While the use of Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports (PBIS) is becoming more widespread in public schools across the nation, teachers are still struggling with how to deliver “consequences” for inappropriate behavior. I often hear things such as, “I do provide positive reinforcement, but what message does it send to children if we do not also punish them when they engage in negative behaviors?” Or my favorite: “What message does it send to other students if this child is allowed to act this way?” The problem is that there is a misinterpretation of PBIS in many classrooms. Consequences do need to be delivered when problem behaviors occur; however, the term consequence is not synonymous with punishment or aversive treatment.
If you look at the picture cards shown in this post, you will see common consequences for challenging behaviors used in classrooms. Each one is punitive in nature with public display of humiliation the main theme across the consequences. Another popular consequence system is the color chart. I say, “Beware of the color chart!” As inviting as it looks, it is carefully designed to systematically recognize a student who engages in problem behavior by letting the whole class witness as the child shamefully changes his/her color because of “bad” behavior. If you like the way the color charts look, here’s a simple solution: Have kids change their color when they do wonderful things instead. Individualize what is wonderful for each student and let them be cheered on for making good choices. However, that doesn’t solve the problem of how to use consequences for problem behavior within a PBIS framework. I would like to offer an alternative hierarchy of consequences for problem behavior for teachers to consider:
1. Planned ignoring: Ignore the problem behavior, provide specific praise to a student who is in close proximity to the child displaying the desirable behavior, and then provide positive reinforcement as soon as the child stops the problem behavior and/or starts displaying the desirable behavior.
2. Nonverbal reminder: Use a supportive gesture or visual to gently remind the child of the behavioral, academic, or social expectation to encourage the child to respond appropriately.
3. Verbal reminder: Positively redirect the child to engage in a more desirable behavior by stating the behavioral, academic, or social expectation to encourage the child to respond appropriately.
4. Offer assistance: Provide any necessary prompts or assistance to help the child engage in a more desirable behavior. For off task behavior, this may mean helping the student get started. For behavioral expectations this may mean using modeling/request imitation. It may also mean providing gentle physical assistance.
5. Provide a safe space for de-escalation: If the child is unable to be redirected, allow the child to remove himself/herself from the situation and go to a pre-determined safe space until he/she can come back and participate and engage appropriately.
While this hierarchy would be beneficial for typically developing children and children with disabilities, it is essential for students with ASD. If you use punitive consequences with students with ASD be prepared for an escalation in problem behavior. They often internalize punitive consequence and say things such as, “I am a bad boy!” or “Mrs. Smith hates me!” In order to increase positive behaviors for students with ASD, we have to be committed to explicitly teaching expectations, positively reinforcing them when they meet those expectations, and provide supportive consequences when they are unable to meet the expectations to enable them to respond appropriately. Is the hierarchy I suggest foolproof? Of course not. But it may give teachers an alternative way to look at selecting consequences for problem behavior. I would love to hear some other ideas for supportive consequences…
About the Author:
Deb Leach is an Assistant Professor of Special Education at Winthrop University in Rock Hill, SC. Her passion is working with families, educators, and community groups to help support the successful inclusion of individuals with ASD using principles of ABA and other evidence-based practices. Her focus is on finding ways to bring ABA interventions into the everyday lives of individuals with ASD to increase family, community, and school inclusion and reduce the need for segregated services. She provides training and consultation for educators, schools, school districts, caregivers, and community groups related to supporting individuals with ASD. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.