PBIS (Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports) and Special Education

A reader wrote me indicating that knowing the reason for a person’s action is important and can assist in such problems as homework.

I shared my response below.

Many psychologists and therapists believe that knowing the “why” for a behavior is important. However, Dr. William Glasser, an internationally renowned psychiatrist and the author of “Choice Theory,” advocates that knowing the reason for a behavior may be of interest but, in most cases, has little to do with actually changing behavior. Change requires forming new neural connections. This requires new thinking and new behavior—rather than revisiting old memories.

An example of a student’s being non-compliant about doing homework was related in the communication to me. The student was diabetic, and giving this student a morning snack greatly assisted in control of his behavior.

This is an excellent point and refers to a physical influence. A similar case can be made for non-compliant people with scotopic sensitivity (a brain situation where using color filters can greatly improve reading skills). See http://www.irlen.com.

This student who has this condition and refuses to read is not displaying a behavior problem. The person has a physical challenge.

Both of these examples, diabetes and scotopic sensitivity, have to do with instruction (teaching and learning)—rather than irresponsible behavior. The student is not interfering with the teacher’s teaching, and the student is not disrupting other students’ learning.

As I explain in my seminars, all behavior is purposeful. Behavior is a person’s attempt to “fix” a problem or a situation—regardless of how irrational the behavior may be. To put it another way, behavior is an attempt to meet the person’s desires at that moment.

It is important to remember that EMOTION TAKES PRECEDENCE OVER COGNITION. One has to go no further than Lisa Nowak, the terminated astronaut. To achieve this highly prestigious position, she must be cognitively advanced. But the emotion of jealousy toward a romantic rival for the attention of a space shuttle pilot resulted in her being accused of a criminal act.

Positive Behavioral Interventions and  Supports (PBIS), as with many other approaches, focuses on finding the motivation for the behavior. In most cases, articulating the reason that a person “misbehaves” is very difficult, if not impossible because all factors may not be discernible. In addition, ascertaining the probable reason can be a very time-consuming process.

Finding the underlying cause is certainly made easier when the prompt is physical and especially when a relationship is established where the student feels that the teacher wants to help. The student is more likely to share concerns with the teacher with whom there is a positive relationship. But if the teacher views the student as being non-compliant about homework or reading, then a positive relationship is hard to establish.

I spoke at the conference of the California Association of Resource Specialists (CARS Plus), an association whose membership has many special education teachers and specialists. With more and more special education students being mainstreamed, implementing the first two parts of the teaching modelwill become increasingly valuable. Special education teachers should also consider the importance of visualization

Tapping into internal motivation is far more effective than an approach of rewarding for expected standards of behavior. Such an external approach inevitably punishes those who believe that they followed all expectations but did not receive the reward.