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.


FAB Coping Card Strategy

The FAB Coping card gives clients, teachers and therapists a visual support strategy for achieving their goals. Based on Power Cards, coping cards use the child’s preferred interest to guide goal-directed behavior. Clients use an index card to depict their preferred interest, behavioral goal, coping strategies, and reinforcement schedule. Constructing and displaying the coping card focuses the client and staff on their individual goal, coping strategies, and reinforcement schedule while using their preferred interest to help achieve the goal.

For example, a student who frequently bit his hand constructed a coping card by depicting his goal (e.g., keep safe hands by not biting myself when I get upset), preferred interest (e.g., Sponge Bob), coping strategies (e.g., chewy, weighted blanket, and basket ball) and reinforcement schedule (e.g., 10 minutes of safe hands=1 sticker). The goal is written and/or drawn, stickers or drawings depict the preferred interest, and coping strategies are visually represented (colored, cut out, and pasted on an index card using the FAB Trigger & Coping forms).

FAB Coping CardFABTriggerCopingFormsMasterpgno5



On the reverse side of the coping card the reinforcement schedule is written: “Safe hands for 10 consecutive minutes earns one sticker, while five stickers=1 toy car)”.  The index card is laminated and fastened to the desktop or worn as a necklace. Through their process of constructing the coping card clients and staff develop an effective functional goal, preferred interest, coping strategies, and reinforcement schedule.

Making a coping card helps teach clients how to use adaptive equipment to achieve their goal. The process of constructing the coping card focuses the client and staff on the goal and plan for achieving it.  The coping card helps to quickly remind clients and staff of the individualized program for achieving their goal.  Coping cards quickly guide busy teachers and therapists in addressing functional goals of students with significant behavioral challenges. Coping cards also encourage professional collaboration in goal development and implementation.


Spencer, V., Simpson, C., Day, M., Buster, E. (2008).  Using the power card strategy to teach social skills to a child with Autism.  Teaching Exceptional Children Plus, 5(1), 1-10.


Classroom Exercise Improves Transitions and Learning

As greater educational demands are made on students and teachers, often beginning in preschool or kindergarten, it is increasingly important to embed brief exercise strategies into the elementary school curriculum.  Movement activities done before transitions enable students to integrate their learning and behave more appropriately.  Increasing time spent in seated teaching and testing along with the integration of special needs students into regular classrooms makes the inclusion of movement strategies increasingly important.

Transition strategies include signals, music and exercise activities that integrate and improve learning while preparing students for new tasks.  Some children require extra time to process information, especially developmentally immature children and those with developmental challenges. While thought by some administrators to take away from learning, twenty minutes of added daily physical activities embedded into the classroom curriculum significantly improves behavior, attention, fitness as well as math and reading achievement compared to classes given equivalent time to seated learning tasks.

Several FAB Strategies can be implemented in under five minutes in regular classrooms to promote student’s behavior and learning.


FAB classroom exercise strategies integrate mindfulness, stretching and movement activities Transition Strategies  Students are taught to move vigorously then transition back to academic learning.

MindfulClock2 MindfulClock1

Additional activities can be found for various grade levels at <www.pecentral.org>


Donnelly, J. E. & Lambourne, K. (2011).  Classroom-based physical activity, cognition, and academic achievement.  Preventive Medicine, 52, S36-S42.

Erwin, H., Fedewa, A., & Ahn, S.(2012).  Student academic performance outcomes of a classroom physical activity intervention: A pilot study.  International Electronic Journal of Elementary Education, 4(3), 473-487.


Preschool & Kindergarten Strategies for Complex Behavior Challenges

Preschool and kindergarten teachers are extraordinary, under-appreciated professionals who are confronted with helping children develop the foundation for academic achievement, while often simultaneously developing the social skill prerequisites for learning in students with behavioral challenges.  Some preschool and kindergarten students may also demonstrate “complex behavioral challenges” including significant social, developmental, and sensory processing challenges that must be addressed before they can begin learning.  Early childhood educators are confronted with increasing numbers of students with complex behavioral challenges, along with higher academic expectations and testing requirements for all students (that some typical students may lack the developmental readiness for when they enter preschool or kindergarten). 

The FAB Strategies for Preschoolers & Kindergarteners form is helpful in preparing young children to learn these higher academic skills while simultaneously addressing the needs of any students with complex behavioral challenges.  The FAB “Functionally Alert Behavior” Strategies for Preschoolers & Kindergarteners form offers a checklist of activities to promote attention for learning more complex academic tasks and quickly provide home activity suggestions, particularly for children who enter class lacking the maturity to learn.  The FAB Strategies for Preschoolers & Kindergarteners form is also useful in simultaneously developing the social skills needed for learning in children with complex behavioral challenges. 

Complex behavioral challenges are often related to genetic, perinatal, neurological, developmental, early trauma, sensory processing, environmental, and/or parental stress factors.  Many children with complex behavioral challenges in preschool and kindergarten classes have not yet been identified with special needs or given supplemental services to help them learn. When preschool and kindergarten students are provided with supplemental services (e.g., individual teaching assistant and/or occupational, physical, speech/language, or mental health therapist), coordinating goals and intervention can be challenging and is often the responsibility of the classroom teacher.

For children receiving supplemental services the FAB Strategies for Preschoolers & Kindergarteners form helps integrate goals and learning across disciplines.  FAB Strategies are organized in four sections addressing: environmental adaptations, sensory modulation, positive behavioral support, and physical self-control strategies.  The teacher or team lists objective educational goals at the top of the FAB Strategies form, and chooses at least one strategy from each section.  Strategies chosen are checked and underlined for use across disciplines.

A few FAB Strategies options (listed in bold type) are included that can be marked with an X for use by trained occupational, physical, and speech therapists. Two blank lines on the bottom of the form enable teachers and therapists to add strategies not listed on the form.  A line is also included at the bottom of the form for the parent or guardian signature designating that they understand and agree with the strategies used.  The FAB Strategies for Preschoolers & Kindergarteners form is helpful for preschool and kindergarten teachers and therapists in promoting classroom learning.  FABPre&KStrategies