Your student needed help with some disruptive behavior, so you completed a great Functional Behavior Assessment (FBA) and determined the function of the student’s behavior. Based on this information you designed a Behavior Intervention Plan (BIP) to meet the student’s functional need(s).

Now you are excited to begin implementing the plan, hoping for a decrease of behavior(s) of concern and an increase in prosocial behaviors. You collect data and plot your data on a graph. The student is still displaying the undesirable behavior, but you feel like their behavior is improving.

After four more weeks of instruction you look at your graph, eager to see significant progress. Instead, you see that although the student has made some progress, they are not going to meet their goal. Now you are confused. You had a great, function-based plan. What went wrong, and what do you do now?

Many Factors Affect Student Progress

Completing an FBA and developing a BIP are no guarantee that the behavior plan will work. Factors such as satiation and deprivation, behavior history and medical conditions can affect how a student responds to a behavior plan. Although many of these variables are unalterable, all hope is not lost! Before considering more intensive behavior supports, try the following troubleshooting steps.

1. Examine Implementation Integrity

When a behavior plan is not working, always check your implementation integrity first. Use the BIP for guidance and do a self-check of each component. Are you implementing each piece of the BIP throughout the school day, or do you sometimes forget to read a social narrative or provide reinforcement? Be honest with yourself.

Also, have BIP staffers involved in implementation complete a self-check to be sure they are maintaining the necessary integrity. It may be helpful to have an observer present to note whether all components of the plan are being implemented with fidelity. Don’t make any changes to the behavior plan until you rule out implementation as a problem.

2. Use a Variety of Prevention Strategies

If the BIP is not working and it’s being implemented with fidelity, consider expanding the prevention strategies used to keep the antecedent from occurring, to cue the use of the replacement behavior and to make the antecedent less aversive. Some options include increasing the use of social narratives before times when the disruptive behavior is likely to occur, increasing the use of visual supports to cue expected behaviors or providing access to the function of the behavior (such as building in time with an adult for an attention function) without it being contingent on an expected behavior. The more often the undesirable behavior can be prevented, the more opportunities for the student to display the desired, prosocial behavior.

3. Increase Reinforcement

Are you seeing some progress but not enough? Increasing your level of reinforcement may be the key. Students need to learn that the desired school behaviors, rather than the behaviors of concern, get them access to what they want. Your reinforcement should match the function: If they engage in behavior to escape, be sure that when they engage in the expected behavior they are also able to escape.

We educators often forget to reinforce prosocial behavior until the student starts to engage in behaviors of concern more frequently. Set a timer or create visual cues as reminders to provide reinforcement at a higher rate than you have been providing. If the student engages in the disruptive behavior every 20 minutes, then provide your reinforcement every 15 minutes—and don’t be late!

4. Consult With Others

If you are in need of fresh ideas or are unsure what to do next, don’t forget about your coworkers’ expertise. School psychologists, other special education teachers, school counselors and school social workers are some individuals who may be able to provide a new perspective and approach to behavior planning. They may have reinforcement ideas you haven’t thought of or they may be able to provide some additional targeted instruction. You won’t know until you ask.

5. Revisit the FBA

Sometimes we get the function wrong. Unless we have conducted a Functional Analysis*, the function determined during an FBA is only a hypothesis, and there is a chance the descriptive data led us in the wrong direction.

If you have allowed enough time for the BIP to be implemented with fidelity, expanded prevention strategies, increased reinforcement of desired behavior(s) and made additional modifications based on consultation with other professionals but your data is still showing a lack of expected progress, consider going back to your FBA. Has something major changed in the student’s life? Are there changes in the environment or in the way adults respond to the behavior? What additional data do you need to make a more informed decision? Before throwing in the towel, be sure to update your FBA with new data and be open to the changes that data may suggest for your BIP.

*Note: A Functional Analysis involves “making systematic changes to the environment to evaluate the effects of different conditions on the target behavior(s).”

Embrace a Trial-and-Error Approach

No single test can confirm the function of a student’s behavior and tell you exactly what to implement to teach behavior changes. Even with the best functional hypothesis, developing a Behavior Intervention Plan requires a trial-and-error approach. Sometimes there will be errors, but it’s important that you make your best guess based on the data available.

Don’t be discouraged! Use these tips, in addition to your data, and you will have your student back on track to meet their goal.

Webinar on functional behavior for special education.

Want to better understand your students’ behavior and help them self-regulate? Learn how an FBA can help your team improve behavior and learning.

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About the Author
Samantha Gregory serves as the lead trainer for functional behavior assessment and behavior intervention planning. Previously, she worked as a school psychologist, where she coached and consulted educators on best practices to address academic difficulties and challenging behavior in K–12 settings. Samantha received her Educational Specialist (EdS) in school psychology and her Master of Education in school psychology from the University of Missouri-Columbia.