CA Dept. of Education


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Behavior Archive 2013


Tara Zombres, M.Ed.
Education Specialist

Tara Zombres, M.Ed., is an Education Specialist at the Diagnostic Center-North.  She is a special education teacher who has taught students with a wide variety of disabilities. She has a master’s degree in Curriculum and Instruction in Special Education with the Moderate/Severe population.  Her areas of expertise are providing engaging and appropriate instruction for students with complex needs, developing educational programs for students with severe emotional and behavior disorders, teaching students with Autism using Evidence Based Practices and designing comprehensive programming for students with Emotional Disturbances.  At the Diagnostic Center, she provides trainings in Behavior Basics, and in Creating Student Success: How to Provide Meaningful Access to the CSS for Students with Moderate/Severe Disabilities. She is a BCBA candidate and a member of PENT (Positive Environment Network of Trainers) and CAPTAIN (California Autism Professional Training and Information Network).   


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  • Evidence Based Practices for Behavior


Are there any resources that can provide me a list of Evidence Based strategies to use in the classroom for students who have behavior problems?


This is a wonderful question! I find that often the people on the ‘front lines’ in education (i.e., teachers, school staff, and administrators) are not aware of some of the most helpful resources available.

There is a wonderful resource call the What Works Clearinghouse. This is a great website, where all of the practices, strategies and interventions are deemed Evidence Based before being posted! This is a great ‘one stop shop’ for teachers and school staff who are short on time and want to find effective interventions to use-with the peace of mind that they are valid and have been proven effective! The site does not just provide exclusively behavior interventions, but also covers a wide variety of educational topics.

In particular, I would look at the “Practice Guide for Reducing Behavior Problems in the Elementary Classroom.” This document outlines five recommendations for effective classrooms, which are, again, evidence based! These recommendations are broad and are meant to focus on the overall classroom structure and environment to support the reduction of behavior problems.

Keep in mind that students who exhibit more severe behavior problems, or those students who do not respond to the classroom strategies, may need more intensive behavior supports. In those cases, a trained professional (i.e., a school psychologist or Board Certified Behavior Analyst) may need to be consulted to determine how to most effectively intervene with the behavior.

Good luck and, again, I highly recommend checking out this resource. I have included the direct links to both the What Works Clearinghouse website, as well as the link to the Practice Guide.


What Works Clearinghouse:

Practice Guide for Reducing Behavior Problems in the Elementary Classroom:

  • How to Use Apps to Support Classroom Management and Behavior


My school district recently purchased iPads and projectors for our special education Special Day Class (SDC) classrooms. I am wondering what Apps I can download that can help me use the iPad to support student behavior in the classroom. Any suggestions would be much appreciated!


The use of iPads in the classroom is becoming much more common, especially in special education classrooms. The world of Apps is growing daily to include countless programs to support almost anything and everything you can imagine.

It is important to consider the educational application of technology in the classroom. Often, iPads and other types of technology (i.e., computers, and smart boards) are used solely for students to earn rewards or reinforcements when they have completed a task or earned free time. While I am very much in support of students having access to activities and items that are exciting and reinforcing for them, such as technology and games, don’t limit the use of these amazing tools for this purpose alone.

The iPad can become an essential tool in teaching and supporting student behavior. Below are several Apps that are particularly effective, easy to use, and accessible for staff and students.

Supporting Student behavior by using visual supports: Timers, schedules, choice boards, first/then contingencies and token systems are all evidence based positive behavior interventions that are effective ways to support student behavior. These apps provide easy to use, highly visual and exciting presentations of these behavioral strategies. The only drawback with these apps is that they are designed to be used by one or only a few students at a time.

Time Timer (Time Timer LLC) $2.99



First Then Visual Schedule (Good Karma Application) - $9.99



iPrompts (Visual Supports, Schedules Handhold Adaptive, LLC) -$49.99



123 Token Me (123apps4me) -$9.99



 Token Board (Zorten) - $3.99




Supporting classroom management and behavior: The iPad can also be an extremely valuable tool for supporting behavior across all students in the classroom. Using an iPad to support classroom management is one of the most effective ways to use this new technology. It supports explicit teaching and redirection of student behavior, as well as embeds positive behavior supports for all students. See website for additional apps.

ClassDojo for Students (Class Twist INC) - free



Traffic Light (by Gareth Vaughan) –free



Too Noisy (by Walsall Academy) -$2.99




Supporting student behavior through teaching emotional regulation: Students with behavior problems in the classroom will most likely benefit from learning increased emotional regulation. They need to be taught how to label their emotions and what to do that is more appropriate than their current inappropriate behaviors when they are upset or frustration. There are many apps that are geared towards teaching students to recognize and label emotions. Here are a few highly recommended apps in this area. See the website for more ideas.

Autism 5-point Scale EP (Minnesota Department of Administration ) -free



Calm Counter (Touch Autism) - free




Tara Zombres

  • Changes in Behavior Plans with the Repeal of the Hughes Bill


I have been hearing a lot lately about the changes that will happen due to the absolution of the Hughes Bill. Can you please explain what the changes are and how they affect what is required and necessary when completing assessments and writing behavior plans?


This is a wonderful and very timely question. Recently there have been some significant changes in the world of behavior assessment and plans. While the specifics regarding the changes in the law will not affect the everyday workings of the professionals involved in supporting students with behavior problems, it is important to be aware of what is happening with the law, and subsequently, how it affects school teams and students.

The Basics-The law

  • Assembly Bill 86 (AB 86) was passed in July of 2013 repealed regulations and added statute that addressed positive behavioral intervention plans. Effectively, AB 86 ‘undid’ the Hughes Bill, which provided specificity of requirements regarding functional assessments of behavior (i.e., Functional Analysis Assessments (FAA’s), as well as requirements for training staff (i.e., BICM training).
  • The intent of AB 86, as outlined by the Senate floor analysis, was to modify “the Behavioral Intervention Plan mandate to align it more closely with federal law and to reduce unnecessary costs, while maintaining important protections for students with disabilities.” The Hughes Bill outlined protocols in greater detail, and using different terminology, than that of the federal law.

Changes to the Law

  • California Law defined a “Behavior Support Plan (BSP).” Now, all behavior plans will be referred to as Behavior Intervention Plans (BIP).
  • Districts and SELPA’s will no longer be required to provide BICM trainings.
  • Assessment of behavior, previously referred to in California as a Functional Analysis Assessment (FAA) will now be referred to only as a Functional Behavior Assessment (FBA), which is broadly defined in the federal law. The specificity provided in California law regarding requirements for a FAA is no longer applicable. In addition, FBA’s no longer need to be conducted by a BICM, as the term and training will no longer exist as requirements under the law.

Aspects and requirements of behavior assessment and plans will remain the same-

  • The most skilled staff should still be the ones completing the assessment of severe behavior, as well as support the team, in the writing and implementation of behavior intervention plans.

  • Districts and SELPA’s can continue to train their staff as they see fit so that they are highly qualified and skilled in this area.

  • There continue to be no legal requirements for districts/SELPA’s to hire Board Certified Behavior Analysts (BCBA’s), however hiring BCBA certified staff is one way to assure that staff are highly trained in the area of applied behavior analysis, assessment and implementation regarding severe behavior.

  • The same forms in SEIS and on the PENT (Positive Environment Network of Trainers) website will continue to be available, with all BSP’s language being replaced with BIP.

  • Writing behavior plans remains the charge of the IEP team, not any one individual

  • Assessment of severe problem behavior, and consequently the completion of a Functional Behavior Assessment (FBA) continues to require parent permission for assessment, as well as a report which includes:
    • Baseline data
    • Methods of gathering data
    • Data to support conclusion

Additional information can be found:

  • California Department of Education website –
    • Search for information on the BIP Stakeholder Workgroup meetings
  • Positive Environment Network of Trainers (PENT) –

Tara Zombres

  • How to teach through non-compliance; when to change placement


I am working with a Kindergarten aged student within an inclusion model. She has a diagnosis of Autism. She uses some verbal communication to state her wants and needs, especially when protesting. She enjoys music and greets adults sweetly. She approaches peers but does not verbally interact with them. She engages in high levels of aggressive behavior, between 12 and 25 per day. They are almost always in protest of being asked to do work or go to a non-preferred area. She spends most of her time wandering around the classroom. She will sit and work about three times per week. When we tried pulling her into an SDC environment we had long tantrums and then exhaustion, but more table work – one on one with a trained ABA adult. About 30 minutes of work per day. She has a behavior plan and behavior services on her IEP. She appears to have average cognitive skills and is reaching many of her kindergarten benchmarks.

My questions are: Where is the line between compliance and power? How do I encourage her to work first, and then take a reward? What is the correct environment for her? How can I help her learn to want to belong with her peers? How important is it for me to be "teaching" her the kindergarten standards despite the small amount of instructional control I have?


Thank you for your very specific behavior information for this question. It sounds like you are working with a very challenging young lady! There is a lot involved with the questions that you have asked, so I am going to provide you with some starting points.

Compliance versus power

It is important to remember that, typically, children with autism struggle with being told what to do. This is especially applicable when what they are being asked to do is a non-preferred, is a transition, is an unknown, or when they are leaving a preferred situation or activity. So, instead of thinking about how to be the one ‘in control,’ consider ways to support that child so that she feels in control of the situation. The key here is to provide opportunities for her to make choices within a structure that we lay out. In doing this, the demand that is placed on the child no longer feels like a directive, but as though she is in charge. Some strategies are listed below:

  • When transitioning from preferred to preferred activities:
    • Provide a visual timer to count down how much time is left
    • When the timer goes off, present the child with a choice of ‘transition’ items to take to the next activity. This takes the emphasis off the transition to the undesired activity, and places it on the choice.
  • Asking the child to complete a work task:
    • Provide a visual choice board of activities that the child can choose from. Again, this decreases the emphasis on stating a task demand, but instead allows the child to feel in control of what she is doing
  • Introducing a new activity or concept, for which you have not let the child choose the activity:
    • Provide choices on other components of the activity.
    • Examples: pen or crayon, paper choice, where to complete the activity, or with whom

By infusing choice making throughout out the day, the child will be engaged in increasingly more compliance. As we know, this is a crucial component for being able to teach new skills. Thus, the child’s need for control is met, while increased compliance is also obtained.

Using First/Then Contingencies

Implementing a first/then contingency is a wonderful strategy to use with young children with autism. When dealing with a child who resists the need to complete a task before earning a reinforcer (the ‘then) consider these tips:

  • Provide choices for what is on the ‘first’ and the ‘then’ portions of the contingency
  • Enhance understanding by providing a visual representation. An examples might look like this:


  • The time spent on the ‘first’ activity should be brief at first so that the student quickly experience success (i.e., the earning of the then!)

Determining placement

As with every child with an Individual Education Plan (IEP), it is a team decision as to what Least Restrictive Environment (LRE) is most beneficial in meeting the student’s needs.
When considering if behavior problems that are impacting a child’s ability to learn - to the degree that she or he needs an alternative or more restrictive environment, the following factors should be considered:

  • Have positive behavior supports been implemented with consistency and fidelity for a long enough period of time to determine if there is positive behavior change?
  • Have behavior problems been fully assessed to determine if they are a function of other areas of need. Examples might include: processing deficits, specific learning disabilities, environmental and health related factors, and speech and language deficits. The information gathered from those assessments will further inform the team as to the level of support that is needed for increased educational success.
  • Rather than focus on the type of classroom placement, it is helpful to discuss as a team what environmental factors may support decreasing behaviors. From that, a determination can be made about whether or not a different classroom placement is necessary.

Helping students with autism interact with peers

Social interaction is a specific are of deficits for almost all children with autism. It may not be possible to change a child’s internal desire to interact with their peers. However, there are several evidence based practices for students with autism that teach the explicit skills needed to more effectively interact.

  • Video Modeling
  • Social Narratives
  • Peer Mediated Instruction

For additional information on these interventions see these websites:

Teaching versus establishing instructional control

A prerequisite skill for learners to be accessible for learning new skills is their ability to demonstrate instructional control. This is demonstrated by a child’s ability to respond correctly to a given prompt under the instruction of an adult/teacher.

Establishing instructional control should be a primary focus for students in the educational environment. While gaining instructional control, the emphasis should not be on teaching new skills. Instead, use compliance based tasks to reinforce compliance (as defined above in the first/then contingency).

Students who struggle with compliance, even after being ‘under instructional control,’ often continue to exhibit behaviors within learning tasks. Since learning, holding their attention, and maintaining motivation for task demand is difficult, it is important to implement highly meaningful and engaging activities when teaching curriculum and standard based skills.

Considerations include:

  • Infusing hands-on activities, rather than worksheet or paper-pencil tasks
  • Emphasis on using real-life items and materials (i.e., real money or food)
  • Using thematic teaching to engage learners
  • Focusing instruction around specific areas of interest to increase motivation

  • How do I support my son being ready for Kindergarten when he has extreme behaviors at home and at school?


My son is 4 will be 5 in September. He was at a toddler center and then went to Pre- School for 2 months since he had a potty training issue - due to his age, he should be going to Kindergarten in September. He is now enrolled in a Summer Camp where they are getting him ready for Kindergarten, but he is not behaving as the other children are. He is throwing stuff at the kids and his teacher; he has even hit his teacher and his classmates! He does not explain what's wrong; something doesn't go his way and he will just throw whatever is close to him. His teacher says he gets on top of the table; he will cry and throw tantrums in class. If someone sits with him one on one, he will do everything they ask him, but it is when is left to work on his own that things just don't work out. I am trying to get a psycho-educational assessment through my local school district but they are off for the summer. I am trying to work with him at home, explaining it's not ok to hit his teacher and friends, it's not ok to throw stuff and he repeats what I say, but I just don't know if he understands it because it's been 3 weeks on the summer program and nothing has changed. What else can I do? Any help would be appreciated - Thank you!


Thank you for your question regarding your son’s interfering behavior. First, I think you are headed down the right path by requesting a psycho -educational assessment through the school district where your son attends. Put your request in writing and the school district should take it from there. Based on the behaviors that you are describing it may be important to further investigate what his learning and communication skills are, and how they may play a role in his behavior. I applaud you for getting an early start on this process for your son.

In respect to some recommendations for what you can do to support your son on a day to day basis, I would first like to discuss a different way to view your son’s behavior. Consider reframing viewing his ‘negative behavior’ from something that he is choosing to engage in, to thinking about it as his attempt to communicate a message that he is unable to do appropriately. Behavior is essentially communication that a child uses when they have not yet learned, or cannot yet control their impulses, emotional response, or the use language/communication effectively.

To understand what your son is trying to communicate with his behavior, we have to figure out what he is trying to say. The first step is to figure out the function, or cause, of the behavior. Begin by determining what happened right before and directly after the behavior. From your description, there seem to be several situations that affect your son’s behavior. For example:

  • Before behavior: when something does not go his way → After behavior: throws items
  • Before behavior: when an adults works 1:1 with him → After behavior: does not have behavior problems

In terms of behavior, we consider three functions (or causes) for most all behavior. They are:

  • To get something they want –This can be something tangible or attention
  • To escape or avoid something they do not want – Again tangible or attention
  • To communicate a need – which almost always connects to getting or escaping something

By pairing what you see with the idea of understanding the function of behavior you can begin the process of supporting your son. The initial descriptions of your son’s behavior are valuable; however, I would need more specific information to be able to more accurately determine what your son is trying to communicate. It appears that your son is attempting to express something with his actions, and if you can figure out what that is, you can then support him in getting his needs met in a more appropriate manner.

Once you have an idea as to what your son is communicating with his behavior, you can then listen to that message and address it. Here are a few recommendations to start:

  • Consider giving your son a picture or visual that displays the message that you think he is communicating, (i.e., I don’t want that, I need help, I need a break).
  • Teach your son what you want him to do when he is in the situation that leads to behavior problems. This can be done by showing him in the moment to either state what he needs or by using his visual.
  • Provide your son with lots of positive praise when he uses a more appropriate way of communicating than his aggressive behavior.
  • Avoid reprimanding him for negative behavior and avoid having him repeat scripts for appropriate behavior that he may not understand or be able to control-instead tell him what you want him to do and KEEP IT POSITIVE!!

This is some initial information and some basic steps that you can take to start to support your son in being more effective in communicating his needs without aggressive behavior. I urge you to stay positive and continue to follow-up with his school staff to work with a trained team to support his academic and behavior as he enters school.

Here are a few user friendly websites that you can explore to read more about behavior:

  • Elementary aged student with Seizure Disorder and Disruptive Behaviors


I am working with a student who has a complex seizure disorder, Lennox-Gastaut Syndrome.  He is very difficult to work with, and often engages in various off-task and non-compliant behaviors.  He is unable to particpate in most General Education Curriculum, and spends most of his time not following directions!  We have tried many different behavior interventions, but nothing seems to work. He is not making educational progress and often forgets what has already been taught. What behavior interventions would you recommend?


Since a response to your question involves both educational and medical issues, an education specialist and a behavioral pediatrician have collaborated to provide an answer. Your student’s Lennox-Gastaut Syndrome can be expected to have a significant impact on his ability to learn.  Further, the complexity of the condition explains why behavior interventions have not been more successful. 

When considering the premise of behavior intervention, the key to success lies in  the process of teaching a student how to not engage in one behavior while teaching them how to engage in a more appropriate behavior to replace that maladaptive behavior.  However, in this student’s case, the set of behaviors that he displays are likely not always volitional behaviors (are not within his control).  Consider the following factors when analyzing this student’s behaviors:

  • Lennox Gastaut syndrome is characterized by having multiple types of seizure activity. This may include grand mal seizures, which consist of rhythmic, repetitive tonic and clonic contractions involving the entire body.  Other seizure types resulting from abnormal electrical activity in the brain can present as blinking, repetititive jerky motor movements, smacking of the lips, various hand movements, staring spells, or experiencing feelings of tingling or numbness in the body.
  • When the student is experiencing seizure activity, his brain is not processing information that is being presented to him.  People who have seizures are typically amnestic (without memory) for events which were happening while the seizure activity was occurring.
  • The student is likely having multiple seizures at night while he is sleeping, as is common with Lennox Gastaut Syndrome.  In this case, the abnormal electrical activity would be expected to interfere with normal sleep and consequently could inhibit the process of memory consolidation.  This results in “losing” the new information that had been learned during the previous day.
  • Much of the behavior that the student is manifesting is likely related to his seizure disorder.  While having seizures or abnormal electrical discharges in his brain, the student may appear to be either non-responsive or “ignoring” directives.  At times, other seemingly “off task” behavior may be a manifestation of the abnormal electrical activity occurring in his brain.

In addition to seizures mimicking willfully non-compliant behaviors, the potential exists for prolonged recurring seizure activity to itself produce injury to brain neurons.  Regardless of its source, brain injury may result in the student exhibiting problems with his:

  • ability to inhibit actions/control impulses;
  • ability to synthesize information, make decisions, and integrate information;  (These difficulties can be anticipated when the injured brain includes the regions which are necessary for assessing a situation and deciding what is appropriate, recognizing what he should do/how he should react, and identifying what responses are appropriate.)
  • ability to regulate his behavior.

Behavior interventions designed to target volitional behaviors will be ineffective in decreasing the incidence of non-volitional behaviors (resulting from his seizure disorder).  Even the best reinforcement system or contingencies that may be highly motivating and meaningful would not be expected to alter his seizure-induced behaviors.  Additionally, it will be difficult to determine a replacement behavior for those behaviors that are not under his control, and such efforts may be perceived by him as being punitive and unfair. 

Notwithstanding this student’s medical condition, effective behavior interventions can be developed. Foremost, keep in mind:

  • That compassion and empathy will be important when working with the student
  • His performance will be inconsistent
  • Progress and retention will be slow and unsteady
  • Creating a meaningful and engaging curriculum that he can access will support more learning and less undesirable behavior!
To influence his behavior, a simple and immediate behavior system will be most effective. The vast majority of this student’s behavior, likely, is not willful; so that targeting skills in a traditional positive behavior support plan where he earns access to rewards for the absence of the behavior will not be successful for him.  Instead, consider developing a simplified behavior system where the student earns access to preferred items and rewards immediately after completing a task or responding appropriately to a directive. In evaluating the success of your system, consider that:
  • It is very difficult to distinguish between willful behavior and seizure-induced behaviors.  Whenever possible, give the benefit of the doubt by repeating a directive or instruction and giving him another opportunity to comply.
  • Being positive helps. Avoid scolding or telling the student what he hasn’t done correctly.  Frame directives in a positive way so that he feels like staff and family believe he can do what is being asked.
  • One step directions will lead to more success.  Immediately provide praise (verbal, receiving a token/star/stamp) following the completion of the direction.  Then proceed to giving the next step.
  • Chunking activities and tasks into short time periods enhances his chance for success. This student will likely need to earn a reinforcement (task/toy/activity), even if for brief periods, every 10-15 minutes.
    • Consider using a first/then board, coupled with tokens which can be earned frequently (every couple of minutes) to support his ability to successfully complete tasks. 
  • Earned tokens should not be taken away in response to lack of success.  If he is struggling with completing the task, first consider if the task is meaningful, appropriate, and engaging. Then, remember that this student’s medical condition may unpredictably affect his ability to be present and engaged.  Finally, continue to support him through the activity by providing positive prompting so that he ultimately experiences success.
  • His inability to make his body do what he wants may frustrate him.  When considering that frustration, recognize that behavior may also be his attempt to communicate when his body, speech, and brain are not cooperating.  Listening to those attempts allows his teachers to provide him with a more appropriate way to get his needs met.  This may be as simple as stating what you think he wants (i.e,” I think you are showing me that you don’t want to do this task”), getting a positive response from him (i.e., he says “yes”), and honoring that request when he makes it more appropriately. 

We hope this is helpful, and thank you for writing.

Tara Zombres, M.Ed., Education Specialist
John L. Digges, M.D., Ph.D., Behavioral Pediatrician