  Family Involvement:  Families of students with and without disabilities need to understand the value of effective inclusive practices.  This has to be communicated to families in a way that helps re-shape belief systems about what special education can and should be.  Once families are on board with supporting an inclusive service delivery model, they can be valuable contributors when setting goals, designing interventions, and implementing interventions.

Written by Deb Leach, Ed.D., BCBA

Posted in General Tagged with: , , , , ,

Quiet Hands???

Many teachers and parents use the term "quiet hands” with children with ASD to teach them to refrain from flapping their hands or engaging in other self-stimulatory behavior with their hands. We would like to encourage readers to rethink that approach. 
From our perspective, there are a host of issues with using the "quiet hands" phrase.  First, some kids may flap their hands because they are excited about something.  Who are we to suggest that this is an inappropriate way for them to show their excitement?  Some kids flap their hands or rock back and forth because their bodies need movement in order for them to feel “centered.”  As long as the movement is not preventing them from engaging in learning or social activities and it is not preventing others from engaging, then we should probably allow them the freedom to regulate themselves.  If we don’t, we often end up playing a game of whack-a-mole: You stop the hand flapping and something else (that may be much more inappropriate or disruptive) will pop up to replace the need for self-regulation.  
In some cases, the function of hand flapping may not be to show excitement or for self-regulation due to movement needs, it may be to communicate another function such as lack of engagement, inability to engage in a task because it is too difficult, disinterest, frustration, anxiety, etc.  In these instances we need to conduct a functional behavior assessment (formally or informally) to determine the function of the hand flapping so that we can: 1) Make any changes to the environment, adult behavior, or peer behavior to prevent the need for hand flapping 2) Teach more appropriate and effective replace
ment behaviors that serve the same function. 
Telling students to have “quiet hands” is a very surface level solution to what some consider a problem.  It is similar to telling students to stay in their seats throughout a lesson. Instead, we need to look at their engagement level in the lesson and/or what purpose leaving their seat may serve.  This way we can focus on increasing engagement which would likely result in children staying in their seats.  If we determine that a child is leaving his/her seat to get attention from another adult, we then need to ensure that adult refrains from giving the child attention for out of seat behavior and increases attention and positive reinforcement for in seat behavior. 
Generally speaking, we should not focus on behavior reduction.  Instead, we need to first determine if the behavior is enough of a problem to warrant an intervention.  If so, then we need to determine the function for the behavior, make necessary changes to the environment and the behavior of others to potentially prevent the behavior from occurring, and teach replacement behaviors that serve the same function in a more desirable way. 
Written by Emily Shamash, Ed.D. & Deb Leach, Ed.D., BCBA
Posted in Behavior, Parenting Tagged with: , , ,

Building Internal Motivation for Children with ASD

I can't tell you how many times I hear people say, "What does the child work for?" When that question is asked it tells me one thing: Whoever is asking the question has no intention of building internal motivation when working with the child.  There is this unfounded assumption that children with ASD will only engage in learning activities if they get some sort of tangible reinforcement (i.e. food, candy, drink, toy).  A large percentage of the children with ASD that I have worked with and supported did not need tangible reinforcement very often as long as the activities they were expected to engage in were in fact reinforcing.  To me, that is the key: Instead of reinforcing kids for engaging in undesirable learning activities, make the activities themselves reinforcing.  There are many ways to make learning activities reinforcing for children with ASD.  Here are a few ideas (please share some additional ideas):

1. Embed the students special interests and fascinations into the learning activities themselves: For example, instead of allowing a child to play with his Thomas the Train toy after sitting for a book, read a book about Thomas the Train and use the train toy as a prop. 

2. Access the child's strengths: Often times children with ASD seem unmotivated, but the truth is they are more anxious and frustrated than unmotivated in many situations.  If the task at hand requires the use of communication, social, or cognitive skills that the child does not have, of course the child would not want to engage. For example, if a child has a strength in reading words but has great difficulty answering questions during group discussions, you can motivate the child by having the child read the answer to the question. After the child is comfortable reading the answer, you can start fading that out and increasing the child's ability to respond to questions without the written words.

For more information on assessing students' strengths and interests, click HERE.

3. Make yourself a conditioned social reinforcer: Back in the old days of implementing discrete trial trianing programs with kids, I certainly did not establish myself as a conditioned social reinforcer. In fact, when I showed up, the kids would run in the opposite direction begging for mercy. I have learned throughout the years that if I eliminate my "teacher voice" and act more natural, warm, and inviting, kids will be more motivated to engage with me. Duh!

4. Ensure success: When you are successful at something, doesn't it feel good? Of course! Then, why wouldn't we think that if children with ASD can have success during learning activities that the success itself can often be the positive reinforcement.  To ensure success, make sure the tasks are developmentally appropriate and that the child is set up to achieve the desired outcomes. If you have to continually provide high levels of prompting, the task is probably not developmentally appropriate.

5. Use Natural and Social Reinforcement: Before jumping to the conclusion that you need to use tangible reinforcers, try using only natural and social reinforcers. Natural reinforcers are consequences that would naturally occur following a particular behavior.  For example, if a child says "ball," the natural reinforcement would be access to the ball.  If a child says, "I need help," the natural reinforcement would be someone helping the child.  Social reinforcers are things such as specific praise, smiles, high fives, tickles (when appropriate), thumbs up, etc.  While we don't want to go overboard with social reinforcers, when used in a natural fashion they are quite powerful.  And that goes for all people. When my book came out, the first person I showed it to was my mom so I could get tons of specific praise 🙂


Written by Deb Leach, Ed.D., BCBA

Posted in Behavior Tagged with: , , , ,

Beware of the Color Chart! Use Supportive Consequences Instead!

While the use of Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports (PBIS) is becoming more widespread in public schools across the nation, teachers are still struggling with how to deliver "consequences" for inappropriate behavior.  I often hear things such as, "I do provide positive reinforcement, but what message does it send to children if we do not also punish them when they engage in negative behaviors?" Or my favorite: "What message does it send to other students if this child is allowed to act this way?"  The problem is that there is a misinterpretation of PBIS in many classrooms.  Consequences do need to be delivered when problem behaviors occur; however, the term consequence is not synonymous with punishment or aversive treatment.  

If you look at the picture cards shown in this post, you will see common consequences for challenging behaviors used in classrooms.  Each one is punitive in nature with public display of humiliation the main theme across the consequences.  Another popular consequence system is the color chart. I say, "Beware of the color chart!" As inviting as it looks, it is carefully designed to systematically recognize a student who engages in problem behavior by letting the whole class witness as the child shamefully changes his/her color because of "bad" behavior.  If you like the way the color charts look, here's a simple solution: Have kids change their color when they do wonderful things instead.  Individualize what is wonderful for each student and let them be cheered on for making good choices.  However, that doesn't solve the problem of how to use consequences for problem behavior within a PBIS framework.  I would like to offer an alternative hierarchy of consequences for problem behavior for teachers to consider:

1.  Planned ignoring: Ignore the problem behavior, provide specific praise to a student who is in close proximity to the child displaying the desirable behavior, and then provide positive reinforcement as soon as the child stops the problem behavior and/or starts displaying the desirable behavior.
2.  Nonverbal reminder:  Use a supportive gesture or visual to gently remind the child of the behavioral, academic, or social expectation to encourage the child to respond appropriately.
3.  Verbal reminder:  Positively redirect the child to engage in a more desirable behavior by stating the behavioral, academic, or social expectation to encourage the child to respond appropriately.
4.  Offer assistance: Provide any necessary prompts or assistance to help the child engage in a more desirable behavior.  For off task behavior, this may mean helping the student get started.  For behavioral expectations this may mean using modeling/request imitation.  It may also mean providing gentle physical assistance.
5. Provide a safe space for de-escalation: If the child is unable to be redirected, allow the child to remove himself/herself from the situation and go to a pre-determined safe space until he/she can come back and participate and engage appropriately.

While this hierarchy would be beneficial for typically developing children and children with disabilities, it is essential for students with ASD.  If you use punitive consequences with students with ASD be prepared for an escalation in problem behavior.  They often internalize punitive consequence and say things such as, "I am a bad boy!" or "Mrs. Smith hates me!"  In order to increase positive behaviors for students with ASD, we have to be committed to explicitly teaching expectations, positively reinforcing them when they meet those expectations, and provide supportive consequences when they are unable to meet the expectations to enable them to respond appropriately.  Is the hierarchy I suggest foolproof? Of course not. But it may give teachers an alternative way to look at selecting consequences for problem behavior. 


Written by Deb Leach, Ed.D., BCBA

Posted in Behavior Tagged with: , , , ,

Help Your Students Learn by Learning About Your Students

As a new school year is about to begin, teachers are busy writing welcome letters and lesson plans. But how many teachers are taking the time to really get to know their students? Every great lesson begins with an assessment. Most teachers conduct pre-assessments to determine what content students have retained from the previous year. However, assessing students’ strengths and interests is also an important aspect when working with students with and without disabilities.

Assessing students beyond academic levels is a key component to having success in the classroom. When activities are interest-based and meaningful, students are more likely to actively engage in learning. Assessments help teachers plan activities that are both developmentally appropriate and meaningful across settings. This allows more opportunities for students to learn for generalization and maintenance.

Students with autism spectrum disorders (ASD) typically have very particular interests and are not often motivated to engage in challenging tasks (Leach, 2010). Therefore, it is the teachers’ responsibility to design activities to be interest-based and appeal to the students’ strengths. In doing so, students with ASD can be more motivated to participate in activities, thus enhancing the inclusive classroom learning experience.

There are a variety of ways to assess students’ strengths and interests. Parent and caregiver interviews, student interviews, and preference assessments can all be useful tools for teachers to implement to learn more about their new students. Once teachers have gathered information on the students’ strengths and interests, they can then build upon those and create ABA intervention programs that will be motivating.

Below you will find several examples of interview questions that can be asked (Leach, 2010):

Questions to Ask the Student:

  • What are you good at?
  • What do you like to do?
  • What are your favorite toys?
  • What makes you happy?

Questions to Ask the Parents or Caregivers:

  • Who does the student like to spend time with?
  • What about the student makes you proud?
  • What keeps the student’s attention?
  • What would the student never want to give up or live without?


A preference assessment is an effective tool to use when working with students who are nonverbal or have limited interests. During a preference assessment, the teacher or caregiver records what activities or objects the student engaged in when given two or more objects to choose from. A preference assessment can also be done by recording how much time a student spends engaging in each activity. Using preference assessments can be a great way to expand on students’ interests by introducing new activities or objects during the assessment.

Below is an example of a completed preference assessment:

Student’s Name Assessor
Steven J.R.


Choice 1

Choice 2


8/20 – free time Put together puzzles Play with blocks Play with blocks
8/20 - Math Count blocks Count animals Count blocks
8/20 – Reading Group Read a book about shapes Read a book about dinosaurs Read a book about shapes

Based on this short preference assessment, we can see that Steven is interested in blocks and shapes. The teacher can incorporate blocks and shapes into several of his daily activities. Blocks can also be used as a tangible reinforcer or incorporated into teaching play skills to Steven.


It is important to note, that the strengths and interests of students often change throughout the course of the year.  Thus, it may be necessary to conduct assessments every three or four months.  For students with ASD, in particular, it is highly recommended that you conduct strengths and interests assessments quarterly.  Since students with ASD have a restricted range of interests, you can use your quarterly assessments to determine if using strengths and interests based learning activities is actually helping to expand the student’s repertoire of interests. 

Overall, interviews and preference assessments can be efficient ways to learn more about your students. By learning about your students, you can plan meaningful interventions that motivate the students to be actively engaged. Real learning begins when students are willing to participate in instruction.


 More information on assessing strengths and interests can be found in Bringing ABA Into Your Inclusive Classroom and Bringing ABA into Home, School, and Play.


Written by Jennifer Rodecki, M.Ed. and Deb Leach, Ed.D, BCBA

Posted in General Tagged with: , , , , , ,

Please Step Away From the Child! The Misuse of Paraprofessionals in Inclusive Classrooms.

I may upset a few parents with this post, but just know that I what I am about to say is the best interest of your children.  Many, many, many (did I say many?) parents insist that their children with autism have "shadows" when they are included in general education classrooms.  Parents tell one another things like, "Whatever you do, make sure the shadow is assigned to your child, not the classroom."  In my opinion, the worst thing you can do is to assign a non-certified staff person to a child.  In fact, it is not just my opinion.  Research has shown that having a shadow assigned to a student can have detrimental effects  (Downing, Ryndak, & Clark, 2000); Giangreco & Broer, 2005).  Some of the documented negative effects of having shadows assigned to students include:

1. Interference with engagement with the teacher
2. Interference with engagement with peers

3. Decision making by under-qualified personnel

4. Unnecessary dependence on the paraprofessional by the student

5. Stigmatization

6. Behavior problems

I can't tell you how many times I stepped into classrooms in which a shadow is assigned to a student, and I wanted to grab a megaphone and shout out, "PLEASE STEP AWAY FROM THE CHILD!" This is not because paraprofessionals aren't wonderful people, because they almost always are.  This is because they are doing what they have been told to do: "keep the child on task," "reduce problem behavior," "help the child with academic work," "help the child with organization," etc.  The problem is, these responsibilities need to be the teacher's responsibilities.  While I am well aware that a general education teacher certainly needs support to be able to meet the needs of a student with autism in the classroom, the support should not be a shadow.  It could be a paraprofessional assigned to work under the guidance of the general education and special education teachers who are responsible for the student's education.  Or...it could be a special education teacher who co-teaches with the general education teacher all or some of the day.  When paraprofessionals are in inclusive classrooms there are many ways they can be utilized to support all students including the student with autism such as:

1. Providing small group instruction
2. Monitoring students working independently
3. Monitoring centers or stations
4. Preparing materials to allow for differentiated instruction and assessment
5. Provide 1:1 support as needed

When paraprofessionals are used in ways listed above, it allows the general education teacher to better meet the individual needs of the student with autism as well as other students in the classroom.  Of course, general education teachers need training and support from special education teachers to know how to effectively teach students with autism.  And, even more importantly, general and special education teachers need training on how to work collaboratively and how to effectively utilize paraprofessionals in the classroom.

Written by Deb Leach, Ed.D., BCBA

Posted in General Tagged with: , , , , ,

Inclusion Essentials for Students with ASD

My book, Bringing ABA into Your Inclusive Classroom, provides educators with a framework for designing ABA interventions that can be implemented in general education classrooms to meet the unique needs of students with ASD.  However, I view the ABA interventions as the "icing on the cake."  There are certain essentials, or "must haves,"that should be in place in any classroom to meet the needs of students with ASD.  These essentials include:

1) The Use of Differentiated Instruction and Assessment
2)  The Use of Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports and
3)  Focus on Increasing Active Engagement of the Student(s) with ASD

It is very challenging to actively engage students with ASD due to their impairments in social interaction, communication, stereotypic behaviors, sensory issues, and anxiety issues.  In chapter 1 of Bringing ABA into Your Inclusive Classroom (Leach, 2010), I include the following tips for increasing the active engagement of students with ASD:

·      Make sure learning objectives are developmentally appropriate
·      Use concrete examples to help students connect  new content with their existing knowledge
·      Circulate the classroom and give feedback/reinforcement
·      Ask a lot of questions
·      Have students work collaboratively to solve problems and complete tasks
·      Ensure success by using prompting/fading procedures and behavioral momentum (see chapter 5)
·      Maintain a brisk pace of instruction
·      Illustrate content with stories
·      Use Guided notes
·      Choral responding
·      Connect content to everyday life
·      Give clear and concise directions and ensure understanding
·      Access student’s strengths and interests as often as possible
·      Give students choices
·      Use activities that arouse curiosity
·      Use advance organizers
·      Vary grouping arrangements
·      Utilize multi-media when presenting information
·      Incorporate music and art into instructional activities
·      Encourage brainstorming
·      Use manipulatives and other hands-on activities
·      Role-play
·      Have students use gestures during lessons
·      Use games
·      Have students create/do something during instruction
·      Have students come up to the board
·      Utilize technologies such as computers, promethium boards, and smart boards
·      Assign partners and have students share responses to questions with their partner
·      Be enthusiastic and encouraging
·      Remind students of behavioral expectations often
·      Be much more positive than negative/corrective


Written by Deb Leach, Ed.D., BCBA

Posted in General Tagged with: , , , , , ,

What Do I Do With This Token?: Five Tips for Token Economies

As the number of children diagnosed with autism spectrum disorders (ASD) continues to skyrocket, educators and caregivers are searching for strategies that will help these individuals have success in inclusive settings. A great deal of today’s research focuses on positive behavior interventions and supports (PBIS). Token economies are one type of PBIS strategy that can be used to improve problem behaviors in students with and without disabilities.

A token economy is a system that allows students to earn an immediate reinforcer, such as a sticker or “token”, for displaying a desired behavior. The students then save up their tokens in order to exchange them for a larger reward, or back-up reinforcer. Research indicates that token economies can be an effective strategy to use with an entire class or with individuals to increase on-task behaviors, rule compliance, participation, and others (Nelson, 2010; Reitman, Murphy, Hupp, & O’Callaghan, 2004). However, there are a few tips that educators and caregivers need to know before a token economy can positively impact a child’s behavior.

1. Design and teach clear expectations. The individuals participating in the token economy need to be explicitly taught the academic or behavioral expectations. Comprehension checks should be given to ensure that the participants understand these expectations.

2. Explicitly teach the token system. In order for a token economy to be meaningful, children participating in the system will need to have a clear understanding of what the tokens represent. Once the expectations are established and taught, start by providing one token when the participant meets that expectation. When you give the individual the token, explain why he/she is receiving the token. Then, immediately exchange it for the back-up reinforcer. This allows the individual to pair the token with the back-up reinforcer.

3. Start off strong. When considering how many tokens to provide during a given time period, it is important to note the present level of the behavior and how accustomed the individual is to receiving tokens. Tokens will need to be presented more frequently for appropriate behaviors if an individual often engages in problem behaviors. In addition, if an individual has never experienced a token system before, he/she will require more tokens and back-up reinforcers than someone who is accustomed to a token economy. Remember: the more an individual is reinforced for engaging in a desired behavior, the more likely they are to continue to display that behavior.

4. Back-up reinforcers must be meaningful. Interest inventories and/or preference assessments should be given to determine the most meaningful reinforcers for the individual participating in the token economy. The more desired the back-up reinforcer is, the more likely the individual is to work for tokens. It is important to have several back-up reinforcers so that the reinforcers do not become satiated. A varying points system can also be established so that the individual can choose to “cash in” the tokens for small reinforcers, or save the tokens for larger reinforcers.

5. Fade out. Because life does not come with a built-in token economy for everything, it is important to fade out the tokens and back-up reinforcers as the individual begins to demonstrate desired behaviors more frequently. Natural reinforcers and/or social reinforcers should be paired with tokens and back-up reinforcers. This should carry over into a variety of contexts. The decrease in tokens and back-up reinforcers should be a gradual process until the individual is independently engaging in the desired behavior.


Token economies can be adapted to meet the needs of a variety of individuals in countless inclusive settings. Through the use of token economies, individuals can learn how to independently engage in an endless number of appropriate behaviors. Token economies can also develop into a self-monitoring system. This allows the participating individual to be more aware of his/her own behavior. Whether you are an educator or caregiver for individuals with ASD, or a general education classroom teacher, token economies can be an effective strategy to use when changing behaviors.


Works Cited

 Nelson, K. (2010). Exploration of classroom participation in the presence of a token economy. Journal of Instructional Psychology, 37(1), 49-56.

Reitman, D., Murphy, M., Hupp, S., & O'Callaghan, P. (2004). Behavior change and perceptions of change: Evaluating the effectiveness of a token economy. Child & Family Behavior Therapy, 26(2), 17-36.


Written by Jennifer Rodecki, M.Ed.

Posted in Behavior Tagged with: , , , , , ,

“Don’t Give Me Crumbs; It’s Not Nice To Do To People!”

While one of the most effective methods for teaching children with ASD is using discrete trials, I can't stress enough the importance of naturalizing our teaching and reinforcement procedures.  For readers who may not know what I mean when I say discrete trials, click here for the basics of discrete trial training.  

When I was a discrete trial training "therapist" back in the early 90's, I acted in certain ways that do not make me proud.  I worked with kids 1:1 in isolated settings, I worked with kids for 1-2 hours at a time at a table using only adult directed learning activities, goals were often selected simply because they were the goals that were always part of discrete trial training programs, I would often talk in incomplete sentences (ex. "get cup"), I always used exactly the same words and directive tone of voice when I gave directions and asked questions, and best of all: I learned how to cut skittles and m&m's into fours so that I can use them for positive reinforcement without the kids getting "satiated." Over and over again, I would hear and read how children with autism lack motivation and the ability to generalize skills they learn.  Well, if we taught typically developing children in the manner described above, I believe they would lack motivation and generalization skills as well.  

I wish I could say that the isolated, unnatural, solely adult-directed, rote methods of teaching children with autism is a thing of the past, but there are still service providers that use discrete trial training as was done in the 80's and 90's.  The fundamentals of discrete trial training are very powerful, and the A-B-C teaching sequence used is almost fool proof.  However, we can embed discrete trials within ongoing daily routines across home, school, and community settings to increase motivation and generalization, we can select individualized and meaningful goals, we can vary the way we present things to children to avoid the learning of rote responses, we can use warm facial expressions and natural tones of voice, we can use natural language and talk in complete sentences, and we can use natural reinforcement.  

I'm going to bring this home with something a little boy that I used to work with many years ago said to me one day: I was working one-on-one with him doing simple tasks like identifying colors, shapes, and objects.  Each time he answered correctly I would give him a small edible treat.  This particular child did not care for skittles or m&m's, though; he liked cookies.  We all know what happens to cookies when you try to break them into tiny pieces: they crumble. So, as we were sitting at our little table doing our adult-directed tasks, I would give him a little piece of a cookie to positively reinforce his correct responses.  Finally, he looks right at me and says, "Don't give me crumbs, it's not nice to do to people." I couldn't agree with him more.

Written by Deb Leach, Ed.D., BCBA

Posted in General Tagged with: , , , , ,

On Target for Success: A Description of School-Wide Positive Behavior Interventions and Supports

Positive behavior interventions and supports (PBIS) is a proactive way to teach desired behaviors while systematically eliminating targeted problem behaviors through positive reinforcement and positive redirection. It is not uncommon for educators to use a more reactive approach to discipline, such as office discipline referrals and suspensions (Rodecki & Witzel, 2011). These approaches rarely result in behavior change. Many students, especially those with disabilities, do not learn appropriate behaviors incidentally. Therefore, these students require explicit instruction on behavioral expectations and consequences. In addition, providing positive reinforcement for desired behaviors increases the likelihood that those behaviors will continue to occur. Over the last decade, countless school districts across the nation have implemented school-wide PBIS programs. Studies show that schools who followed a school-wide PBIS model saw a large decrease in problem behaviors and discipline referrals (Cheney, et al., 2010; Sherrod, Getch, & Ziomek-Daigle, 2009; Warren, et al., 2006).

School-wide PBIS models are broken down into three tiers. The first tier (Tier 1) focuses on teaching appropriate behaviors and correcting problem behaviors in all students. Teachers and school administrators compile a list of common problem behaviors found in a variety of locations around the school (i.e. cafeteria, hallways, auditorium, and classrooms). Then, a plan is devised for teaching rules, expectations, and consequences to the entire school, with an emphasis on the discussed targeted behaviors. Students are then rewarded for following the rules. There are a variety of ways to reward students at a Tier 1 level, but many schools choose to implement a school-wide token economy, where students are immediately reinforced with tokens and then have the opportunity to trade those tokens in for a bigger reward. Even at a Tier 1 level, it is imperative that the reinforcers are relevant to the students’ interests.

The second tier (Tier 2) generally involves approximately 15% of the student population. These students usually receive two to five discipline referrals a year and require a little more behavior intervention that the students in Tier 1. In a school-wide system, these students receive the same supports as Tier 1, but may also attend small group sessions with a guidance counselor to explicitly learn the importance of following rules. Some students in Tier 2 may also need a daily progress report (DPR) where teachers sign off at the end of each class to indicate which expectations the student did and did not meet. DPRs can be paired with token economies so that the student is being reinforced for meeting behavioral expectations in all of their classes. These behavior monitoring systems should be individualized to meet the needs of the student.

Tier 3, the final tier, aims to meet the behavioral needs of students who receive five or more discipline referrals a year (usually 5% of the student population). These students typically require extensive behavior interventions and individualized support. A functional behavior assessment and behavior intervention plan may need to be created. In addition, DPRs, cool-down passes, teacher-written praise notes, and self-monitoring systems are individualized strategies that may help students in Tier 3 meet behavioral expectations.

One of the most important things to consider when implementing a PBIS system is the interests of the students. In order to effectively reinforce desired behaviors, the consequences have to motivate students to behave. Many students are reinforced by receiving positive praise or attention. Other students may require a tangible reinforcer. Interest inventories can be given to determine what students find to be the most rewarding.

As schools move to a more inclusive model, many are using school-wide PBIS programs to manage problem behaviors. By taking a proactive approach to discipline, students are able to learn how to meet behavioral expectations through explicit instruction and interest-based reinforcement. This also enables schools to place more of an emphasis on academics. Students with disabilities benefit from PBIS models because of the direct instruction of expectations, the contingent reinforcement for meeting those expectations, and the positive redirection that occurs when those expectations are not met (Leach, 2010).Through PBIS, students of varying abilities can learn cooperation and self-management skills that will carry over throughout all aspects of life.


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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) Bringing 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 July 2, 2012 from http://www.acei.org/images/stories/MiddleWinter11.pdf

Sherrod, M., Getch, Y., & Ziomek-Daigle, J. (2009). The impact of positive behavior support to decrease discipline referrals with elementary students. Professional School Counseling, 12(6), 421-427.

Warren, J. S., Bohanon-Edmonson, H. M., Turnbull, A. P., Sailor, W., Wickham, D., Griggs, P., & Beech, S. E. (2006). School-wide Positive Behavior Support: Addressing Behavior Problems that Impede Student Learning. Educational Psychology Review, 18(2), 187-198.


Written by Jennifer Rodecki, M.Ed.

Posted in Behavior Tagged with: , , , , ,

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