Generalization and Sustainability in Positive Behavior Support

Using Everyday Routines in PBS

Young girl playing with others outside

What does the term generalization mean in positive behavior support?

The term generalization refers to the extent to which there is a plan to expand interventions from a PBS plan across routines, situations, and settings in a child or adult's life. Starting the planning process with this goal in mind is important because it means that the coaching and mentoring for team members will start with generalization as a goal.

Coaching and support is given to the team learning positive behavior support by a person with experience implementing interventions. Over time, this assistance naturally fades as team members expand interventions across home, school, work, and community settings and as their confidence grows.

A key concept for team members to master includes accurately identifying the function that maintains challenging behavior in each routine and understanding that the interventions chosen are linked to the hypothesis statement in the FBA.

The positive behavior support plan will include a list of home, work, or school routines that are associated with challenging behavior. One or two of these routines will be introduced at the beginning of the PBS plan with high levels of support from someone who has experience implementing the interventions.

Additional routines are then added as the child or adult and team members learn to apply new skills to new situations and settings. It is important for the child or adult and their team to experience success implementing these new skills. For this reason, it can be helpful to start with easier routines that result in immediate success.

If coaching is effective, the child or adult and team members will learn to adapt the key elements in each of the routines listed and apply these strategies to entirely new situations and settings that were not initially identified in the plan.

Young woman sits at a desk facing a computer on a call; she waves at the screen.

Janelle and her team completed a functional behavioral assessment to better understand situations and settings at work where Janelle feels really anxious. When Janelle feels her anxiety increasing to uncomfortable levels, she may rush out of the setting, sometimes without telling anyone that she is leaving. Janelle said she feels like she must escape from this situation in order to find a place to calm down.

Janelle’s sudden exit can be problematic since she has an important role in her job at a local bookstore. Janelle is often on her own for periods of time handling requests that come in from customers. When Janelle leaves suddenly, there is no one else is around to assist these customers.

The routine Janelle selected first addressed a common challenge at work. This routine involves filling out a special form online when customers ask for a book that is not in the store. This situation is most likely to trigger Janelle’s anxiety. Janelle and her employer agreed that when a request for items that aren’t available comes in that Janelle will follow a simple checklist that includes:

  • Taking a long breath, holding it for 3 seconds
  • Making a positive statement to herself (I can do this)
  • Checking to see if her supervisor is nearby
  • Gathering the customers name and email with the book title to fill out the form later with support

Janelle and her team made a list of other routines at work where she has had the same feelings of anxiety. She has identified three other work routines that make her feel like she needs to escape when her anxiety escalates. Together, Janelle and her supervisor work together to create a simple plan for each situation that causes anxiety. While the steps involved in the routines may vary a little bit depending on each routine, the interventions include a focus on mindfulness and breathing, introduces a positive self-talk statement, and provides a simple prepared plan Janelle can refer to when she feels anxious.

Now that Janelle has been successful using strategies at work, she is ready to generalize her new skills to a new part of her life. Janelle applied to a local community college this summer and has been accepted. She starts her classes in a few months. Janelle asks her team for support as she creates a plan to generalize her interventions to her classes. Her greatest fear is the required public-speaking class. Just the idea of presenting to a group of people makes her feel anxious. Janelle is confident, however, that she has the tools that will help her address this upcoming challenge.