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TABLE 1–1 Questions to consider before identifying behavior as challenging

  • 1. Does the behavior interfere with the student’s learning?
  • 2. Does the behavior interfere with other students’ learning?
  • 3. Does the behavior interfere with or impede social relationships?
  • 4. Does the behavior have a negative impact on the student’s self-esteem?
  • 5. Is the behavior harmful or dangerous to the student?
  • 6. Is the behavior harmful or dangerous to other individuals?
  • 7. Does the behavior occur frequently or infrequently?
  • 8. Is the behavior age appropriate?

Client’s/Student’s name: ___________________________________________

Date: _______________

Person completing worksheet: _________________________________________________

Rater’s relationship to client/student: ____________________________________________

Directions: Use the key below to rank each potential target behavior by the extent to which it meets or fulfills each prioritization criteria. Add each team member’s ranking of each potential target behavior. The behaviors with the highest total scores would presumably be the highest priority for intervention. Other criteria relevant to a particular program or individual’s situation can be added, and the criteria can be differentially weighted.

Key: 0 = No or Never; 1= Rarely; 2 = Maybe or Sometimes; 3 = Probably or Usually; 4 = Yes or Always

target behavior

Potential Target Behavior

(1)_____ (2)_____ (3)_____ (4)_____

Does this behavior pose danger to the person or to others? 01234 01234 01234 01234
How many opportunities will the person have to use this new skill in the natural environment? Or How often does the problem behavior occur? 01234 01234 01234 01234
How long-standing is the problem or skill deficit? 01234 01234 01234 01234
Will changing this behavior produce a higher rate of reinforcement for the person? 01234 01234 01234 01234
What is the relative importance of this target behavior to future skill development and independent functioning? 01234 01234 01234 01234
Will changing this behavior reduce negative or unwanted attention from others? 01234 01234 01234 01234
Will changing this behavior produce reinforcement for significant others? 01234 01234 01234 01234
How likely is success in changing this behavior? 01234 01234 01234 01234
How much will it cost to change this behavior? 01234 01234 01234 01234

Totals _____ _____ _____ _____

CASE STUDY: Develop an Intervention Plan

Your job for this case study is to develop an intervention plan based on the function of behavior. The case study will provide a brief description of the student, the student’s classroom setting, and an ABC recording chart presenting the antecedents and setting events (context) related to the behavior and the consequences that follow it. The case study also identifies the function of challenging behavior and provides a rationale for selecting that function.

After reading the case study, you will have the opportunity to develop a comprehensive intervention plan to decrease challenging behavior and increase appropriate behavior that will replace the challenging behavior.

In developing your intervention plans, you should consider changing the antecedents and setting events, as well as the consequences.


Matt is a five-year-old student who attends a half-day regular education kindergarten program. This is his first school experience. There are 21 other students in his classroom, one teacher, and one teaching assistant who is assigned to the classroom because of other students who have IEPs. However, the assistant also works with Matt due to his challenging behavior.

Matt’s teacher describes him as an alert student who tries to participate in all academic and social activities and routines. He likes peers and often tries to interact with them; however, his initiations are a bit rough, and many peers are afraid of him and avoid interacting with him.

Matt’s favorite activities are dramatic play, art and writing activities, and activities that involve gross-motor skills.

Matt exhibits several behaviors that concern his teacher, Mrs. Yellin-Clarke. She feels that these behaviors interfere with Matt’s learning and progress and those of other students in the classroom. For example, Matt often rocks wildly in his chair, puts materials and fingers in his mouth, seeks hugs from adults and peers, and constantly changes position or moves to different locations during activities. He also often will leave activities and begin a different, self-selected activity.

Mrs. Yellin-Clarke says that Matt also has trouble waiting in line or for his turn during activities. He often runs during transition instead of putting materials away and following transition routines. Finally, Mrs. Yellin-Clarke indicates that Matt does not follow whole-class instructions and often takes much individual attention from her or the assistant to begin an activity, continue working on an activity, and behave appropriately during an activity.

She feels that the amount of time Matt requires reduces the amount of time that she should be devoting to other students. Mrs. Yellin-Clarke believes that the behaviors she has described warrant placement in a self-contained special education classroom. She has referred Matt for special education evaluation. As part of the multidisciplinary case study evaluation, Dr. Calder conducts a functional assessment of Matt’s behavior.

The following information is a sample of Dr. Calder’s observations using the ABC recording form:

Antecedents and Setting Events Behavior Consequence
Group acting out the “Three Little Pigs” story Participates as the wolf Group praise, movement
Second group acting out a story Rocks in place, talks to teacher Told to sit still and be quiet
Third group acting out a story Leaves carpet area, begins to play with puzzles Left alone
Open-center activity Selects woodworking area, science center, then makes mailbox in literacy center Left alone, tactile, movement stimulation
Teacher suggests Matt work in reading area or on the computer Refuses to work in these centers Left alone
Teacher reading story to whole class using large book, unison responding Listens, rocks on floor, puts fingers in mouth, shouts answers with group Movement, auditory, oral, tactile stimulation
Recess, peers playing on the jungle gym Runs to peers, jumps on top of Gretchen, hugs her Gretchen cries, peers yell, teacher “rescues” Gretchen, tells Matt to play somewhere else
Told to play elsewhere Runs to boys playing ball and joins game Peer interaction, movement
Art activity On task Praise, completes project, hangs project on wall
Transition to next activity, whole class given instructions regarding matching worksheet Runs in classroom, sits at desk, no pencil, raps fingers on desk Redirection, movement, teacher tells him to go get a pencil
Teacher tells him to go get a pencil Skips to pencil box, gets pencil, skips back to desk Teacher tells him to begin working
Teacher tells him to begin working Rocks in chair, taps pencil on paper Teacher shows how to do a problem, stays with him as he completes worksheet
Recess Plays on climbing equipment, runs, swings, plays ball Movement, tactile stimulation
Following recess, one-toone activity with assistant Rocks, shakes head side to side, tries to leave area Repeated instructions, reprimand
Repeated instructions Refuses, leaves area, plays with class hamster Assistant talks to teacher, leaves him alone

The function of Matt’s challenging behavior is sensory regulation/sensory stimulation increase. Matt’s challenging behavior typically produces sensory input such as movement, auditory, tactile, and oral stimulation. He engages in challenging behavior during passive and unstructured activities in which he is not actively involved or is expected to wait, sit quietly, or listen.

He also seeks very stimulating materials and activities during free-choice periods such as recess and open centers and refuses to engage in passive activities during these free-choice periods. The sensory regulation/sensory stimulation increase function also was identified because Matt engages in appropriate behavior during activities with high levels of stimulation. For example, his behavior was appropriate when his group acted out the “Three Little Pigs” story.

In addition to seeking activities that are highly stimulating and increasing stimulation during passive activities, Matt exhibits problems with sensory regulation. For example, he was not able to calm or reduce his level of stimulation following recess (a very active activity) to the level of stimulation needed to participate in the more passive one-to-one activity with the teaching assistant.

Although Matt’s challenging behavior often results in attention or interaction with a peer or adult, the function of his behavior is not positive reinforcement. If it were positive reinforcement (i.e., attention, in this case), he would continue to seek attention when he is left alone. He does not consistently do this. Therefore, it is likely that the attention or interaction that he receives functions as a form of stimulation. When that form of stimulation is not available, Matt simply seeks a different form of stimulation such as rocking or running.

Negative reinforcement was not selected as the function of his challenging behavior because although Matt often left activities, this behavior consistently occurred only after he had participated in the activity for a period of time, and it always followed attempts to produce stimulation through less active means such as rocking or mouthing objects. If escape from activities were the function, he would engage in challenging behavior at the start of potentially aversive activities.

The activities themselves were not aversive for Matt. Rather, it was the passive stimulation level of the activities that was important (i.e., he needed higher levels of stimulation). In other words, the consistent antecedent variable was not a particular activity but rather the level of stimulation provided by the activity. On the other side of the behavior equation, Matt’s behavior did not always result in escape or termination of an activity. Rather, it resulted in a change in the level of stimulation within the activity.

Target Behavior Psychology

  • In designing an intervention plan to address Matt’s behavior, you should match the function of his behavior. In other words, the intervention should, in part at least, allow Matt to achieve the same function as he currently achieves through challenging behavior. Your intervention plan also should address what will happen if/when challenging behavior does occur.
  • Finally, in addition to addressing appropriate replacement behaviors and the supports for those behaviors, you also should think about how to change antecedent conditions so you can prevent Matt from engaging in challenging behavior. Reread the goals of intervention when the function of challenging behavior is sensory stimulation/sensory regulation as you develop an intervention plan to address Matt’s behavior.

Prioritizing Target Behavior Psychology

The patient, Matt, was found to alert and willing to engage in social and academic activities, however, his approach to social activities leads to his peers avoiding playing with him. One of the causes of their response to him is his inappropriate social greetings, as he approaches his potential playmates in a rough manner such that they are afraid of playing with him (Han et al., 2019). Furthermore, the patient seeks to hug his peers as well as adults and moves constantly during the class activities.

This has led to the patient developing affinity for self-selected activities, whereby he has absolute control of his play sessions. Matt is a socially interested child, who is yet to understand the meaning, context, and norm of greetings. It is also important to mention that the fact that he keeps hugs his peers and adults cannot be solely be attributed to his preference for gross motor skills, and instead of an attempt to connect with the people around him socially. Matt’s rocking behaviors are also very interesting especially due to their impact on his learning progress as well as that of the people around him (White et al., 2018).

This behavior begins when he is passive, this indicating that the predominant cause for his problematic behaviors is his inability to cope with the learning environment. The rocking behavior could indicate boredom, or even the patient having attention deficiency and hyperactive disorder (ADHD).

Another passive behavior that the patient avoids is reading, but he does not refuse to do work that involves his active participation, for example acting as the work, in the story of three pigs. However, the rocking behavior along with inappropriate greeting, are both indications of a mild form of autism (Maynard et al., 2019).

TABLE 1–1 Questions to consider before identifying behavior as challenging

  1. Does the behavior interfere with the student’s learning?
  2. Rocking stereotype.
  3. Refusal to do work.
  4. Inappropriate social greetings.
  5. Does the behavior interfere with other students’ learning?
  6. Rocking stereotype.
  7. Inappropriate social greetings.
  8. Refusal to do work.
  9. Does the behavior interfere with or impede social relationships?
  10. Rocking stereotype.
  11. Inappropriate social greetings.
  12. Refusal to do work.
  13. Does the behavior harm the student’s self-esteem?
  14. Rocking stereotype.
  15. Inappropriate social greetings.
  16. Refusal to do work.
  17. Is the behavior harmful or dangerous to the student?
  18. Rocking stereotype.
  19. Inappropriate social greetings.
  20. Refusal to do work.
  21. Is the behavior harmful or dangerous to other individuals?
  22. Rocking stereotype.
  23. Inappropriate social greetings.
  24. Refusal to do work.
  25. Does the behavior occur frequently or infrequently?
  26. Rocking stereotype.
  27. Inappropriate social greetings.
  28. Refusal to do work.
  29. Is the behavior age-appropriate?
  30. Rocking stereotype.
  31. Inappropriate social greetings.
  32. Refusal to do work.

In this part, the inappropriate behaviors were ranked based on the criteria provided in Table 1-1. The most problematic behavior, the rocking stereotype, had the most impact on the student as well as his peers. This would be ranked as the most problematic behavior of the three. I also exposed the student and his peer to harm, as he could hurt himself and others while making the rocking movements (Han et al., 2019).

Inappropriate greetings had an impact on the students’ social relationships as well as self-esteem. The three potential behaviors were found to be inappropriate for the student’s age, given the fact that this was not as common in Matt’s class. Inappropriate social greetings, rocking stereotypes, and refusal to do work were all found to be challenging behaviors.

Inappropriate social greetings: 25

Appropriate greetings would pose no harm to Matt and his peers thus score 0. It however occurs frequently thus attached a score of 3. In terms of the long-standing skill deficits, inappropriate behavior would score 3. An appropriate social greeting is very relevant to the fact that mat would be autistic, thus leading to a score of 4. The changing of this behavior would reduce the negative impact from others and thus assigned a score of 4. Changing these behaviors would lead to reinforcement from others and thus assigned a score of 4. It is highly likely to change Matt’s behavior, an aspect with a score of 4; however, it may be expensive leading to a score of 3.

Rocking stereotype: 19

Rocking behavior exposes Matt and his peer to harm, aspects assigned a score of 2, at Matt is likely to hurt himself or his peers even though this is not expected to make severe consequences on either. Matt engages in rocking behavior during most of the passive learning activities, an aspect assigned a score of 3. The behavior is not very longstanding as it changes as soon as the class activity changes leading to a score of 1.

Matts Rocking behavior does not lead to high reinforcement leading to a score of 3. For matt to develop accordingly the rocking behavior has to be eliminated, thus assigned a score of 4. Rocking behavior does not lead to reinforcement from others and thus assigned a score of 1. It is highly likely to change rocking behavior and thus assigned a score of 3, something that is less costly leading to a score of 2.

Refusal to do work: 16

This behavior does not expose Matt and others leading to a threat leading to a score of 0. Matt often refuses to work leading to a score of 3. This behavior is long-standing in all passive activities leading to a score of 3 and produces high rates of reinforcement leading to a score of 3. The behavior is of relative importance to Matt’s future and thus assigned a score of 3.

By changing this behavior, Matt’s social relationships are not likely to change thus assigned a score of 0. It is highly likely to be successful in any attempt to change the behavior, thus a score of 4. Refusal to do work is not a costly behavior to change and thus assigned a score of 0.

Part three of this assignment has illustrated that the ranking of Matt’s potential challenging behaviors is as follows:

  1. Inappropriate social greeting
  2. Rocking stereotype
  3. Refusal to do work

Target Behavior Psychology


Han, Q., Jia, Z., Xu, K., Zhou, Y., & Du, X. (2019). Hysteretic behavior investigation of self-centering double-column rocking piers for seismic resilience. Engineering Structures188, 218-232.

Maynard, B. R., Heyne, D., Brendel, K. E., Bulanda, J. J., Thompson, A. M., & Pigott, T. D. (2018). Treatment for school refusal among children and adolescents: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Research on Social Work Practice28(1), 56-67.

White, J., Caniglia, C., McLaughlin, T. F., & Bianco, L. (2018). The Effects of Social Stories and a Token Economy on Decreasing Inappropriate Peer Interactions with a Middle School Student. Learning Disabilities: A Contemporary Journal16(1), 75-86.