Families: Description and Links

Brief Overview

Positive behavior support is an approach that combines the principles of applied behavior analysis, biomedical and mental health research, and person and family-centered values to create individualized – and effective – supports. This team-based process is used to help parents and other family members assess the reasons why a child is engaging in problem behavior and then implement interventions that will improve social and quality of life outcomes for that child.

A family - mother, father, son, and daughter - sit together, smiling, on a sofa.

The positive behavior support planning process begins by focusing first on collaboration and lifestyle planning for the child or adult. The goal of positive behavior support is to improve quality of life, not only for a son or daughter, but for everyone within the family. When done well, positive behavior support provides families with a framework for problem-solving that is used to identify interventions that fit within the family’s everyday routines and within cultural and values that are held by that family.

Assessment strategies are used to understand all of the factors that have an impact on a son or daughter’s behavior. This information is used to create and monitor plans that fit the needs of the individual and her family. The assessment process is used to identify the underlying reasons, or function, that maintains a child’s problem behavior. In some cases, a child may be seeking to escape from a nonpreferred person, household chore or family event. In other situations, problem behavior may be communicating that the child wants a toy, activity, or person. At times, a child will engage in problem behavior in order to gain the attention of parents or siblings. In many cases, problem behavior is a form of social communication. Although in many cases, a child may engage in challenging behavior in order to seek out or escape from a social outcome, there are times when behaviors are maintained by physiological or biochemical reasons.

A grandfather and grand-daughter together, smiling.

The positive behavior support process provides a way for the child, her family, and a team of individuals that are part of the person’s life to work together together during this functional behavioral assessment process. Team members will focus on a child’s strengths in order to identify interventions that will improve quality of life across home, school, work, and community settings. The assessment process is used by the team to identify interventions that are directly linked to the function that is maintaining problem behavior.

A boy and girl, both toddlers, playing outside, sharing a ballon, under a tree in the sunshine.

Positive behavior support interventions include teaching a child or adult new social and emotional skills as an alternative way in which to respond to situations or events that trigger problem behavior. Changes are made to the physical environment in order to naturally prevent or minimize problem behavior while biomedical and mental health-related interventions are implemented to address internal physiological states that may set the stage for or trigger problem behavior. Interventions that take into account a child’s entire family helps ensure that the changes are embedded into the fabric of a family’s life and this, in turn, increases the likelihood that positive behavior support plans are effective over a long period of time. The team gathers data to evaluate the effectiveness of the positive behavior support plan and adjusts interventions over time. An important goal of positive behavior support is to establish sustainable, long-term plans that provide families with the support they need to continue implementing interventions and to prevent the future occurrence of problem behavior.

PBS Practices from the Rehabilitation Research and Training Center

PBS Practices are brief fact sheets that describe effective practices in Positive Behavior Support. Each Practice includes a rationale, overview, examples, issues and needs, and frequently-asked questions on a designated topic. The purpose of the series on PBS Practices is to provide information about important elements of positive behavior support. PBS Practices are not specific recommendations for implementation, and they should always be considered within the larger context of planning, assessment and comprehensive support.

  • Methods of Functional Behavioral Assessment (FBA) PDF
  • Collaborative Teaming in PBS PDF
  • Proactive Support Strategies PDF
  • Positive Consequence Strategies PDF
  • Teaching Replacement Skills PDF
  • Systems Change in Positive Behavior Support PDF
  • Competing Behavior Model PDF
  • Group Action Planning and PBS PDF
  • Addressing Cultural and Economic Diversity in PBS PDF

Research-based Case Study Summaries

The following vignettes come from peer-reviewed research articles or chapters found in the literature related to providing behavior interventions for individuals with challenging behavior. These summaries are intended to provide ideas for validated intervention strategies that are implemented in the field. While these vignettes are helpful in learning more about positive behavior support and behavior intervention strategies, they are only intended to be examples. All PBS plans should start with person-centered planning and functional behavioral assessment. The functional behavioral assessment is used to identify interventions that are based on the function maintaining the behavior and that are individualized for the person receiving support. Please gather valuable information from these vignettes, while being cautious not to over-generalize to all individuals who engage in challenging behavior.

Intervention Case Study 1: http://kipbsmodules.org/Word-PDF-PPT/casestudy6.pdf

Clarke, S., Dunlap, G., and Vaughn, B. (1999). Family-centered, assessment-based intervention to improve behavior during an early morning routine. Journal of Positive Behavior Interventions, 1, 235-241.

Intervention Case Study 2: http://kipbsmodules.org/Word-PDF-PPT/casestudy7.pdf

Vaughn, B.J., Wilson, D., and Dunlap, G. (2002). Family-centered intervention to resolve problem behaviors in a fast food restaurant: A case example. Journal of Positive Behavior Interventions, 4, 38-45.

Intervention Case Study 3: http://kipbsmodules.org/Word-PDF-PPT/casestudy8.pdf

Mirenda, P., MacGregor, T., and Kelly-Keough, S. Teaching communication skills for behavioral support in the context of family life. In J.M. Lucyshyn, G. Dunlap, and R.W. Albin (Eds.), Families and positive behavior support: Addressing problem behavior in family contexts (pp.185-207). Baltimore: Brookes.

Intervention Case Study 4: http://www.apbs.org/Files/famcentered%20brief.pdf

Vaughn B.J., Dunlap, G., Fox, L., Clarke, S., and Bucy, M. (1997). Parent-professional partnership in behavioral support: A case study of community-based intervention. Journal of the Association for Persons with Severe Handicaps, 22, 185-197.

Intervention Case Study 5: http://www.apbs.org/Files/famcentered%20brief.pdf

Fox, L., Vaughn B.J., Dunlap, G., and Bucy, M. (1997). Parent-professional partnership in behavioral support: A quantitative analysis of one family's experience. Journal of the Association for Persons with Severe Handicaps, 22, 198-207.

Parenting Special Needs Magazine Articles


A Glass Half Full: Parent Perspectives and Child Behavior, Meme Hieneman (2014, Jan/Feb, pp. 26-27) – PDF: optimism http://parentingspecialneeds.org/article/471

Going Places: Improving Participation in Community Activities, Meme Hieneman, Erin Buckalew, & Paul Rogers (2014, Mar/Apr, pp. 34-35) - PDF: community http://magazine.parentingspecialneeds.org/publication/?i=200984&p=34

When Things Get Out of Control: Managing Escalating Behavior, Meme Hieneman & Milissa Yeagley (May/Jun, 2014, pp. 22-23) – PDF: crisis

Reinforcement: Improving Behavior One Interaction at a Time, Meme Hieneman (Jul/Aug, 2014, pp. 32-33) – PDF: reinforcement

Is it working? Monitoring the Effectiveness of Treatments, Natalie Parks & Meme Hieneman (Sep/Oct, pp. 40-41)


A Relative Solution to a Complex Problem: Engaging Siblings to Build Social Skills, Alanna Apap & Meme Hieneman (2012, Jan/Feb, pp. 40-41) – PDF: siblings

Success on the Potty, Laura Casper and Meme Hieneman (2013, Mar/Apr, pp. 24-25) – PDF: toileting

Keeping Our Children Safe in the Real World, Jennifer Agganis & Meme Hieneman (2013, May/Jun, pp. 24-25) – PDF: safety

Teaching Independent Play: A Win-Win for Children and Parent, Kelcey Schmitz & Meme Hieneman (2013, Jul/Aug, pp. 42-43) – PDF: leisure

Talk with Me: Enhancing Communication through Natural Family Routines, Donna Wexler & Meme Hieneman (2013, Sep/Oct, pp. 56-57) – PDF: communication http://parentingspecialneeds.org/article/447


Let’s Get a Good Night’s Sleep, Meme Hieneman (2012, Jan/Feb, pp. 50-51) – PDF: sleeping

Helping Children Succeed at Things They’d Rather Not Do, Meme Hieneman & Sarah Fefer (2012, May/Jun, pp. 62-63): cooperation

Avoiding Power Struggles, Shane Isley, Kate Marshall, Sarah Fefer, & Meme Hieneman (2012, Jul/Aug, pp. 58-59) – PDF: power struggles

Expanding Food Options for the Picky Eater, Meme Hieneman (2012, Nov/Dec, pp. 28-29) – PDF: eating


Engaging Cooperation through Choice and Preference, Shelley Clarke & Meme Hieneman (2011, Jan/Feb, pp. 44-45) – PDF: choice

Ethan’s Alternative Tomorrow: A PATH Toward Social Inclusion, Marc Ellison, Meme Hieneman, Gloria Sage, Charlotte Hayes, Barbara Becker-Cottrill, & Luke Walker (2011, Mar/Apr pp. 56-57) – PDF: planning

What is ABA, Now Really?, Meme Hieneman, Viviana Gonzalez, & Paula Chan (2011, Jul/Aug, pp. 29-30) – PDF: ABA

Getting Involved with Positive Behavior Support at Your Child’s School, Michelle White & Meme Hieneman (2011, Sep/Oct, pp. 50-51) – PDF: education


Dealing Effectively with Difficult Situations, Karen Childs & Meme Hieneman (2009, Jan/Feb)

Finding Common Ground: Working Together to Resolve Behavioral Challenges, Viviana Gonzalez & Meme Hieneman (2010, May/Jun) http://parentingspecialneeds.org/article/299

Time-Out: Does it Work?, Kristin Knapp-Ines & Meme Hieneman (2010, Jul/Aug) http://parentingspecialneeds.org/article/314

Getting Ahead of the Game: Changing Behavior and Family Life, Meme Hieneman, Debra Sheldon, Claudia Villari, & Megan Gascon (2010, Sept/Oct, pp. 48-49) – PDF: collaboration

Power of Prevention: Heading Off Difficult Behavior, Shelley Clarke & Meme Hieneman (2010, Nov/Dec, pp. 52-53) – PDF: prevention


Parenting with PBS: Resolving Children’s Behavior Problems More Effectively and Efficiently, Meme Hieneman (2009, Jul/Aug) http://parentingspecialneeds.org/article/142

Establishing a Positive Family Structure, Meme Hieneman (2009, Nov/Dec) http://parentingspecialneeds.org/article/185

Note: If reprinting any of the articles in this section, please use the following language:

Reprinted with permission from [“Article Title”] by [Author, Year]. Parenting Special Needs Magazine, Issue, Copyright [year] by Parenting Special Needs LLC. www.parentingspecialneeds.org

PBS Glossary: http://apbs.org/new_apbs/files/glossary.pdf

Families References: http://apbs.org/new_apbs/families-references.html

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