Behavioral intervention plans ("BIPs") can be effective at supporting a child's education if properly done. The purpose of a BIP is to address a child's behaviors that are interfering with the child's education in a positive and proactive manner. Too often, however, BIPs are created in way that is not based upon good data, are not positive or proactive, and tend to be punitive in nature. Some brief articles on positive behavioral interventions for various disabilities can be found on the About Special Education website. These articles are a good starting point for designing better BIPs and understanding the process.
The following are my personal observations and thoughts on BIPs. These points are based upon my work with many clients over a period of years and include ways that BIPs can be improved to better support students.
I. BIPs are to teach, not punish
- The goal of a BIP is to teach behaviors that are functionally equivalent to the problem behavior. The replacement behavior that is taught provides the individual a means of coping or functioning more independently.
- Too often, either as written or as implemented, BIPs are a means to punish, not teach (e.g., "On the first offense, the child receives x punishment, and on the second offense, s/he receives y punishment).
- A well designed BIP will be supportive and proactive, not reactive and punitive.
II. Measure of success is improvement over time
- BIPs like IEPs are expected to have measurable outcomes that show progress over time. By definition, if the child’s behaviors are worsening, the BIP is ineffective and needs to be revised and re-evaluated.
- It is not enough for staff to simply point to the document and claim that everything is being done while the child’s behaviors escalates over time.
III. Behavioral interventions need to be carefully chosen
- Behavioral interventions are the main feature of the BIP. The interventions need to be carefully chosen and skillfully implemented. For instance, if the BIP states “call the parent and take the child home,” that may ultimately reinforce the negative behavior. Instead, the plan could be implemented and written to call the parent so that parent and staff can uniformly address the behavior together and reinforce the desired conduct.
- Keep talking to a minimum. Non-verbal communication is often more effective when a child is experiencing a behavioral episode. Verbal directions should be clear, unambiguous, non-threatening and directive. Too often, the verbal command or directive can lead to escalation. The Crisis Prevention Institute and other organizations teach courses in “proximics,” the use of body language and positioning to defuse behavioral situations.
- Practice the interventions, especially when the behavior is dangerous and possibly violent. BIPs have less and more restrictive interventions; often, when a crisis erupts, the most restrictive intervention is the first to be used because staff is unprepared. Think of it as behavioral fire drill.
- Calling the police, although legally permitted, should not be a common practice.
- Less restrictive placements such as time out become more restrictive if used extensively.
IV. Time Out and Physical Restraint are the subject of regulation
- Illinois has passed regulations governing the use of time-out and physical restraint ( Download time_out_and_physical_restraint_rules.pdf see sections 1.280-1.285). Use of either intervention is subject to specific legal requirements, data reporting and mandatory revisiting issues at an IEP meeting. Too many district are simply unaware of these requirements, which must be incorporated into district policy and followed.
- Physical restraint is a last resort, and according to ISBE data, it is used infrequently in most districts. Just as most police officers can go through their entire careers without shooting their guns in the line of duty, most staff should not have occasion to use physical restraint. If it is used, it must be with staff that is trained and where it is not medically counter-indicated, among other requirements spelled out in the regulations. (See infra).
- Children have been injured and killed during restraint, and often, staff are injured if not properly trained.
- The purpose of either physical restraint or timeout is not punishment; it is to allow the child to regain self control. After sufficient time has elapsed, there may be learning opportunities for the child and for staff that should be realized. At the moment of the incident, the child is not generally available for learning a lesson from the episode.
V. Data is critical to evaluating the effectiveness of the BIP
- How and when and what data we collect is an essential part of a BIP, but it is frequently not done. BIPs are not supposed to be written and pulled out only in a crisis. They are not like fire extinguishers under glass. A well designed BIP should be a seamless teaching tool that is part of the child’s day. It could be as simple as red light, green light system, or a token economy with data being collected daily or hourly and reinforcers changing frequently.
- Data needs to focus on the behavior, the intervention, and in particular, the reinforcer used to support the desired behaviors. Too often, food or verbal praise is used. Food is inherently limited as the child becomes satiated. Praise can lead to dependence. The reality is that the process is dynamic, and that which worked yesterday may not work today.
VI. Interventions should not involve humiliation or harm
- Behavioral interventions often are very challenging for the child and for the staff. The child is often in a fight, flight or fright state of mind. Unfortunately, staff who is untrained, ill-equipped and not rehearsed can mirror back a fight, flight or fright reaction. At this point, there is risk that interventions can degenerate into humiliation or even harm. There have been a number of well publicized incidents where staff had conducted themselves in ways that are not professional.
VII. Catch the behavior before full escalation occurs
- Among the critical data from the FBA is the antecedent. One of the prime purposes of the BIP is to manipulate the antecedent to allow for a better behavioral outcome. In addition, the antecedent allows the intervention to be applied well before the behavior is in full blown escalation. Catching the behavior early greatly increases the chances of improving the outcome.