After going over the present level of performance, we have a form that asks several questions. Does the student have vision impairments? Does the student have a hearing impairment? Does the student require assistive technology? All of theses are addressed in a separate section which is an add-on to the PLOAP. The other question is; does the student have behaviors which interfere with his/her learning or the learning of others? Answering “Yes” to this question means that there must be a behavior intervention plan (BIP).
Of all of the sections of the IEP, this one gets abused and misused more than any other. Since IDEA 1997, Functional Behavior Assessments (FBA) are required for students with behavior issues.
In Magnolia County, they have interpreted that as meaning only those students going through or likely to go through a manifestation hearing. This means that the vast majority of BIPs have no FBAs associated with them. This is a serious problem.
My son, Thomas, has a BIP that I wrote for behaviors globally known as “off task behaviors.” Mostly getting up out of his seat, talking to his neighbor, making noises and wandering around the room. Teachers often put a shopping list of interventions in the BIP including redirection, reprimands, time out, keeping him in from recess and those who are more sophisticated may include rewards for being on-task or a token system. But unless the function of the behavior is known, interventions are hit or miss, and have a big chance of failure.
Basically, behaviors are driven by either access or escape. Access to attention (either peer or adult) access to preferred items or access to sensory stimulation. Escape from demands is the most common escape function, although escaping from peers, adults or sensory overload is also likely. An intervention designed for access behaviors which are used by the student for escape are going to make behaviors worse. For instance one student used to beat the crap out of us during lunch. Hitting, kicking and scratching are efficient behaviors for both access and escape. In another setting, he would use aggression to get adult attention. In the lunchroom, he was aggressive in order to escape the noise and over stimulation. The interventions used for his aggression were different according to the function. We put the escape aggression on extinction and gradually shaped him into staying in the cafeteria for longer and longer periods. He likes the lunchroom today because we made the environment more reinforcing by getting him some friends that he didn’t have access to anywhere else. Once his desire for peer attention kicked in, we saw aggression drop to nearly zero, because aggression is usually incompatible with having friends.
For Thomas, the “off task” behaviors are also multiply controlled by both access and escape. By making access contingent on completion of work this helped…sometimes. But impulse control is often a problem in children, so such contingencies don’t always hold. Other cues and signals as well as a richer schedule of reinforcement can provide additional support. And we’re trying the Concerta, but the BIP is independent of that. Unless the school has a doctor on staff and/or is willing to pay for it, they can only keep data that reflects his performance on or off the drug.
Behavior Intervention Plans should be specifically tailored to the behaviors of the student and the functions of that behavior. As such, ALL BIPs should be supported by an FBA. BIPs should be reviewed each year to evaluate effectiveness. In the case of Spaz, the aggression has nearly disappeared but now we see more self-injurious behaviors. So, his FBA and BIP are going to have to be entirely overhauled this year.
Fun times…NOT! It’s a lot of work putting an FBA together because it involves amassing a lot of data. But it will be worth it in the long run. An FBA can remain in effect as long as the functions and behaviors exist. Spaz has had the same FBA for 4 years. Now that we’ve effectively treated the behaviors, it’s time for a new one targeted other ones that are troublesome.
When Thomas’s teachers started complaining about his behaviors earlier this year, Jane started getting worried and concerned. So I told her to ask them one question: “Are you following his BIP?” The complaints stopped. The entire IEP needs to be a ready reference and resource for teachers and parents. A properly written BIP will state the functions of the behavior, definitions of behaviors, include positive supports, contingencies and consequences.
Parents should pay close attention to this plan and have extensive input into that as well as the FBA. If there are disputes about your child’s behavior, the first questions are going to center around whether the BIP is being followed. If it is not, this is the quickest route to problems with the school. If the student is threatened with suspension or expulsion, the BIP becomes a major factor. Failure to adhere to the BIP can increase a school’s liability. Remember, the IEP is like a piece of legislation.
Could parents write a BIP? Without knowledge of school policies and regulations, it would be difficult. Plus it is helpful to have an understanding of applied behavior analysis and positive behavioral support. I’m not talking about the Lovaas stuff, I’m talking about systematic observation and application and using data to design interventions that improve outcomes for students. However, there are a fair number of special ed. teachers writing these things with not much more background knowledge than many parents. If a parent thinks he/she can do a better job, I say give it a shot. The committee may be able to work with it and improve on it. Parent input is crucial regardless of who actually writes the BIP. A good plan that is put in place can save problems later on, as it should contain steps for teachers to follow if problem behaviors continue or worsen.