Parents of Children with Special Needs have a Right to Work with their School to Improve Student Behavior.  Learn the Four Steps:

It’s common for parents to feel helpless when their child has behavior problems in school.  What are you supposed to do?  At home your child behaves fine.  If you were in school, you could help.  But you’re not there.  It’s particularly frustrating when the teacher doesn’t know what to do either.  They may call you complaining a couple of times a week, but nothing improves.  Some teachers don’t know what to do about student behavior.  And not all teacher education programs teach effective classroom management strategies.  Here are some sample behavior goals for your child’s IEP, but those aren’t always effective either.  The good news –  there are things parents can do to improve behavior problems in school!  Here are the steps that your IEP team must follow when your child’s behavior is interfering with learning.

  1. Find Out Specifically What the Behavior Is

  2. Find Out What Triggers the Behavior

  3. Find Out What Happens Immediately After the Behavior

  4. Develop a Plan to Improve the Behavior 

These steps have some formal names, but those terms are less important than what the steps are.  In special education Steps 1-3 are called a Functional Behavior Analysis (“FBA”) or sometimes called a Functional Analysis of Behavior (“FAB”).  Step 4 is called a Behavior Intervention Plan (“BIP”).  Here’s a link to some more technical information if you’re interested.  But in the meantime, here’s some more detail on Steps 1-4 in layman’s terms.

Step 1: Find Out Specifically What the Behavior Is

School people have no problem telling parents all the terrible things their child did in school, but are they really giving you specifics?  When they tell you that your special needs child is “disruptive,” for instance, that could mean a hundred different things.  Is he or she, yelling out instead of raising their hand, turning over chairs, grabbing another child’s pencil, walking around the class?  Each of those behaviors is completely different and have different purposes.  As a former special education teacher, I know that kids who do those things can be very frustrating when you’re trying to teach a whole class.  But that doesn’t mean that a school should treat a kid who throws a chair the same way it treats a kid who yells out in class.  Email a school administrator to ask for a FAB meeting.

Step 2 :  Find Out What Triggers the Behavior

If your child with special needs is having tantrums or getting up from her seat in the middle of a lesson, find out when that’s happening.  When there’s a pattern to the behavior, such as during a challenging subject, it may mean your child is frustrated and needs more learning support.  For example, if it’s happening before lunch, your child may be hungry.  You know your child better than the school.  When asked, sometimes teachers will say there’s no pattern to the behavior, that it just happens at random times.  That’s understandable because teachers have a lot on their plates and can’t monitor each child all day long.  After the FAB meeting a school person observes your child a few times to find out what triggers the behavior.  Very often the observer finds that there is a pattern to the behavior.

Step 3: Find Out What Happens Immediately After the Behavior

The person who observes your child must also note what happens immediately after your child misbehaves.  For example, if the teacher sends your kid to a time-out or to the main office, they may continue misbehaving to get out of doing school work.  A few weeks after the observations you and the IEP team will meet again to look at the data.  You’ll try to figure out what caused the behavior by looking at the triggers and the consequences.

Step 4: Develop a Plan to Improve the Behavior

After the school has observed your child for a few weeks they should invite you to an IEP meeting.  If they don’t invite you, email a school administrator asking for one.  The team will review the data and determine if your child needs a BIP.  At the IEP meeting everyone can brainstorm ways to diminish the misbehaviors.  Then you’ll create a written plan (BIP) to do so.  That BIP will become part of your child’s IEP.  Behavior goals in the IEP should work in conjunction with the BIP.  The team should meet again in several weeks to review the BIP and see if your child’s behavior is improving.  If not, you can make changes to the plan.  A BIP is a working document.

We hope this is helpful.  It can be a very difficult situation.  Keep us in mind if you’d like an advocate to attend the meetings with you.