Special Education and Discipline, Part One: Preventing Behavior Problems in School

The phone rings while you’re at work because your child is refusing to do school work again, and today they threw a book at their teacher. If this scene sounds familiar, you aren’t alone: many children in the public education system are not getting the support they need in order to meet their needs and behavior goals. The school system has methods of determining your child’s needs and building a plan to support them.

This month, we’ll be going over the steps you can take to build a plan that supports your child to prevent behavioral issues. Next month, we’ll cover Manifest Determination, and the steps that should be taken when your child is in more serious trouble at school.

Many parents already understand the nature of their child’s disability, but school districts take extra steps to understand a problem behavior as it relates to a disability. A school district may opt for a Functional Assessment and Intervention Program (FAIP), which gets to the root of what causes a particular behavior by observing and writing down the circumstances around it. The Functional Assessment and Intervention Program asks questions like what was happening right before the problem behavior occurred, whether or not it could have been triggered by something, and what happened immediately after the event.

The school district should also do a Functional Behavior Assessment (FBA) for a child with behavior problems. The Functional Behavior Assessment makes observations and collects data about the student’s problem behavior.

While it can seem intimidating that the school district is compiling data about your child’s behavioral problems, the Functional Assessment and Intervention Program and the Functional Behavior Assessment are intended to build a behavior plan that’s right for your child, not punish them for misbehavior related to their disability. Just as every child is different, their needs are different: what works with one child may not work for their classmate, so it’s critical to collect data to build a plan that’s right for your child.

The analyses from the Functional Assessment and Intervention Program and the Functional Behavioral Assessment should then be used to develop a Behavior Intervention Plan (BIP). The Behavior Intervention Plan addresses the cause of a problem behavior to prevent it and often rewards students for good behavior. It should also incorporate support from the IEP or 504 Plan, if one is in place.

For example, a Functional Behavior Assessment and Functional Assessment and Intervention Program may reveal that a student who throws books is overwhelmed and does not understand the material. The Behavior Intervention Program may include supports for the student like working with their guidance counselor on strategies to manage frustration, asking their teacher for breaks when feeling overwhelmed, and getting extra computer time for showing good behavior.

Like an IEP or 504 Plan, a Behavior Intervention Plan needs to be reviewed periodically to ensure the student’s behavior goals are being met. If progress slows or stops completely, the Behavior Intervention Plan likely needs to be modified. In some circumstances, this can include offering different incentives for good behavior or can even mean redefining the root cause of the problem behavior.

Taking these steps can help support your child in meeting behavioral goals. Next month, we’ll go over Manifest Determination Reviews and the steps that should be taken when a child is in trouble at school. Whether your child needs the support of a Behavior Intervention Plan or you need help with a Manifest Determination Review, the Special Education Team at Posternock Apell, PC can help bridge the gap between you and the school district to work in the best interests of your child.