Thursday, May 1, 2014

Do Behavior Support Plans Work?

I don't know how many BSPs I have written, probably an average of five a year for fifteen years.

This is a pretty way to picture it.
The effectiveness of the BSP lays mostly on the adults involved and actually less on the students. Here are very general guidelines beginning with the most complicated student needs.

1. My experience in Special Education included directing a Non-Public School (that's a separate facility for kids with extreme behavior problems due to behavior dysfunctions or emotional disturbance who have been expelled from their home public school.) At the small school I directed, we had students who had been expelled from the larger non-public schools. It follows that the Behavior Support Plans added to the IEPs (Individualized Educational Programs)  for these students were written with input from medical doctors, educational psychologists, counselors, and frequently psychiatrists as well as District personnel and myself as the case carrier.

These were precision directives, much like a medical prescription or a protocol for physical therapy. There was nothing haphazard about this. With a carefully administrated system of positive reinforcement, interesting curriculum, and above all, parent buy-in, we saw progress. This was the elite level of teaching. Only the few, the proud and the thoroughly trained can maintain.

2. Behavior Support Plans are also written for students in other areas of Special Education. Many students on a public school are classified as Moderately Handicapped, and mostly learn in one classroom separate from general education. The handicaps are not the same, and could include OHI (Other Health Impaired), autistic, SLD (Specific Learning Disability) or a variety of disabilities identified as Moderate by special testing done by the District psychologist. In our state, for many years this was called Special Day Class requiring more specialized instruction for the students to succeed. There are separate Special Day Classes for Emotional Disturbed students because the regimen required is differently structured than other classes. The BSPs for these students are similar to the ones in a non-public school, addressing specific behaviors that can be modified by positive intervention.

Finger pointing is not considered a positive support.
In a typical SDC (Special Day Class)  the students could mainstream for a class or two, lunch and breaks. If a student in such a class exhibits disruptive behavior out of the norm, then a BSP will be added to the existing IEP. The Special Education teacher schedules an addendum IEP meeting to discuss the Behavior Support Plan, and following discussion and collaboration from parents, the teaching team, administration and District Psychologist, the BSP is added to the IEP. Generally, the BSP includes the homeroom teacher (case carrier)  noting improvement, and a tangible reward will be offered. The consequences for inappropriate behavior are noted in the BSP, can be mild and administered in the classroom unless it has a larger scope and needs a school consequence from an administrator. If all the adults are consistent, this works well.

3.  A student identified as  Mildly Handicapped may also need a BSP. Students in this category may have only one class taught by a Special Education teacher, mainstreaming the remainder of the day. If a student exhibits behavior that merits certain discipline interventions from administration, then the Special Education teacher schedules an addendum IEP meeting, prepares a BSP to support the student to begin showing positive improvement. The whole IEP team includes the student, the parents, all teachers, administration and District Psychologist. This is the team that will help the student replace the inappropriate behavior with appropriate behavior. Again, the BSP is only as effective as the adults administering it. And this is a challenge.

IEP meetings are really, really important.
4. Most Districts have a district level expert (maybe called Behavior Analyst or Positive Behavior Intervention Specialist) who helps administer a program such as this when the students are having a tougher time. Or when the Special Education teacher bothers to ask for help. I have found these professionals to be supremely helpful and awesome experts. They may do a student study called a Functional Behavior Analysis that takes the guesswork out of why the student is behaving this way and what can be done to help. Kids are complicated and may need medical, psychiatric evaluation or more simple interventions like counseling. This input is crucial.

If you are reading this, you are an educator, a parent, or a concerned friend. Maybe you're the student. If you have a concern, check with a professional more trained than yourself to answer questions about your child or student's behavior.

I would also check out (and this advice is for teachers, too) to see how organized the school site is--are the rules consistent? Is the work appropriate for your child's developmental stage? (For example, is there recess? Does your child or class have creative opportunities? Are bullies under control? Is there enough supervision?) Teachers and administrators need to constantly self-evaluate the soundness of a school's program--the entire school. When kids' needs are met, there is less disruptive behavior.

But sometimes there are other forces in a child's experience. That's when a parent or teacher checks out what a psychologist or doctor has to say.

Here are some resources on the topic of  Behavior Support Plans.

1. Behavior Support Plans
What is a Behavior Support Plan (BSP)? 

2. Behavior Assessment, Plans, and Positive Supports

3. What to Do When Challenging Behavior Persists 

4. Write Your Own Behavior Plan

This last link is for teachers. Don't forget to check with families, other teachers, administration, and/or a Special Education teacher if a student it giving you a tough time. Maybe you don't know the whole story!    

Here's another platitude that may also help: This, too, shall pass.

 5. Keep Your Cool: Tips for Handling Difficult Students 


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