Writing Behavior Plans Pt. II

Disclaimer: The information in this post is intended to be a general guide to composing a behavior intervention plan. Behavior plans must be an individualized, needs-specific process. As a parent or professional, please avoid “paint -by -number” guides to writing behavior plans. Various funding sources or employers may have different requirements for behavior plans, so trying to stick too closely to a formula definitely wont help you. 

I didn't intend for my first post on Behavior Plans to be a 2-parter, but recently I have become aware that many people could use assistance with writing up plans for how to intervene on behaviors. Including newly certified BCBA's :-)

I also know that BCBA's are not the only people writing these things. If you are an Educator, Program Director, Counselor, Mental health professional, etc., and you came here looking for some tips for behavior plans then I hope to be helpful.

Before I can be helpful though, let's just clear up a few things:

  • A behavior plan is not what you think it is. During your first step of selecting target behaviors and determining function (if that was not your first step, start over), you should have come up with some hypotheses of what's maintaining the problem behavior. In other words, what is the function? So think of the behavior plan as just a written Function Based Intervention. Truly, that's all it is. People get intimidated or lost in embedding graphs, language style, sections, headers, etc., when what is most important is connecting function --->to---> treatment. The skills of selecting target behaviors, measuring behavior, analyzing data, and creating specific strategies are required in order to write up an effective behavior plan. So if you do not possess these skills or any behavior analytic knowledge, or have no access to a BCBA who can consult with you, then you likely are not the ideal person to be writing up a behavior plan. And here's my next point-----
  • Everyone who has responsibility for creating behavior plans, is not necessarily a BCBA. If a non- BCBA is in the position of creating a behavior plan they can still choose to do so in an ethical manner, with evidence based recommendations, and under the close guidance of a BCBA when needed.  I  recommend consulting with a BCBA/seeking out assistance before trying to go it on your own. As explained in the previous tip, simply writing something down on paper does not a behavior plan make. If the goal is to reduce or modify behaviors with long lasting effects, then its imperative the author of the behavior plan has behavior analytic knowledge/access to a BCBA.
  • The behavior plan is not for you. As a Supervisor and Consultant, I spend a good amount of time critiquing and editing other people's behavior plans. A common mistake I notice is writing a "limousine" level plan, that will be handed off to "bicycle" level staff. By that I mean if you are working with entry level staff who received minimal training, you cannot/should not write some 12 page and highly technical intervention for them to follow. Particularly if the funding source does not allow for you to follow up with the staff to supervise, train, and support them. Don't set the staff up for failure.

With those tips out of the way, consider the following a helpful cheat sheet for any professional who has anxiety about creating behavior plans. Like any other behavior analytic strategy, behavior plan writing is a skill that will take time to learn and enhance. Between this post and the Part I, you should be good to go.

 Be patient with yourself, and when in doubt always review the literature (Behavior Analytic journals, that is). Reading what others tried and found effective, will help you develop a knowledge base of how to approach problem behaviors. Good luck!

First Things First: Summarize the Functional Behavior Assessment or Functional Analysis results (those beautiful graphs), describe the client, and identify the plan author. This will vary depending on where you work, but usually there will be some table or chart at the top of the plan that covers most of this information. Below that, there will be some type of summative data of the selected behaviors (baseline data), and possibly a brief summary of how the behaviors were measured.
What’s the Problem?: Don't forget to clearly and objectively define each behavior selected for intervention, aka this is where the Operational Definition goes. Common mistakes I see in this section are an entire list of problem behaviors (which will lead to a bulky and highly challenging behavior plan), vague descriptions of the behavior, and subjective terminology. For example: "Sally has tantrums whenever she gets mad at someone". Who is someone? What does "get mad" look like? What does "get mad" NOT include? If a stranger could not read your plan and know what the problem behavior looks like, then the definition is not clear enough. 
Get to the WHY: Function is the name of the game. If you have written up behavior plans that make no mention of why the problem behavior occurs, you have absolutely missed the mark. All recommended interventions should be based on the function, so without identifying the function there is no behavior plan. Again, language used in this section should be clear, objective, concise, and behavior analytic. If you don’t know how to write using behavior analytic terms, then you should be consulting with a BCBA as you create the plan.
Set Goals: Is the behavior going to decrease in frequency? Duration? Severity? Is it going to be replaced completely? Clearly spell out the expected goals for the problem behavior, in order to modify the plan over time. Behavior plans are not intended to be in place for eternity. As problem behaviors reduce/improve, the plan should be regularly updated based on mastery of behavioral goals.
Get to the HOW: This is the section where you connect function to treatment. Example, “Mickey Mouse’s aggression is maintained by escape/avoidance, therefore here is how to a) teach other methods to request escape, and b) no longer reinforce escaping tasks”. The how section includes both before and after strategies (Antecedent & Consequent strategies), and if necessary: the Crisis Plan.
DANGER: Crisis Plan time---Are any of the behaviors dangerous, intense, or potentially harmful? Keep in mind, even mild level dangerous behaviors (like breath holding for 5 seconds) could possibly worsen due to the Extinction Burst. A crisis plan should be included if problem behaviors are, or could become, harmful to the individual, property, or another person. Ethically, the staff/parent must be trained on the crisis plan and the crisis plan should include evidence based strategies.
Remember the Audience: If the behavior plan will be handed off to a parent, a layperson, or minimally trained staff/non-ABA staff, then this should set the tone of the plan. Avoid jargon, give clear examples, and be prepared to train the staff on implementation of the plan. Even highly trained or credentialed ABA staff often need assistance with implementing behavior plans, so your job is not done once you put a plan in writing. Writing the intervention down does not mean people will magically follow it.
Copy & Paste = Bad: Behavior plans (like skill acquisition programs, prompt levels, etc.) should be individualized to the learner/client, as well as follow the procedures outlined by the employer or funding source. This means that if you work at ABC school in Texas, you should not be copying behavior plans from the XYZ school in Virginia. That just isn’t how this works. Behavior change is highly specific, and also the people implementing the plan will influence how the plan is written. Doing a quick internet search will yield many results of sample behavior plans, but do remember that a sample is only a starting point. The hard work of literature review, reading over the ethical guidelines, discussing possible interventions with appropriate stakeholders, and considering the needs of the individual, all need to happen in a systematic manner.


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