Behaviour supports

  • Overview

    Some students with communication support needs, due to difficulty expressing themselves through language (verbal or written), may use behaviour as a method of communication.  While every student should be supported to have a functional means to communicate (refer Communication methods section), behaviour can be a useful additional communication tool in some circumstances.  However, there can also be occasions when the behaviour used is problematic.  This is behaviour that could cause harm to the student or to others, or behaviour which does not cause harm to anyone but impacts on the student’s engagement in learning and social opportunities, for example saliva play or masturbating in public.

    Students with communication support needs who are exhibiting these types of behaviours may need – in addition to a means to communicate – support to address these behaviours.  This involves providing positive behaviour support.  The key to this is understanding the reasons behind the student’s behaviour.  Teachers should always consider physical, medical, sensory and emotional reasons for behaviour before exploring other possible causes. (For a discussion of sensory challenges that may contribute to behaviours, see sensory processing topic).

    For example, a student may feel bored, anxious or over-stimulated, and without language to explain these feelings, may express this via behaviours such as work refusal, hitting out or absconding.  One scenario is a student refusing to engage in classroom activities, where it is later identified that the activities were set at a level below the student’s abilities and the student was expressing frustration.  Therefore, a critical first step is to ensure that classroom expectations are appropriate to the student’s abilities – a well-prepared ILP may help avoid such scenarios.

    Alternatively, a student may exhibit behaviours which are simply an uncontrollable response to their sensory challenges.  For example, some people with autism may cover their ears, flap their hands, scream, hum, rock or bang their head.  Carly Fleischmann explains this behaviour and what it is like:

    “Because if I don’t it feels like my body is going to explode. It’s just like when you shake a can of coke. If I could stop it I would but it is not like turning a switch off, it does not work that way. I know what is right and wrong but it’s like I have a fight with my brain over it.” (Carly Fleischmann, 2009describing why she bangs her head)

    “It’s a way for us to drown out all sensory input that over loads us all at once. We create output to block out input.” (Carly Fleischmann, 2009)

    “I want to be able to go to school with normal kids but not have them getting upset or scared if I hit a table or scream.  I want to be able to read a book by myself without having to tell myself to sit still.  I want something that will put out the fire.” (Carly Fleischmann, 2009)

    Positive Behaviour Support is an evidence-based approach to supporting people who use challenging behaviour.  Positive Behaviour Support seeks to both improve the quality of life of the person with a disability and to reduce the impact of the person’s challenging behaviour. Positive Behaviour Support is not therefore solely focused on eliminating challenging behaviour. Rather, it seeks to improve quality of life by understanding why a person needs to engage in challenging behaviour, and then addressing that need.

    To do this Positive Behaviour Support relies on three related elements:

    1. understanding why the person engages in challenging behaviour (this understanding is developed by conducting a Functional Behaviour Assessment);
    2. finding the environmental causes for challenging behaviour, and then modifying them so that the behaviour is unnecessary;
    3. teaching the person new skills to meet their needs without having to resort to challenging behaviour.

    Source: QLD Government Department of Communities, Disability Services and Seniors

  • What to do
  • Positive Behaviour Plans

    The goal of a Positive Behaviour Plan (“PBP”) is to develop and implement preventative and/or proactive behaviour interventions to achieve a reduction or elimination of behaviours of concern, in the short- to medium-term (4-6 weeks).  Primarily such a plan sets out what other people will do (e.g. teachers/aides) to modify the student’s environment and teach them new skills.  In the past, behaviour management often involved compiling a list of unwanted behaviours and the associated consequences or punishments.  This approach has proven not to be effective as it did not adequately address the reason for the behaviour.

    Positive Behaviour Plans (“PBP”) are also commonly referred to as Behaviour Support Plans (“BSP”).  These terms have largely replaced the use of behaviour management plan (“BMP”).

  • Functional Behaviour Assessments

    Positive Behaviour Plans are developed on the basis of information about the reasons for the student’s behaviour, gathered using evidence-based practices relating to data collection and analysis.  The method for doing this is termed Functional Behaviour Assessment (“FBA”).  FBA can be conducted by:

    • qualified behaviour analysts
    • psychologists who have a qualification in behaviour analysis
    • school or Department staff (e.g. social workers, speech pathologists, teachers) who have received formal FBA training

    This is then used to develop the PBP.  Supervision, monitoring and review of the plan must occur to ensure it is effective.

    For more information on qualifications required, click here.

    Where school staff do not have the expertise to address behaviours of concern, professional expertise should be engaged at the earliest opportunity as the more entrenched behaviours become, the more difficult they are to change.

  • Training for school staff

    may need training in how to support a student – consistency in approaches between different staff is crucial.  This training is usually provided by the professional who has undertaken the FBA and prepared the plan.

    For more information on professional development and training opportunities in this area, see the following:

  • Restraint and seclusion