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Brief Description of PBS Related to Families

The links below are intended to help you navigate among the pages related to Families and PBS. The references or source material associated with the references on this website do not necessarily reflect the views or policies of the Association for Positive Behavior Support (APBS) nor does mention of trade names, commercial products, or organizations imply endorsement by APBS.


The purpose of positive behavior support (PBS) is to improve the quality of life of children and their families. Some families would describe PBS as an assessment-based approach for preventing behaviors that impede learning and get in the way of making it through the day peacefully and productively. PBS integrates the science of understanding the meaning of behavior, and integrating that knowledge with person-centered and family-centered strategies.

PBS is effective in eliminating or minimizing problem behaviors in home, community, and school settings. It is most effective when used across environments and across individuals. In schools, families may partner with their child's teacher and a team of providers to create behavior support plans that consist of strategies that support positive behavior in school and home using the same or similar strategies. In this case, behavior support plans are strengthened when they span across environments and team members. Likewise, families may create their own teams to address their child's problem behavior in home and/or community settings. In this case, families may develop behavior support plans with essential family members and community providers or caregivers that are unique to the home and/or community.

The family member's experience in the PBS process is unique, hence their input at all levels of helping PBS evolve as a technology is not only critical, it is essential. It is important to listen to the families' perspectives, since interventions that are implemented within home settings may naturally transfer across other settings. PBS strategies must be the right fit to most successfully integrate with an individual's routines, culture(s), and fabric of the home. Family members are often the primary advocate for their child when meeting with school and other professionals. They also often find themselves taking a lead role in service coordination. Team meetings can be challenging for family members who often feel disrespected when individuals do not elicit the family's opinions when it comes to understanding the child's needs, or why a child is engaging in problem behavior.

Research in PBS is dedicated to expanding our global communities' understanding of what behavior communicates, and using the outcomes to work toward providing efficient, effective, relevant, and durable intervention strategies across home, school, and community settings. A priority of the PBS scholarship and community is to create ways to empower families and their children so that they are able to take a lead role in adjusting problematic settings. PBS involves team-based strategies that are implemented to prevent a child's identified problem behavior and to help systematically replace that problem behavior with a positive one that fits the child and setting best.

When behaviors that are deemed unacceptable occur repeatedly over time in specific settings they often serve a useful function or purpose for the child. Two major types of functions that maintain problem behavior are related to child's need to escape from something unpleasant or obtain something desirable. For example, a child may throw the silverware on the floor when asked to set the table because she knows that she will be sent to her room for her misbehavior. In this case, "going to the room" may be a desirable outcome for the child. Problem behavior may also occur in order to avoid specific people, or to escape internal stimulation such as physical pain, or illness. Some children engage in problem behavior to gain attention from their parents, teachers or peers. In other cases, problem behavior may occur in order to obtain preferred items or events. A child's problem behavior can be maintained in order to access internal stimulation, as is the case when a student repetitively engages in a behavior in order to obtain sensory or tactile stimulation.

Once the function of a problem behavior is identified, positive behavior support strategies are used to make problem behavior irrelevant, inefficient and ineffective for the child. The process for identifying why a child is engaging in problem behavior is called Functional Behavioral Assessment.

Functional Behavioral Assessment (FBA)
The functional behavioral assessment (FBA) process involves gathering information about what is sustaining a child's problem behavior. A variety of assessment tools are used to conduct a functional behavioral assessment. Interviews with teachers, parents, the child, and other important individuals are usually a first step for gathering information. Observing the child in his/her natural environment provides further evidence regarding the function of a problem behavior. In some cases, a parent or teacher or other team member may systematically observe the child in different settings to see if there are certain environmental variables triggering problem behavior. A functional behavioral assessment is considered complete when the following outcomes are accomplished:

  • there is a clear description of the problem behavior,
  • the events, times, and situations that predict both the occurrence and nonoccurrence of problem behavior are identified,
  • events immediately following problem behaviors are identified,
  • one or more educated guesses (hypotheses) about the function maintaining problem behavior are developed,
  • direct observation data identifying and confirming the function of the problem behavior is complete, and
  • all team members, especially family members, agree with the hypothesis, proposed solutions, observations and outcomes.

Comprehensive Multi-component Interventions
The team that forms to support a child or adult should include the people who are actively present in the situations and settings that are part of the child's life. Information that is gathered from a functional behavioral assessment helps the team develop and implement behavioral support plans that are positive, proactive, educative, and functional. PBS plans include a number of interventions that can be implemented across situations and settings. These interventions include: 1) proactive strategies for changing the environment so triggering events are removed, 2) teaching new skills that replace problem behaviors, 3) eliminating or minimizing natural reinforcement for problem behavior, and 4) maximizing clear reinforcement for appropriate behavior. A hallmark of PBS planning is emphasis on improving overall lifestyle quality (relationships, activities, health) as an integrated part of behavior support.

Lifestyle Enhancement
PBS focuses on enhancing a person's overall quality of life through the reduction of behaviors that are perceived to be problematic by the child, family, or other people important in the child's life. Outcomes include lifestyle improvements such as participation in community life, gaining and maintaining satisfying relationships, expressing personal preferences and making choices, and developing personal competencies.

Improvements in quality of life are facilitated by establishing a positive long-range vision with the individual and his or her family. Establishing natural supports through effective teamwork typically yield optimal results. Person-centered planning and wraparound strategies are used to launch PBS planning. Both person-centered planning and wraparound involve planning meetings that place the individual and his or her family in the lead role of defining the individual child or adult's strengths and preferred quality of life. Goals and objectives are identified and evaluated over time to ensure that progress is being made in reaching a higher quality of life and that the services provided to the individual and his or her family are implemented with fidelity and are effective.

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