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  • Sarah Tira

Behavior is Communication

As a professional in the world of special education, the phrase “behavior is communication,” comes up frequently during discussions with parents and other professionals. Behaviors in school can be as obvious as destroying school property or physical violence, or as subtle as staring off into space during instruction. Children use their behaviors to access or avoid stimuli in their environment, and each of those behaviors can tell us something about what a child needs. For example, is the child who is staring off into space doing so because he or she needs access to a movement break? Or, is the instruction moving too quickly for him or her to be able to process? Is it a combination of the two, or something else entirely?


Typically, when a child exhibits a behavior that is adversely affecting their educational performance, an assessment called a Functional Behavioral Assessment (FBA) should be done to figure out the function of, or reason for, the behavior. Sometimes school psychologists are capable of carrying out these assessments, but I like to request having a district behavior specialist perform the assessment. Most districts have a behavior specialist these days, and behavior specialists usually have unique training that makes them much more qualified to help the IEP team come up with a behavior intervention plan (BIP). Once the IEP team has figured out the function of the behavior, the IEP team has the choice to develop an IEP goal, a Behavior Intervention Plan, or a combination of the two to address the problem behaviors. Your child’s IEP team should be focused on what your child should be doing instead of the problem behaviors. There should be clear steps about how your child’s environment will be altered to promote appropriate behaviors and what your child will be taught in relation to the problem behaviors. Will your child need to learn new skills in order to exhibit an appropriate replacement behavior? Who will be responsible for teaching your child those skills? Is there something about your child’s environment that is unintentionally reinforcing the problem behavior? What can the IEP team due to mitigate that? Also, don’t be afraid to ask about how you can help reinforce learning the appropriate behavior at home. It always helps if there’s consistency between home and school! Reach out to us at San Diego SEA if you want to learn more.



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