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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”.

FeelingsinmyHead

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.

RainbowGoal

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.

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Assessing Sensory & Behavior Challenges

Many clients have interrelated sensory processing and behavior challenges that interfere with their functioning. Sensory processing disorders are distinct from behavior disorders (e.g., Oppositional Defiant, Post Traumatic Stress, Autism Spectrum, and Bipolar Disorder) but clients who have these mental health diagnoses are significantly more likely to have sensory processing challenges as well.

It is important that clients who have both sensory processing and behavior challenges affecting their functioning receive an evaluation that addresses both difficulties. Regardless if the evaluation is done by an occupational and/or mental health therapist (psychologist, social worker, licensed professional counselor, behaviorist) it is important to assess both sensory processing and behavioral functioning. Coordinated assessment by both an occupational and mental health therapist can be extremely helpful.

It is helpful if the sensory processing and behavior assessment include observations and a norm-referenced, reliable and valid measurement tool. The sensory processing clinical observations can describe whether the client becomes overly excited during movement activities, is able to pay attention in loud environments, touches people and objects more frequently than others his age, is easily distracted, and the length of attention span for both preferred and adult directed activities. Standardized assessments include the Short Sensory Profile sensoryprofile.com and Sensory Processing Measure http://www.wpspublish.com/store/p/2991/sensory-processing-measure-spm

Behavior observations can include the frequency of inappropriate behaviors (e.g., yelling, screaming, swearing, hitting, biting, spitting) as well as the most common setting events, antecedents, and consequences related to them. Standardized behavior assessments include the Devereux Behavior Rating Scale-School Form and the Ages and Stages Questionnaire: Social Emotional.

Adaptive EquipmentPartSentBigFeelin

Whenever clients present with interrelated sensory processing and behavioral concerns related to their functioning both issues need to be comprehensively addressed. The assessment needs to include functional base lines data, prioritize functional goals, and recommend needed intervention. Comprehensively assessing the client’s interrelated sensory processing and behavior concerns guides affective intervention for both problems.