IEP teams should consider two things when creating a positive behavioral intervention plan. First, they should understand the use of punishment as an intervention into problem behavior. Second, they should consider developing a crisis/emergency component of the plan if it seems warranted. Both are discussed below.
Use of Punishment as an Intervention
Many professionals and professional organizations agree that it is usually ineffective and often unethical to use aversive techniques to control student behavior (e.g., corporal punishment). Punishments such as suspension should only be considered in extreme cases when the students behavior severely endangers her or his safety or the safety of others. In addition, IEP teams should try every possible positive intervention (for an appropriate length of time, remembering that behavior may get worse before it gets better) before considering punishment. If all options are found to be ineffective, and the students behavior severely limits his or her learning or socialization or that of others, then a more aversive intervention might be necessary to reduce the behavior. It is important to consider all positive interventions before considering punishment as an option, because punishment often makes behavior worse. Further, punishment does not address the function of the behavior; therefore, generalization of the punishments effect does not occur. Punishment may also engage the student (and possibly the teacher) in a revenge-seeking cycle or serve to increase avoidance behaviors. Finally, it is important to remember that a punishment option is only considered a punishment if it serves to reduce the targeted behavior.
When the decision has been made to introduce punishment as part of an intervention, the IEP team should develop a plan to use positive interventions concurrently with punishment and/or a timetable to return to using positive interventions as soon as possible. Use of punishment may necessitate the development of a crisis or emergency component to the behavioral intervention plan, as well.
Crisis/Emergency Component of a Behavioral Intervention Plan
In some cases, it may be necessary for the IEP team to develop a crisis/emergency plan to address a severe or dangerous situation. The plan would be a component of the students behavioral intervention plan. This component would still implement proactive and positive interventions to continue to teach the student alternative skills, even in the midst of a crisis or emergency. A crisis can be defined as a situation that requires an immediate, intrusive, or restrictive intervention to: 1) protect the student or others from serious injury; 2) safeguard physical property; and/or 3) deal with acute disturbance of the teaching/learning process.
We recommend that teams spell out the conditions under which a crisis/emergency plan can be used. This plan also should include frequent evaluations to limit the duration of any plan that does not produce positive changes in behavior and a schedule for phasing out the crisis/emergency plan. IEP teams also should carefully monitor the crisis/emergency plan and make sure it is in compliance with any district policies or procedures regarding the use of behavior reduction strategies. Crisis/emergency steps are appropriate only when less intrusive or restrictive interventions have been unsuccessful. As with all components of the behavior intervention plan, parental input and approval should be obtained before setting up the crisis/emergency plan (see Appendix D for a sample crisis/emergency plan).
If a crisis/emergency plan is introduced, steps should be taken to minimize and control the amount of time necessary to manage the behavior. The crisis/emergency interventions should be replaced with less intrusive and intensive intervention options as soon as possible. Parents, guardians, and school personnel should be notified regarding any incident that requires the use of the emergency plan. A thorough evaluation should be part of the plan so that the team can assess both the impact and possible negative spill-over effects of the emergency plan. Finally, following an incident, the team should write an emergency/crisis report that includes ways to prevent future occurrences of the behavior.
As IEP team members consider all of these elements of a behavioral intervention plan (i.e., strategies to address different functions of behavior, skill and performance deficits, interventions and supports, reinforcement, and special considerations) we remind you to refer to the sample forms included in the Appendices.