Positive Approaches to Challenging Behavior

What is Positive Behavior Support?

This module describes Positive Behavior Support or PBS. PBS is a framework that is used to increase quality of life and decrease problem behavior by teaching new skills and making changes in a person's environment to prevent or decrease challenging behavior. Positive behavior support combines the following:

  • Valued outcomes
  • Behavioral and biomedical science
  • Validated procedures
  • Systems change to enhance quality of life and reduce problem behaviors

Positive and Proactive Approaches to Challenging Behavior PDF

  • Power Point Presentation Slides

Recording of Proactive Approaches to Challenging Behavior, Joe Reichle, Ph.D., Presenter

Other features of PBS include:

  • A focus on routines and settings where a child or adult is successful and where challenges occur
  • Using assessment to guide planning and understand the function of challenging behavior
  • Including strategies to prevent challenges rather than waiting for a crisis
  • Encouraging personal growth and lifelong learning
  • Building in natural supports from the community
  • Working with the child or adult (and family or caregivers when needed) to select a team
  • Adapting supports to address unique cultural values, preferences, and contexts
  • Considering the long-term issues involved in maintaining an optimal quality of life
  • Creating an environment based on respect and trust

In the past, people talked about modifying and managing problem behavior. Positive behavior support was created to provide a new way to help children and adults improve quality of life outcomes. PBS plans are meant to empower children and adults in making their own decisions, learning communication, social, and emotional skills, and improving their own quality of life with help from the people who know them well.

Self-determination is a valued outcome of PBS. The PBS process empowers children and adults to choose and set their own goals, become involved in making important life decisions, advocate for their own rights, and lead their own meetings. Younger children or people who have trouble communicating may have family members, caregivers, staff, or advocates who are involved in helping the person lead their own PBS meetings. When PBS is implemented well, children and adults receiving support communicate what they want and need in a way that is recognized and reinforced in home, school, work, and community settings.

Another valued outcome of PBS is inclusion. There is an assumption within PBS that we are all members of society and have a right to create meaningful relationships with others, while living, working, and enjoying life with the people and communities of our choosing. Everyone has a right to feel that they are included and valued within society and have a chance to be an active part of their community.

PBS plans result in valued outcomes that reflect acceptance and awareness of cultural preferences while celebrating diversity. Effective PBS plans focus on assessment of disparities related to dominant cultural viewpoints and actions. Teams learn to become more aware of the implicit bias that may be responsible for a negative social climate or may be related to the occurrence of challenging behavior.

PBS is guided by research based on the principles of behavior. These principles have been proven over a long period of time. The principles of behavior explain why someone engages in everyday actions and outlines important relationships between our responses and the events that influence our behavior. A field of study that is considered essential to PBS is Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA).

However, many other fields of study influence PBS as well. Researchers in fields including psychology, biological and physiological sciences, and mental health conduct research on important factors influencing behavior. Integrating the newest information from these fields into PBS helps ensure that the plans that are put in place are tailored for each person. PBS embraces the use of other practices as part of an effective planning process.

There are different methods for conducting research. Single subject research is often used to study the principles of behavior. Confidence that an intervention is effective increases when a significant number of single subject studies show that this intervention helps people from many different populations, age ranges, areas of the country, ethnicity, and other important characteristics. An experimental group design including larger numbers of people who participate as subjects also help validate PBS. Case study and mixed method approaches, focus groups, and other qualitative methods for understanding how well PBS is implemented are also used in PBS. To date, the evidence across these measures support the effectiveness of PBS across the lifespan in home, school, work, and community settings.

“Evidence-based practice in positive behavior support is defined as the integration of rigorous science-based knowledge with applied expertise driven by....[partner] preferences, values, and goals within natural communities of support.”

-American Psychological Society

Sending families, caregivers, and staff to training events is not enough to create change when challenging behaviors occur. In organizations, this means that policies are modified to support the use of PBS, new staff training and ongoing coaching and mentoring systems are created so that staff have a chance to practice new skills and reflect on their progress in everyday settings. Data are collected to assess whether the changes being made are resulting in positive outcomes. Family systems address issues related to all of the people living together and consider how they interact. A systems change view helps people better understand the constantly changing and dynamic aspects of relationships that are occurring within a network

Working together as a team is very important in PBS and effective teams are part of systems-change efforts. If a child or adult is receiving support from multiple services, the team is meant to improve coordination both for the person and for their family or caregivers. The planning process needs to be effective for everyone involved and result in consistent PBS efforts across all settings in order to achieve positive quality of life changes. Visit the Module 2 Resource Page for a story about how teams can help make important change occurs in someone's life.

PBS is closely linked to person-driven practices that help people learn more about what is important to a child or adult who is receiving services. Balancing what is important to a person’s life while still making sure that plans also address what is important for the health and safety of both the person and others is a key part of providing person-centered supports. Starting a PBS plan by implementing a wraparound or other person-driven plan helps the individual and their team by creating a clear vision for moving forward and helps gather in-depth information about that person's strengths, interests, and communication strategies.

Positive behavior support (PBS) spelled out on blocks on an orange background.