Positive Behavior Support
March 14, 2011
Q: I hear the term “Positive Behavior Support” a lot, but I am not sure what it is and how it is applied to individuals on the autism spectrum.
A: Positive Behavior Support (PBS) is a broad term that incorporates the principles, strategies and techniques of the science of behavior to produce socially important behavior change and to achieve quality of life outcomes. It is typically implemented as a collaborative, rather than an expert-driven, process. While PBS is associated with providing supports to individuals with challenging behavior, in practice it can be applied to everyone, including schools and other large systems. Specifically for individuals on the autism spectrum, a PBS approach would ultimately result in a comprehensive PBS plan that would include conducting a functional behavior assessment (FBA) of challenging behavior. The purpose of the FBA is to find out why a specific behavior is occurring. It may be to gain attention, to escape a situation or to get something desired, and it may be reinforced by something sensory (i.e., picking at skin because it feels good). Once the function of the behavior is understood, a comprehensive PBS approach is then developed using strategies that will best address the function. For example, a young child who tantrums when asked to perform a difficult task may be exhibiting that behavior to escape from doing the task. If, after conducting an FBA, escape from difficult tasks was determined to be the function of the tantrum, plans to address tantrums might include the following: breaking up difficult tasks into smaller and easier steps, developing a system of reinforcement when those steps are achieved, teaching the child to ask for help, providing choices, arranging for a peer buddy to assist the child and reviewing the child’s overall curriculum to make appropriate adjustments. So, in summary, a PBS approach would focus on understanding the reasons for the behavior and would put strategies in place to prevent it and to teach adaptive skills.
In a PBS approach for an individual, the ultimate goal is to help the individual live a life of quality— a life they desire. And that can become a reality for all individuals with autism spectrum disorders if they have the right supports. You can learn more about individual-level PBS and school-wide PBS online. Two recommended sites are www.apbs.org and www.pbis.org.
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