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What is Positive Behavior Support?

Updated April 22, 2015

“Positive behavior support is an applied science that uses educational methods to expand an individual’s behavior repertoire and systems change methods to redesign an individual’s living environment to first enhance the individual’s quality of life and, second, to minimize his or her problem behavior” (Carr, et al., 2002, p. 4).

Such support encompasses all strategies from an interdisciplinary perspective that increase a person’s competence in community based and inclusive settings. The essential goal of PBS is to eliminate the need for challenging behavior by increasing the person’s ability to meet his or her own needs. PBS has evolved from the philosophy and practice in three important sources in the disability services field. They are applied behavior analysis, the normalization/inclusion movement, and person-centered values. PBS includes these nine essential components:

  • Comprehensive Lifestyle Change and Quality of Life: Rather than the focus of PBS being reduction of problem behavior, the focus is instead on increased quality of life for the focus person. By default, when individuals access more satisfying lifestyles, they have less necessity for challenging behavior to meet their needs.
  • Life Span Perspective: While there may be a specific time during which a person experiences challenges, the PBS process recognizes the ongoing needs of a person from a life span lens. Consequently, a person may occasionally require higher intensity of support and regular updating of their plan as a result of the changing circumstances of their life.
  • Ecological Validity: PBS is not intended to be a laboratory science, but a practical, field-based science with a high degree of applicability to ‘real-life settings.’ Thus, in place of highly controlled experimental settings, PBS supports an approach that involves typical intervention agents in typical settings for longer periods of time in all relevant venues.
  • Stakeholder Participation: Rather than an expert driven model, PBS is a stakeholder driven model. Thus, rather than analysts, PBS requires skilled individuals who will facilitate teams toward their own interventions that value the person and incorporates the values of the community. It is the merging of a skilled team facilitator who has a high degree of expertise in supporting individuals using the principles of applied behavior analysis in community-based inclusive settings that sets PBS apart from the direct application of behavior analytic strategies.
  • Validity: Simply put, this component demands that interventions be practical for the average team member to implement. Thus it is essential that PBS plans be evaluated against such criteria as the team members’ judgement of the plan’s practicality, desirability, goodness of fit with their values, and subjective effectiveness with respect to the person’s problem behavior, and quality of life.
  • Systems Change and Multicomponent Intervention: The central focus of PBS is not on fixing problem behavior, but on changing environmental contexts in which problem behavior is most likely to occur. Thus meaningful plans include a combination of antecedent strategies, teaching new replacement and adaptive behavior, and consequential strategies to increase adaptive behavior.
  • Emphasis on Prevention: PBS proposes the best time to change a problem behavior is before it occurs. This proactive approach to problem behavior is quite divergent from other approaches that rely on consequences and crisis driven strategies.
  • Flexibility with Respect to Scientific Practices: As an experimental science, PBS strives to find the balance between controlled experimental conditions and the lack of control in applied settings. Thus there is encouragement to use correctional and naturalistic observations in place of repeated manipulation of independent variables over time.
  • Multiple Theoretical Perspectives: PBS draws on the science of multiple fields including systems analysis, ecological psychology, applied behavior analysis, community psychology, sociology, social work, and disability studies among other fields.

    In sum, positive behavior support is a scientifically validated practice that seeks to increase a person’s competence in community-based settings with peers of the person’s choosing through the application of behavioral techniques which, by default, results in a decrease in challenging behaviors.