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What is Positive Behavior Support?


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Definition of Positive Behavior Support (PBS)


Positive Behavior Support: Evolution of an Applied Science

Carr, E.G., Dunlap, G., Horner, R.H., Koegel, R.L., Turnbull, A., Sailor, W., Anderson, J., Albin, R., Koegel, L.K., & Fox, L. (2002). Journal of Positive Behavior Interventions, 4(1), 4-16. Copyright (2002) by PRO-ED, Inc. Adapted with permission.

You may download this article to make single a copy for your own use. If you wish to make copies for distribution, please contact the Journal of Positive Behavior Interventions. This article is highlighted here as it is a foundational article on PBS.


What is Positive Behavior Support?

Positive Behavior Support (PBS) is a set of research-based strategies used to increase quality of life and decrease problem behavior by teaching new skills and making changes in a person's environment. Positive behavior support combines:

Valued Outcomes

In the past, intervention strategies were designed to decrease problem behavior without considering how these interventions might affect other areas of an individual's life. A single intervention, implemented to reduce problem behavior, often resulted in narrowly focused behavior support plans. The effectiveness of today's behavior support plan is judged by different standards. Positive behavior support (PBS) strategies are considered effective when interventions result in increases in an individual's success and personal satisfaction, and the enhancement of positive social interactions across work, academic, recreational, and community settings. Valued outcomes include increases in quality of life as defined by an individual's unique preferences and needs and positive lifestyle changes that increase social belonging.


Behavioral and Biomedical Science

Positive behavior support is based upon behavioral and biomedical science. Research in applied behavior analysis has demonstrated the importance of analyzing the interaction between behavior and the environment. From this perspective, behavior is considered purposeful and is under the control of environmental factors that can be changed. Positive behavior support assessment and intervention strategies are based upon research in applied behavior analysis and emphasize the importance of implementing intervention strategies that are effective in natural everyday settings.

Positive behavior support assessment and intervention strategies are also based on biomedical science. In the past, behavioral and psychiatric interventions have often been managed separately with very little collaboration between behavior consultants and medical personnel. Information related to an individual's psychiatric state and the knowledge of other biological factors can assist professionals in understanding the interaction between the physiological and environmental factors that influence behavior.


Validated Procedures

Individual interventions in applied behavior analysis have been validated using a research method called single subject design. Single subject designs are very effective when studying a small number of variables that influence a person's behavior. However, professionals often implement multiple interventions while dealing with numerous variables in complex and ever-changing systems. As a result, a number of different research strategies are needed to evaluate a behavior support plan's success. These strategies move beyond single subject experiments that isolate one variable while holding all others constant. Positive behavior support professionals implement system-level interventions to ensure the success of multiple interventions while working within everyday settings. Data collected to evaluate positive behavior support outcomes can include program evaluation measures, qualitative research, surveys, rating scales, interviews, correlational analyses, direct observation, and self-report information.


Systems Change

Many excellent positive behavior support plans are never implemented because of problems that are related to how a PBS plan was developed. These problems can be related to resource allocation, staff development issues, team building and collaboration, and the extent to which a positive behavior support plan is a good fit for the people who will implement it. Assessment and intervention strategies that consider the larger environment within an organization or home are needed in order to ensure the success of a positive behavior support plan.


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

School-wide and Organization-wide PBS

Positive behavior support is a community based approach that involves learning more about the environment in which a child or adult lives, and working collaboratively with everyone in that setting to design strategies for promoting positive social and communication skills. Preventing problem behavior becomes the focus of planning for larger groups so that all children and adults within a setting are interacting in positive and meaningful ways.

The triangle below provides a way to think about systems change in positive behavior support. A systems-wide approach to PBS means that strategies for teaching social and communication skills and for reinforcing those skills are established so that all of the children or adults within a setting are receiving support in a preventative manner. In addition, plans are made to make sure everyone is consistent when responding to the occurrence of problem behavior. Strategies that address all children within a school, or all of the adults in a community setting are referred to as Primary Prevention strategies.

However, some children or adults may need additional support to be successful. Creating strategies for the early identification of children and adults in need of additional support is a critical part of positive behavior support. Intervening early and providing extra individualized or targeted group instruction in social and communication skills and changing the environment in ways that prevent problem behavior is an important part of Secondary Prevention strategies. Finally, a more comprehensive and individualized positive behavior support plan may be needed to ensure a child or adult receives that support needed to be successful and happy and to decrease the occurrence of problem behavior. These strategies are referred to as Tertiary Prevention.

Although PBS implementation may look different in early childhood settings, in public schools, or working with adults with disabilities, the systems and processes are similar.


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