Special Needs Behavior Plans

Students with complex behavioral problems including cognitive limitations need to be taught to behave appropriately so they can learn in school. An individualized understanding of the student’s developmental level, trauma history, sensory modulation, and effective coping strategies are helpful in developing a behavior plan. It is helpful to develop a trauma informed behavior plan that addresses the student’s feelings and developmental challenges.

Often “big” feelings need to be managed to prevent problematic behaviors. Visual supports help students become aware of their problematic big feelings. Emotional learning follows a developmental sequence with the first feelings learned being sad, mad, glad, tense and relaxed. Once these are learned more complex and combined emotions can be taught. Emphasis is given to current feelings that lead to problematic behavior. Ask student to use different colors to draw all the feelings “in my head”.


Next, feelings which are always O. K. things to feel need to be distinguished from problematic behaviors like hitting, which are not O. K. in school. Particularly with cognitively impaired students desired results are emphasized not morality. It is also helpful to use a trauma informed approach that repeatedly emphasizes “I will like you no matter what. Some behaviors will be rewarded that will make you successful, while other behaviors will be punished so you don’t have a bad life”. A rainbow goal is a useful art activity is used to help the student plan behavior goals.


For cognitively impaired students goal planning emphasizes what they want to do “Be safe” rather than what they won’t do “hit”. Each rainbow beneath the top pot of gold goal is a related step. The student can dictate or write, chooses the color, and draws. Participation is encouraged, rather than just scribbling and saying “done”.

Finally a safety plan is visually depicted with objectively specified behaviors for reaching their rainbow goal. The students favorite sensory coping strategy options for replacing the inappropriate behavior are included. Coping strategies are “non-contingent reinforcement (NCR)”, always immediately available options that do not need to be earned. This transdisciplinary behavior plan was developed by the student’s occupational therapist, social worker, and speech/language pathologist.

Visual Safety Plan

The objective behaviors include a definition of “Be safe” that the student and all teachers and therapists understand clearly “No hitting, threatening, or throwing objects”. A baseline is taken and specific point chart or rewards are given for progress toward the goal. Visual supports and art activities can help students with complex behavioral challenges improve their behavior for learning.


Activities Teaching Feelings Improve Behavior

Helping students understand and express feelings improves their behavior.  This behavioral improvement appears related to the neuropsychological processes of self-control (from the frontal cortex) and communicating feelings (between the brain hemispheres).  Positive behavioral support activities promote self-control through the Turtle technique, Simon Says, Freeze dance, and similar strategies that teach and reward movement self-control.

Communicating feelings is taught with pictures of feelings, feeling wheels, environmental and body triggers, coping strategies, distinguishing feelings from behaviors, and anger meters.  These strategies help regular and special education students understand and express their feelings in developmentally appropriate ways through art activities.

Angercartoon  ComicCoping Triggers MadvsKick


The FAB Switch hands toss strategies provides movement activities that involve self-control and the verbal expression of feelings for children and adolescents with behavioral, developmental, sensory processing, and/or trauma challenges.  The FAB Switch hands toss strategies combine passing a beanbag with the verbal expression of preferences, feelings, values, and choices.  Building on Positive Behavioral Support activities that teach emotions and express feelings, It involves fun movement that can be done individually with students and in groups.  Both the beanbag pass progression and expression of feeling can be developmentally individualized to promote developmental, social, and verbal skills.

The FAB switch hands toss strategies let kids who don’t like being still actively practice emotional awareness and expressing feelings in a fun way.  They can be easily graded by selecting the specific strategies at the client or groups level.  FAB switch hands toss strategies can address the verbal expression of: favorites (e.g., color, team, quality in a friend), best coping strategy, guessing the feeling or degree of feeling expressed by the therapist or peers, right now I feel _____, and I messages (e.g., when you yell at me, I feel sad, so please speak to me politely). The FAB switch hands toss strategies are a fun addition to Positive Behavioral Support activities to improve emotional awareness and the verbal expression of feeliings.


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