Positive Behavioral Support (PBS) interventions are used in many schools to improve student behavior and learning. PBS interventions involve adapting the classroom environment, teaching basic social skills, and rewarding positive behavior to enhance learning. PBS interventions can be enhanced through integrating them with sensory and mindfulness strategies. Sensory and mindfulness activities are especially useful when using PBS with classes that include young and special needs students. As an occupational therapist I have found the Second Step, PATHS, and DECA programs helpful in guiding PBS interventions.
Occupational, Speech/Language, Physical and Mental Health therapists can team with regular and special education teachers to implement PBS, sensory and mindfulness strategies. Sensory strategies include environmental adaptations and movement activities that enhance learning. Mindfulness strategies include body awareness, movement, and breathing activities that enhance student’s abilities to pay attention to learning activities.
PBS, sensory and mindfulness strategies teach students self-control by enabling them to be aware of their environmental and body triggers so they can implement coping strategies to avoid inappropriate behavior. An extremely useful PBS strategy is the PATHS Turtle Technique, where an upset student notices they are becoming upset, stops and breathes to calm down. The turtle technique can be adapted for students with special needs using the FAB Turtle Technique. When the student or teacher notices the student reacting to environmental and body triggers they stop what they are doing and go to a pre-designated sensory coping area in the back of the class. The student does their individualized coping activities for self-calming until they are sure they will no longer act aggressively. Later, when they are calm the teacher can assist the student with problem solving.
Combining PBS (Positive Behavioral Support), sensory and mindfulness strategies is particularly useful in inclusive classrooms that integrate regular and special education students. Below is a description of ways to adapt research proven PBS strategies with sensory and mindfulness activities to provide increase individualized structure for students with special needs.