CA Dept. of Education


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Behavior Archive 2012


Dru Saren, Ph.D
Behavioral and Education Specialist

I have taught pre-school through graduate school; general and special education; in public, private and psychiatric hospital schools; in New York City, New Mexico, and California. I received my doctorate in education, with a specialization in working with students with behavioral and emotional disorders, from the University of New Mexico in 1986.

Much of my success and failure in implementing behavior strategies, as well as maintaining some sense of humor about it all, can be credited to a 27-year post graduate course offered by my daughter, who has Down Syndrome, and her younger brother and sister, who have substituted when things were going too smoothly.

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  • Self-Management using “Polar Bears”


Techniques to develop self management seem to be strongly recommended lately.  I heard you recommend The Polar Bears years ago, and I incorporated it into my class room with a lot of success.  Any new ones you recommend? 



Yes indeedy!  Self management, aka self regulation aka self monitoring is receiving the attention I think it deserves.  Its prominence is underlined by it being one of the six evidence-based Tier II Interventions when the RTI Model is applied to behavior.  Specifically, self-monitoring is recommended for the 10 to 20% of students who continue to have emotional and behavioral problems despite good behavioral systems and positive classrooms.

Self management develops self awareness and an understanding of the connections between one’s behavior and its consequences, both good and bad.  Research indicates that self monitoring becomes internalized by activating the prefrontal cortex.

As far as self management techniques, I still LOVE the Polar Bears, or ”Whole Class Self Monitoring”  I think that all children benefit from learning to self monitor, and doing it as a class activity takes the attention off the student who needs more help than Tier I interventions.  Fred Roemer (the teacher who posted this years ago) is my hero!

I also still like the instructions for setting up self management available at
And with the advances in personal technology, it becomes easier to have students cue themselves privately.  This further diminishes teacher time. 

“Feeling Thermometers” are a similar way to help students associate how they are feeling with how they behave. I think these type, when used with an individual student, benefit from having the student generate the descriptions of his/her feelings and identifying the environmental factors that s/he associates with these feelings.  is one source, but there are many, and you can easily draw your own, or, even better, the students can.  This is definitely moving into the Tier II category.

So glad to know that your students are receiving the benefit of instruction in managing their own behavior.  It’s a gift for a lifetime. Thanks for writing.

Best, Dru

  • Who is Qualified to Write BSPs?


Does someone have to be certified to write BSPs? If yes, Is there an available web seminar or online training for SPED teachers like me to be appropriately trained to design BSPs? Please send me relevant link(s).



Hi Charlene,

Thanks for your question. From your use of the term BSP (Behavior Support Plan), I surmise (I’ve been reading a lot of mysteries!) that you are in California since that is the term we use here, so I will respond also using California law and process.

SELPA directors must maintain a list of persons authorized to be a "BICM" (Behavior Intervention Case Manager) to supervise, or conduct, an FAA (Functional Analysis Assessment) for a PBIP (Positive Behavior Intervention Plan) for “severe” behavior, which is defined in California as assaultive, severe property damage, self injurious behavior and other pervasive maladaptive behavior. BICMs are mentioned in educational law; BSPs are not.

By maintaining a list, the SELPA director is verifying that the persons on that list have necessary training in positive behavior supports to meet the standard of BICM. Some SELPAS have detailed criteria: individuals designated BICMs complete certain course work, pass a test and their behavior plan(s) are evaluated. Other SELPAs have minimal criteria.

Check with your SELPA director if a behavior plan you are developing will be for a student exhibiting severe behavior, as defined above. See the Forms section on website and also see information under the Law tab.

No "certification" to write BSPs exists in law other than under the conditions described above, which would use the PBIP form found on PENT if the behavior is severe. Otherwise, who is authorized to write BSPs is unstated. In my practice, I have most often seen BSPs written by teachers (usually those who serve ED students), psychologists, and behavior analysts (Board Certified Behavior Analysts and others who serve in that capacity in their districts). I’m not aware of any on-line training, but the section on writing a BSP on the PENT website is very thorough.

I hope this answers your question. As usual, answers to questions about behavior are usually some form of “it depends”!


  • Bullying and Students with Special Needs

Dear Ask A Specialist Readers,

Did you know that children with disabilities are at an increased risk of being bullied?  Any number of factors:  physical vulnerability, social skill challenges, or intolerant environments, may increase the risk. Research suggests that some children with disabilities may even bully others as well.

On April 3, 2012 the U.S. Education Secretary, Arne Duncan, and Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary, Kathleen Sebelius, unveiled the revitalized Stop Bullying website:

The Stop Bullying Website:

“The site encourages children, parents, educators, and communities to take action to stop and prevent bullying, and provides a map with detailed information on state laws and policies, interactive webisodes and videos for young people, practical strategies for schools and communities to ensure safe environments, and suggestions on how parents can talk about this sensitive subject with their children. The site also explores the dangers of cyberbullying and steps youngsters and parents can take to fight it.”

Special Resources to Help Children with Disabilities:

This website also provides special resources to help children with disabilities who are bullied or who bully others. The website illustrates how IEPs or Section 504 plans can be useful in designing specialized approaches for preventing and responding to bullying.  Additionally, the website discusses how civil rights laws protect students with disabilities against harassment. That is, when bullying is directed at a child because of his or her disability and it creates a hostile environment at school, bullying behavior may cross the line and become “disability harassment.”  Under Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 and Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, the school must address the harassment.

Act Now!

We know that bullying can negatively impact a student’s ability to learn and threaten their physical and emotional safety at school. We know, too, that the best way to address bullying is to stop it before it starts. The Stop Bullying website and the other websites listed in the Resources provide a number of actions school staff can take to make schools safer and prevent bullying.

We here at Ask A Specialist encourage you to do your part to help all students be safe at school.

Submitted by Ann England, Assistant Director, Diagnostic Center, Northern California on behalf of all the Ask A Specialist Contributors


  • Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports

  • Does a child with PDD-NOS who displays Oppositional-Defiant Disorder benefit from social skills training?



My team says, as they begin to broach the subject of ED (Emotionally Disturbed) with the parents of one child, that he is not PDD-NOS and does not need social skills training provided by me, the SLP.  He needs behavioral help, and that he can "turn on" his social skills and "off" his social skills depending on his mood at the moment.  That might be true, but still he definitely says negative comments in our social group that other kids in the group object to and then model for him the correct way to say it.  I'm on the fence....

:) Anne


Thanks, Anne, for your timely and interesting question.  The criteria necessary for a diagnosis of an Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) is undergoing major revision in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders 5 (DSM-5), which will be released in May 2013.   All the current diagnoses, including Pervasive Developmental Disorder -Not Otherwise Specified (PDD-NOS), will be represented as a single diagnosis falling under the autism spectrum disorder.

To differentiate between formerly discrete categories (Asperger’s Syndrome, PDD-NOS, and autistic disorder), the American Psychiatric Association (APA) will propose severity criteria for mild, moderate and severe.  Many people surmise that fewer individuals will meet the criteria for an ASD diagnosis.  PDD-NOS is usually a “milder” form, and people with this diagnosis may be less likely to meet the new criteria for an ASD.
Clearly, your question is not regarding these changes but I bring them up to highlight that PDD-NOS will soon be a non-diagnosis.  I also want to say that in my experience, PDD-NOS was always the most suspect of the diagnoses.  The criteria for applying it were vague and it was the spectrum diagnosis that was most likely to be overturned over time.   So, I am not surprised that some on your team are questioning its validity for the student in your question.  However, to my knowledge, changes in the federal special education handicapping condition of “autistic-like” are not yet under consideration, so this boy might continue to qualify for special education services under this category.

That being said, whether he is on the spectrum or not, social skills training AND behavior support are not mutually exclusive, and might both be warranted.  Both are evidence based interventions, and are effective for many children having behavioral difficulties.  But decisions regarding the choice of interventions should begin with a look at the function of the behavior, not with a student’s diagnosis whether appropriate or not
If the oppositional and defiant behavior has risen to the level that the IEP team needs to meet, it is very likely that the steps for developing a behavior support plan should be followed.  You are also more likely to have cooperation from the family if the parents perceive the discussion to be about how to help him rather than about what’s really wrong with him! 

Hope that is helpful!  Good luck and thanks for your question.


  • I have a student with a diagnosis of Smith-Magenis Syndrome and his behaviors are uncontrollable


I am a teacher in a moderate to severe class for students grades 1 through 4. My second grader, Richie, has a diagnosis of Smith-Magenis Syndrome and his behaviors are uncontrollable. Many different interventions and placements have been tried: general education class with a one-to-one aide, behavior plans, FAA, shortened day, but nothing works. When he doesn’t want to do something he throws terrible temper tantrums where he screams and spits and throws things. As he escalates, he runs out of the room or he starts banging his head or scratching and biting himself. Things got so bad by lunch time that his mother agreed to have him come home then.

He disrupts my other students and little gets done on days when he has his tantrums. I sometimes take them all out of the room when that’s going on. He can be very sweet and his parents try their best but I’m at my wits end. Please help!



What a difficult situation, Joyce. I only recently encountered a child with this syndrome for the first time, and it is a difficult one. Smith-Magenis syndrome (SMS) is a chromosomal disorder characterized by a recognizable pattern of physical, behavioral, and developmental features. It is caused by a missing piece of genetic material from chromosome 17.

Common features which affect school performance include: intellectual disability, sequential processing problems, short term memory difficulties, speech/language delay, hyperactivity and attention problems, prolonged tantrums, sudden mood changes and/or explosive outbursts, and self-injurious behaviors.” (Abridged from

The best strategies are proactive. When they are in place they will most often prevent Richie’s most difficult behaviors. That being said, it is important to emphasize that even under ideal circumstances, anomalies of SMS can take over, rendering Richie unmanageable. This is no one’s fault, but, over time and with the positive behavioral supports, the good times will far outnumber the bad.

Proactive Strategies:

  • A highly structured and consistent, predictable school day, with lots of positive interactions and reinforcement.

  • Right now, think of typical academic tasks as a means to learn school behaviors, not as an end in themselves. Brief lessons at or below his independent level will teach independence, direction following and on-task behavior. Academic skills can be given more emphasis after his behavior is consistently under control. Consider changing this focus on his IEP.

Teach self management

First teach self management to the whole class (see Resources section). Use on-task behavior as everyone’s first goal. Once this is established:

Use an individualized self management with Richie. His goal is “following directions”

  • Teach what this means, including curtailing a protest episode

  • Teach self evaluation.

  • Include self evaluation after each time period in him schedule (see below).

Use many visuals

Actively try to decrease how much you say to Richie. Don’t explain, cajole, or negotiate. Develop an individualized picture schedule and embedded schedules within and multiple visual cues.

  • After each time segment on his schedule, have the staff ask, “Did you follow directions?” Richie circles a picture of a smiling face, or uses a stamp or sticker. If he did not follow directions, do not use a negative symbol.
  • Before he goes home, he counts the number of smiling faces, colors that number on a graph, and takes home a note that says “Today I got _____ Smiley Faces (he fills in the number).

Ignore behaviors that do not disrupt

  • Avoid power struggles. Issue a direction. If he ignores it, repeat with little inflection. If he still ignores it, walk away.
  • Offer Richie choices when possible within the schedule but not about the schedule. For example, at writing time: “Do you want the fat pencil or the thin one? Do you want to make the letter first or should I make the letter first?”

My student with SMS really liked his classmates. If yours does too, pair him with other students whenever possible.

Analyze extreme behaviors

Some may be unavoidable; either the situation was unpredictable or out of your control or the SMS is overriding. However, most situations are not. They are communications by Richie that something is too hard, too long, confusing, etc. See how you can restructure this activity the next time to avoid the blow-up or consider eliminating it for now.

  • When a tantrum is beginning, point to his Following Directions chart. If he stops, heap praise and an extra smiley face. If he doesn’t, offer a break. If he still escalates, ignore as long as no one will be hurt. Remove class if necessary.

There are many medical issues that impact children with SMS.

  • If Richie is extremely impulsive, hyperactive or unable to focus for more than a very short time, a trial of stimulant medication might help.

  • If he is not getting enough sleep, his parents might take him to a medical center where the personnel are familiar with children with SMS and can try to improve his sleeping at night. The National Genome Research Institute appears to be recruiting children with SMS to participate in a study which uses either bright light in the morning or melatonin at night, or both, instead of medication (

  • Other issues include delayed toilet training, but this is not your question.

A shortened day is never an appropriate (or legal) long term solution for behavior problems. While decreased energy associated with the syndrome may make the process of expanding Richie’s day take a while, moving in that direction is an aspect of a free and appropriate education (FAPE).

  • Increase his day gradually and in small increments, say 15 minutes. Don’t add more time until he tolerates the longer time for a week or two. By “tolerates”, judge this by absence of extreme behaviors during that time.
  • Do not be afraid to cut back if additional time seems to cause more tantruming during that time period, but resume adding time after a week or two.
  • Plan afternoon activities that are both fun and not taxing.

Resources: Parents and Researchers Interested in Smith-Magenis Syndrome is a helpful website for all who live and work with individuals with SMS. There are other websites, but start here.

And my favorite website of all time: Whole class self management:

  • Because a student is identified as ADD, does this mean that the child should not receive consequences for extreme defiance? What sort of consequence might be appropriate?


Because a student is identified as ADD, does this mean that the child should not receive consequences for extreme defiance? What sort of consequence might be appropriate? (missing recess, detention after school, suspension). Consider that this is a child who has an IEP with specific goals, identified motivators, and a plan that is being revised.

Signed: School Team That Wants Child to Be Successful.


Dear Team,

Thanks for your question. You are to be commended for taking the initiative to look for outside support and clearly want the best outcome for your student, (whom I will call Lenny). I believe that developing self-regulation is basic to success in every area of life: school, work, sports, personal relations, so I share what I take to be your concern about a student not learning to conform to basic social norms.

I hope I can add something to your discussion. I am, however, stymied by the inexactness of language. The most critical piece I’m missing is an understanding of what you characterize as “extreme defiance”.

The first thing the team must do is define “defiant” so that anyone seeing Lenny engaging in this behavior knows without a doubt that that is the problem behavior. I have been in schools where wearing a hat or chewing gum is seen as defiant and I have been at schools where students tear up papers and toss chairs to the floor with impunity. So if I am a substitute at your school and I see the words “extreme defiance”, I need to be sure what behavior is meant.

I like to use “see it/count it” criteria to describe a behavior. What does it look like? YouTube it, figuratively. Does Lenny sit silently with his arms crossed when handed an assignment? Does he enter the kindergarten area when he knows that 3rd graders are not allowed in there? Does Lenny shout profanities at a teacher when she hands him a math sheet? Does he leave the class room without permission?

When and how often does the behavior take place? When Lenny has a written assignment? Only after lunch? Is the refusal related only to academics demands or to unstructured activities as well? Is it just once in awhile, every week, or every day?

The next area to explore is what “extreme” means in behavior support terms. “Serious” behavior in CA is “assaultive, self-injurious or other pervasive maladaptive behaviors that significantly impact the student’s mastery of goals.” Does Lenny’s “defiance” meet this level? “Extreme” is usually reserved to behavior that is a safety issue to himself or others.

If it does rise to the level of “serious”, and the previous plan to address this was not effective, (which is what I think you mean when you say that a plan is being revised) then the IEP team must involve the district Behavior Intervention Case Manager. It might be necessary to conduct an FAA if this was the problem behavior addressed in the previous plan. However, if by plan you mean IEP, then you must get the BSP going immediately.

Creating a new behavior support plan is a many faceted undertaking. (See and download the BSP Guide for a thorough delineation of that process.) A BSP includes the motivators (or reinforcement) and the consequences (or reactive strategies).

However, I suspect you are alluding to the Manifestation Determination requirement. I think you are questioning whether Lenny’s diagnosis of ADD with attendant impulsivity could be seen as causing the behavior. However, this comes into play if expulsion is being considered and it is not only based on a student’s disability. How services have been provided is also considered.

I would look at the consequences that you mention. In your district and at your school, are these measures used for all students who engage in the same behavior? If so, they are acceptable, but, at the same time, a behavior support plan must also be in place: looking at the function, trying to replace Lenny’s need to use this behavior, teaching him a better way to get his needs met, etc.

So, short answer: yes you can use the type of consequences you list for a student with an IEP BUT you better have a well thought out behavior support plan in place with data regarding its effectiveness.

Good luck and thanks for writing.