Individualized Behavioral Approach

The Intervention

An individualized behavioral approach is an intervention designed to meet a specific student’s needs using behavioral principles. Behavioral theory suggests that one’s environment can shape their behavior; thus, the goal of an individualized behavioral approach is to systematically change the student’s environment in order to change their behavior. Behaviors can serve a variety of functions for students (e.g., to get attention, gain a sense of connection to others, gain control, avoid schoolwork, escape peer teasing). With an individualized behavioral approach, teachers identify the function of the problematic behavior and the patterns of reinforcement that might be maintaining the behavior and use that information to change antecedents and consequences in the environment as a way to modify the disruptive behavior. Antecedents are conditions that precede the behavior (e.g., a student being told “no”) or a certain setting or time of day when a behavior typically occurs. Consequences are the events that occur following a behavior that impact the likelihood of the behavior occurring in the future. All behaviors can be increased or decreased using four basic behavioral principles. These principles guide what is likely to happen to a behavior if we provide or remove something positive or negative following the behavior (as seen in the boxes below). Developing an intervention based on an individualized approach typically requires the assistance of a professional who has training in behavior modification, functional behavioral analysis, and/or school psychology. Thus, we recommend teacher consult with a professional with this expertise if they select this intervention.  

When using these principles, the teacher can use reinforcements for behaviors they would like to see increase and punishments for behaviors they would like to see less. However, if teachers decide to use positive punishment, it should be provided in a neutral tone of voice and with objectivity rather than in a punitive or diminutive manner. 

  1. Identify the challenging behavior/s that you want to decrease.
  2. Collect baseline data by observing specific situations or events that occur before the challenging behavior, as well as reactions or events that occur after the behavior.
  3. Determine what the function of the challenging behavior is for the student (e.g., what is the child trying to gain; what is the child trying to avoid). Consider what antecedent and consequences are reinforcing (even if unintentionally) the disruptive behavior (e.g., limited structure or expectations makes student nervous; peer response is reinforcing the disruptive behavior)
  4. Consider what antecedent conditions could be altered to proactively provides ways for the child to meet this need without engaging in disruptive behavior (e.g., review of expectations or instructions or giving the child a leadership role may allow the child to gain a sense of control, gain attention or connection with others)
  5. Consider what consequence conditions could be altered to reduce unintentional reinforcement of the behavior (e.g., praise for student behaviors that meet expectations early in the sequence of the interactions; class discussion about ignoring behaviors that do not meet expectations; loss of a desired privileged when the student demonstrates the disruptive behavior)
  6. Decide which behavioral principles will be best suited for the student given their individual needs. For example, a student who gets out of their chair for teacher attention may benefit from receiving teacher attention when s/he is staying in their chair (positive reinforcement).
  7. Develop a schedule for how often you will reward or punish the desired or challenging behavior. This can be done every time the student demonstrates the behavior, every other time, every third time, or sporadically. When the student demonstrates the desired behavior, provide them the decided reinforcement. When they demonstrate the challenging behavior, provide any decided punishments. At the start of a behavior change process, consistent reinforcement (every instance) is most effective; whereas once the new behavior has been established, a variable or intermittent reinforcement schedule is most effective and more feasible.
  8. Use Beacon progress monitoring tools to evaluate the extent to which this intervention is improving the target behaviors as intended.

  • Consider starting with only reinforcements for desired behaviors rather than punishments. Desired behaviors can be determined by examining the opposite of the challenging behavior (e.g., raising your hand is the opposite of blurting out answers).
  • With consideration to the student-teacher relationship, the relationship between the reinforcements/punishments selected and the behavior change is likely to be stronger when the student-teacher relationship is positive relative than when the relationship is conflicted or strained.
  • Over time, the student should begin to demonstrate desired behaviors more often and challenging behaviors less often. As this occurs, begin to fade the reinforcements and punishments; however, do not cut them off completely as this may reduce the student’s motivation to continue the behavior changes.
  • If a particular schedule of reinforcements or punishments is not working well for an individual student, consider using an alternative schedule such as a sporadic schedule in which the student cannot predict when they will receive the reward.
  • If you need help implementing or evaluating this intervention, it may be helpful to seek out consultation from your school mental health professional or intervention team leader.

Individualized behavioral approach has been rated as moderate at the elementary level and as limited at the secondary level.

Elementary: Research has demonstrated that using an individualized behavioral approach in elementary students can lead to decreases in off task behavior, out of seat behavior and noncompliance.

Secondary: Research has demonstrated that using and individualized behavioral approach in secondary students can lead to decreases in off task behavior, out of seat behavior, violations of personal space, interruptions, noncompliance, and aggression.

Recommendations: Using an individualized behavioral approach can be effective at both the elementary school level. We recommend that an individualized behavioral approach be used for students when unwanted behaviors are the core presenting problem.