An Individualized Education Plan (IEP) can be an overwhelming document for families, especially deciphering which interventions are appropriate to use by parents in the home or community setting. An IEP is created by a multidisciplinary team, including parents and the educational team, that incorporates a child’s current levels of academic performance, goals, specially designed instructions (SDIs), and a positive behavior support plan (PBSP). The behavioral strategies that are included in the child’s PBSP are beneficial for caregivers to use in a child’s everyday routine, not just school routines. Basic strategies typically fall into both antecedent (e.g., Premack principle, schedules/visual aids, clear expectations, modeling, offering choices, individualized prompting hierarchies, rules, and behavior momentum) and consequent interventions (e.g., positive reinforcement, token economies, differential reinforcement, redirection and extinction). The teaching strategies needed to facilitate learning and reduce problem behavior included in the PBSP closely align with interventions in the SDIs.
Antecedent strategies are effective interventions to use before any targeted behaviors which can dramatically reduce the likelihood of problem behaviors. For example, the use of schedules, or a “first/then” statement, is a way to provide the child with a clear, predictable directive that includes the task at hand as well as a preferred activity to follow. This is commonly seen in school stated as, “first complete your math worksheet, then you can earn 5 minutes with your game” or via a visual schedule that depicts in either words, pictures or both with an outlined plan and criteria for earning reinforcers throughout the day. Although this is an excellent way to provide structure in school, this can easily be incorporated into a home or community routine as such, “first eat your broccoli, then you can have ice cream!” or a schedule showing a homework visual followed by a household chore then TV time. As described, the preferred activities act as a reward or reinforcement for completing the activities earlier, which results in more successful completion of those tasks (i.e., the Premack principle) (Vollmer & Iwata, 1992). These are easy and effective interventions that can be used at home or in the community to provide structure and predictability to the child with very little additional materials. In order to increase the likelihood of the child completing these tasks, a variety of teaching strategies, often found in the SDIs, can be used such as modeling, rules, choices to increase motivation, and specified prompting hierarchies.
Although antecedent strategies are generally an effective approach on their own, consequent strategies are typically needed to accompany these programs. Reinforcement is key! By incorporating reinforcement into a child’s daily routine, the probability of acquiring skills increases drastically. Both positive and negative reinforcement contingencies should be at play and each contingency may look different for every child. The essential component to reinforcement is to ensure that it is a functional reinforcer (Vollmer & Iwata, 1992). For instance, if a child is attempting to access tangible items through problem behavior, the item should be used as the reinforcer for appropriate behaviors such as following their schedule and withheld for problem behaviors such as having a messy room or engaging in aggression. Utilizing reinforcement in this manner is a way to incorporate extinction, or withholding the reinforcer, with the reinforcement contingency, also known as differential reinforcement (Vollmer & Iwata, 1992). Additionally, reinforcement may look like removing an activity contingent on the child completing a given task (e.g., completing one less chore if they finish their homework independently every night for a week). Another more advanced intervention that incorporates reinforcement procedures is the use of a token economy. This procedure provides even more structure to individualized behaviors and the reinforcers a child can earn contingent on those behaviors. This strategy may require more prerequisite skills for both the child and the implementer as this intervention requires, at times extensive, material management and adherence to the backup reinforcers available. The crucial element to remember is that reinforcement is necessary and the transition to natural reinforcers over time will promote maintenance and generalization (Brady & Kotkin,2011).
Utilizing these strategies in all settings can promote generalization of skills as well as ensure that your child retains skills over time. Therefore, it is imperative that programs introduced for children are easily carried out long term by the family (Lytle & Bordin, 2001). It is also important that children learn to complete skills in different environments and with different caregivers to help them achieve long-term goals and work toward independence. Although it may seem like the last step in the process, IEP teams should systematically plan for generalization and maintenance as part of their programming from the beginning by incorporating families in how to carry out procedures outside of school. In order to promote these skills, an important step is communicating with the school staff to provide information about the strategies that are being used at school and how they can be implemented at home. This may require training as the descriptions typically provided in an IEP are brief. Once a child has learned something new or even prior, contact the educational team so that the child can continue to practice at home. When starting to teach skills or utilize these strategies, IEP teams should envision what long term goals and outcomes will look like for each child (Brady & Kotkin,2011). Major components of the plan should include discussion of strategies families can realistically carry out, prioritize activities to work on first, and the barriers to implementation. Lytle and Bordin (2001) suggest that the plan should include, “clearly defined roles, respect and value for varying perspectives, social support, proximity, distinctiveness, fairness, similarity, and effective communication” (p. 41).
Families should feel empowered to carry out their child’s programs while at home and in other settings. Strategies and interventions can and will look different in home and community settings versus school, however the underlying principles and procedures are the same. It may be helpful to create a list to prioritize activities that occur in their everyday routines. Start with applying strategies and interventions to the most important activities first and work through any challenges. School can be a very controlled environment with lots of support and professionals whereas home is a very different setting complete with distractions, schedule changes and not as many helping hands. Families should not pressure themselves to implement programs perfectly each and every day. While it will take practice and planning over time, with consistency and perseverance families will see a major difference in their day to day lives as their children respond to these helpful and effective strategies.
Samantha Smith, MSEd, BCBA, LBS-PA, is Clinical Supervisor, Tori Massimo, MPA, MAEd, BCBA, LBS-PA, is Area Director, Devon Ritenour, MEd, BCBA, LBS-PA, is Consultant/BCBA, and Jennifer Rosenblum, MS, BCBA, LBS-PA, is a Consultant/BCBA at Exceptional Learning.
For more information about Exceptional Learning, LLC, please contact our office via phone at (610) 287-4000 or visit our website at www.exceptional-learning.com.
Brady, J., & Kotkin, R. (2011). Creating lasting behavioral change through the generalization analysis worksheet. Contemporary School Psychology: Formerly” The California School Psychologist”, 15(1), 131-137.
Lytle, R. K., & Bordin, J. (2001). Enhancing the IEP team strategies for parents and professionals. Teaching Exceptional Children, 33(5), 40-44.
Vollmer, T. R., & Iwata, B. A. (1992). Differential reinforcement as treatment for behavior disorders: Procedural and functional variations. Research in Developmental Disabilities, 13(4), 393-417.