Challenging Behavior

Any repeated pattern of behavior, or perception of behavior, that interferes with or is at risk of interfering with optimal learning or engagement in prosocial interactions with peers and adults. Challenging behavior is thus defined on the basis of its effects. While some children’s challenging behaviors are developmentally normative and effectively addressed by adult vigilance, persistent challenging behavior and the use of appropriate guidance procedures highlight that all levels of the Pyramid are in place.

Classroom Management

Procedures and instructional techniques that are used to establish the classroom environments so that learning can occur. Management strategies are based on understanding how the classroom environment can be used to best accommodate student needs.

Classroom PBS

Refers to the level of behavior support that reflects school-wide expectations for student behavior and applies preplanned strategies within the classroom setting.


An ongoing, outcome focused approach to improving intervention practices by providing opportunities to observe practices, implement with support and eventually implement independently. Coaching refers more specifically to on-site and in-vivo guidance provided by a consulting professional in order to help a practitioner (parent, teacher, child care professional) learn to implement an intervention procedure with fidelity.

Collaborative Consultation

The systematic process of cooperatively problem-solving with others for the purpose of solving an identified problem. In this model, each participant in the consultation is considered equal (i.e., a nonhierarchical model) and capable of using their expertise in solving the problem. Therefore, the goal of collaborative consultation is to problem solve in creating mutually agreed upon solution(s) to the problem, as well as improving the knowledge and skills of the consultee.

Communication Skills

The set of skills that enables a person to convey information so that it is received and understood. Communication skills refer to the repertoire of behaviors that serve to convey information for the student.

Community-wide PBS (CW-PBS)

Refers to a communitywide system of support intended for all students, staff, and settings.


A stimulus (i.e. a verbal response, the acquisition of a reinforcing item or activity) that contingently follows a behavior. For instance, if a little girl’s crying results in attention from her teachers, then teacher attention would be considered a consequence that followed the crying behavior. Events that follow the behavior and act to maintain, increase, or decrease the behavior.

Consequence-Based Interventions

Strategies that address the stimuli (i.e. a verbal response, the acquisition of a reinforcing item or an activity) that contingently follow a behavior. Two strategies can be used when problem behavior occurs more frequently than appropriate behavior: increase reinforcement for appropriate behavior, and decrease reinforcement received for engaging in problem behavior.

Criterion level

How well the child should perform a skill. The criterion level can be determined based on time, latency, duration, or frequency, as well as qualitative indicators.

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Direct Assessment Strategies

A variety of tools that involve observing a student to clearly identify when problem behaviors occur, what happens right before a problem behavior, what the problem behavior looks like, and how people respond to the occurrence of problem behavior. Direct observation data help develop a hypothesis statement about why problem behavior occurs, and confirm that the hypothesis is correct.

Direct Observation

Observing the student to clearly identify when problem behaviors occur, what happens right before a problem behavior, what the problem behavior looks like, and how people respond to the occurrence of problem behavior. Direct observation data help you develop a hypothesis statement about why problem behavior occurs, and confirm that your hypothesis is correct.


The time elapsed between the beginning and ending of a targeted event. The recorder may be interested in the length of time a specific behavior occurs.

Duration Recording

The measurement and documentation of how long a specified behavior lasts. This system is often used when behaviors are continuous rather than short discrete events.

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Early Childhood Self-Assessment

The Early Childhood Program Self-Assessment is a three-part series designed for program staff and/or teams to assess the level of implementation of best practices for promoting Social and Emotional competence in young children. It is recommended that the three parts of the self-assessment (e.g., 1. Getting Ready, 2. Getting Set, and 3. Go) be used in sequence to assess program practices and in preparation for further implementation of the Teaching Pyramid.

Elements of Intensive Intervention

1. Behavior support team: A team, which may include the teacher, paraprofessional, parents, mental health consultant, and others involved in the child’s life, is created to identify the goals of intervention.
2. Functional behavior assessment: A data gathering process that provides information about the purpose of the child’s challenging behavior.
3. Hypotheses development: Identification of the challenging behavior in terms of the, description of the challenging behavior, responses that maintain the challenging behaviors, purpose(s) of behavior).
4. Behavior support plan: The design of the plan is simplified to include 4 elements:
(a) Hypotheses: The best guess as to the function(s) of the child’s challenging behavior
(b) Prevention strategies: Strategies that help the child manage behaviors within the natural context.
(c) Replacement skills: Skills explicitly taught throughout the day to replace challenging behaviors
(d) Responses: Adult behaviors that will occur in response to the child’s challenging behaviors.
5. Implementing, monitoring, and evaluating outcomes.
6. Refining the plan as necessary.

Embedded Instruction

Inserting planned, individualized teaching into children’s ongoing activities, routines, and transitions in a way that relates to the context of what the child is doing. It involves distributing opportunities to use teaching strategies for the child’s objectives throughout the regular routines of the day.

Emergency Procedures

A set of consequence-based intervention strategies used to help keep a child safe. Used when the child’s behavior presents a danger to self and/or others. These procedures are not designed for long-term use; they are only designed to keep the child safe and out of harm’s way. Should be included in all behavior support plans when challenging behaviors pose a potential safety threat.

Emotional Literacy

The ability to give word meaning (e.g., angry, frustrated, happy, proud) to one’s emotions. Children who have larger “emotional” vocabularies tend to have less problem behavior.


Children actively manipulating materials, participating in an activity, or interacting with others in appropriate ways.


Evidence is information that leads to confirmation or proof that supports a claim. When program teams are asked to list “evidence,” the expectation is that there will be tangible facts or data that help support their claim. Evidence is observable and measurable.

Evidence-based Practice

Refers to the use of interventions and supports that have research documenting their effectiveness. The identification of evidence-based practices promotes the use of approaches that are linked to positive outcomes for children and families. Practices that are considered evidence-based are ones that have been demonstrated as effective within multiple research studies that document similar outcomes offer the following operational definition of evidence-based practice that is particularly meaningful for the field of early education and intervention.


A list of specific, positively worded behaviors that is desired of all faculty and students (also referred to as concepts).

Expert Model Consultation

A form of consultation which considers the problem to be within the child. It involves the role of an “expert,” who is solely responsible for diagnosing and prescribing treatment for the abnormal symptom or problem identified within the child.


Reinforcement is withheld from a previously reinforced behavior and therefore the behavior decreases. The goal of withholding reinforcement is to decrease the target behavior.

Extinction Burst

A temporary increase in the frequency, duration, or intensity of the challenging behavior.

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The systematic, gradual removal of prompts that promotes an independent, un-cued response from a learner.

Family-centered practice

A way of working with families, both formally and informally, across service systems to enhance their capacity to care for and protect their children.


A framework is intended for individualization of practice, based upon the identified program elements (i.e., program setting, staffing, child needs, self-assessed program needs, etc).


The number of times a behavior occurs in a specified observation period.


In young children, friendship is the reciprocal sharing of toys and materials, helping each other, organizing play episodes and sharing affection.


The consequences that are related to maintaining the occurrence of a behavior. Documented functions of problem behavior include (a) attention, (b) desire for activities or items, (c) escape from attention or activities, and (d) escape from or obtain physiological stimulation. Purpose or reason the behavior occurred.

Functional Analysis

Documenting a functional relationship between the occurrence of problem behavior, antecedent, and consequence events through direct observation and the systematic manipulation of environmental events.

Functional Assessment

Also known as Functional Behavioral Assessment. The process of collecting information in order to develop hypothesis statements regarding the variables that maintain and predict problem behavior. Functional assessment strategies include indirect assessment methods, direct observation, and functional analysis.

Function of behavior

Purpose the behavior serves for the child. Children’s behavior usually serves one of two primary functions: to obtain something or to avoid something.

Functional communication

Involves being able to communicate in a way that is readily understood by the listener and that achieves the communicative intent of the communicator.

Functional communication training

A procedure in which a desirable, communicative behavior is taught as a replacement for a challenging behavior, with the critical feature being that the replacement behavior serves the same function as the challenging behavior.

Functional goal

A specific behavior that is needed by the child to participate more independently in a particular activity or routine.

Functional Relationship

A relationship between a behavior and an environmental event (or events) in which the occurrence of the behavior is controlled by the occurrence of the environmental event.

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The use of a newly learned skill in a setting that is different than the setting in which the skill was initially learned. A phase of learning that involves the use of a skill outside the context in which it was initially acquired. When observing and assessing behavior, generalization is often thought of as performing a behavior in another setting, with other people, and/or with materials different from those used in the instructional setting

Graduated guidance

A response prompting procedure used with chained behaviors (a series of behaviors sequenced together to form a more complex skill). It involves prompting the child with the amount and intensity of prompts needed to ensure that the behaviors occur and immediately removing those prompts (but reapplying them as needed) to ensure that the series of behaviors are done correctly. As the child becomes more proficient, the adult “shadows” (follows) the child, and applies and removes prompts as necessary.

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An end product or summary of the functional assessment. A hypothesis statement provides information about environmental events that may increase the likelihood of problem behavior, the environmental events that precede problem behavior, and the probable function of the problem behavior.

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Implementation Fidelity

Implementation fidelity refers to the degree in which an intervention or practice is delivered as intended. In delivering evidence-based practices it is crucial that intervention agents deliver practices in a fashion that does not vary from how the practices were originally performed in research studies.

Incidental Teaching

Teaching that takes place in response to a child’s initiation and based on a child’s interest. When the child initiates, the adult requests more elaborate behavior. If more elaborate behavior is forthcoming from the child, the adult praises the child and responds to the content of the child’s initiation. If more elaborate behavior is not forthcoming, the adult prompts the child, allows the child to respond, and then responds to the content of the child’s initiation.


A school reform movement that involves interdisciplinary teams working together to support students with disabilities within typical classroom settings. Inclusionary classrooms promote an atmosphere of learning that is beneficial to all students.

Indirect Assessment Strategies

Gathering information about a student and the behaviors of concern from reports of people who know the student. Interviews, record reviews, quality of life measures, checklists, and rating scales about the student’s behavior are all considered indirect ways of obtaining information. These strategies are often the initial step taken in the functional assessment process.

Individual PBS

Procedures and processes reflect school-wide expectations for student behavior coupled with team-based strategies applied with individual students based upon child-centered behavior support plans derived from Functional Behavior Assessment.

Infant Mental Health

Refers to how well a child develops socially and emotionally from birth to three and helps guide the development of healthy social and emotional behaviors


The strength or force with which a stimulus is delivered or a behavior is demonstrated.

Intentional communication

Behaviors have a deliberate effect on a communication partner. Intentional communication may be expressed nonverbally or verbally

Interdisciplinary Team

The team of people from different perspectives or disciplines that join together to problem solve and develop educational and behavior plans. Team members may include the student, parents or other family members, teachers, therapists, community members, job coaches, vocational rehabilitation counselors, and paraprofessionals.


Alternating the presentation of two different types of activities.


Previously selected periods of time of which there is a clear beginning and end.

Interval Recording

An observational notation system that takes a predetermined period of time and divides it into a number of shorter intervals. The observer records whether or not the targeted behavior occurred in each successive interval.

Intervention plan

A lesson plan that has been developed for an individual child and includes what to teach, when to teach, how to teach, and how to measure the effects of teaching.

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Language expansion

Listening to what a child says, then after the child speaks, responding to the child by repeating what the child has said and adding new words to the child’s statement.

Language sample

A list of utterances a child makes during a specific period of time or activity measure the effects of teaching.


The amount of time between the stimulus and a behavior. For example, the time between a request (please put on your shoes) and the action (putting on shoes).

Least to most

Another name for the system of least prompts, which involves developing a hierarchy of prompts that are ordered from the least to the most assistance needed for the child to perform a behavior. For each trial, the adult initially gives the child an opportunity to perform the behavior without prompts; if the child does not respond correctly, the adult delivers the least controlling prompt and gives the child another opportunity to respond. Again, if the child does not respond or starts to respond incorrectly, the adult delivers the next more controlling prompt. This continues on each trial until the child responds correctly or the most controlling level of prompt is provided.

Levels in the Teaching Pyramid

The Teaching Pyramid is structured in levels to demonstrate a continuum of supports for all children in early childhood programs. The pyramid focuses on the development of Social and Emotional competence in young children through evidence-based practice. These practices are designed to promote developmentally appropriate behaviors, using prevention, intentional teaching, and individualized intervention.

  • Effective Workforce: This base level, Effective Workforce, is the foundation required for implementation of the Teaching Pyramid. It includes effective program policies and procedures that reflect appropriate practice in addition to well trained, stable staff who are committed to continuous improvement
  • Nurturing and Responsive Relationships: This level represents positive, supportive relationships among all those involved in the program (children, families, program staff, and other professionals.) These relationships are essential to effective implementation of evidence-based practices that promote Social and Emotional competence in young children.
  • High Quality Supportive Environments: High quality environments support young children’s Social and Emotional development through room arrangement, equipment selection, open ended materials, predictable schedules and routines. Environments that are well designed and implemented in ways that support the development of appropriate behavior and social skills provide developmentally appropriate materials that promote children’s participation in meaningful activities, teach children about rules and expectations, and use positive attention and encouragement to assure development of positive behave
  • Targeted Social and Emotional Supports: Specific strategies are identified to systematically support children to develop competence in emotional literacy, problem solving, impulse control, and building and maintaining friendships. These strategies are used intentionally to prevent problem behaviors and to modify or change them if they do occur.
  • Intensive Intervention: a process used for those children who continue to exhibit social and/or emotional issues or other challenging behaviors, even after the foundational levels of the pyramid have been implemented.

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Making Action Plans (MAPS)

MAPS is a person centered planning process that brings together the key players in a child’s life to identify a “roadmap” for working toward and achieving goals for the focus child. The MAPS process identifies where the child currently is, what the goals are for the child, and how the team will work together to reach the goals.


A stimulus control relationship that is stable or consistent across time.

Maintaining Consequence

The specific stimulus that occurs contingently upon the presence of problem behavior. Collectively, these consequences represent the function maintaining problem behavior.


A relationship-based process between colleagues in similar professional roles, with a more-experienced individual with adult learning knowledge and skills, the mentor providing guidance and example to the less-experienced protégé or mentee. Mentoring is intended to increase an individual’s personal or professional capacity, resulting in greater professional effectiveness

Most to least prompts

A series of two or more prompts that provide progressively decreasing amounts of assistance. This strategy always begins with the most help a child needs in order to be able to do something with few or no errors. Over time, as the child learns the skill, the amount of support the adult provides decreases until the child is able to do the skill independently.

Multicomponent Intervention Plan

A comprehensive behavioral support plan that contains multiple strategies to address problem behaviors in settings where problem behaviors occur.

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Naturally occurring antecedents and consequences

Words, events, and activities that typically occur, elicit target behaviors and serve as a consequence to target behaviors.

Negative Reinforcement

Behavior increases when an aversive stimulus is removed.

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Off-Task Behavior

When a student is not engaged in or working on a pre-selected task or activity.

On-Task Behavior

When a student is engaged in or working on a specific task or activity.

Operational Definition

A statement that identifies a behavior in clear and explicit terms and allows one to measure the occurrence of a behavior.


The results of an intervention. In positive behavioral support, desired outcomes include an improved quality of life in addition to reductions in problem behavior.

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Parallel talk

Running commentary in short, simple phrases provided by the teacher or caregiver to describe the child’s actions, thoughts, and feelings.

Parents Interacting with Infants (PIWI)

which also includes toddlers focuses on promoting the social and emotional development of infants and toddlers through the use of parent-child groups and home visiting. PIWI has been successfully used in community-based, early head start and early intervention programs with a diverse range of parents and children.

Peer-mediated Intervention

A systematic teaching strategy in which typically-developing children are taught to deliver specific social and communicative behavior to children with social skill deficits.

Personal Futures Planning (ofP)

Personal Futures Planning focuses on what the team can do to address the themes or issues identified within a personal profile or other person centered process. In Personal Futures Planning, the team identifies an appropriate time frame for achieving a futures plan that specifically addresses themes and issues in five areas (home, school, community, choices and preferences, and relationships.)

Person-Centered Plan (Planning)

The process of gathering information and goal development that has an individualized focus. The person for whom the planning is done is present at the meeting and the input from that person guides or directs the planning process.

Planning Alternative Tomorrows with Hope (PATH)

A way for diverse people who share a common need to align their vision, purposes, and goals. PATH is an effective process for bringing together a team that may already know a child well and has made a commitment to supporting the child in the future.

Positive Behavior Intervention and Support (PBIS)

An evidence-based, data-driven framework proven to reduce disciplinary incidents, increase a school’s sense of safety and support improved academic outcomes.

Positive Behavior Support (PBS)

A comprehensive set of strategies meant to redesign environments in such a way that problem behaviors are prevented or inconsequential, and to teach students new skills, making problem behaviors unnecessary. Processes intended to shift focus from negative responses, punishment, and responsive methods of address problem behaviors towards positive responses and rewards to address appropriate behaviors. Includes the teaching of appropriate expected behaviors, restructuring of environments and preventing the occurrence of problem behaviors through behavioral intervention.

Positive Lifestyles

Problem behaviors decrease the quality of life for the student and other people around them. Providing opportunities for students to exercise choice, experience positive social interactions, and to experience stable and predictable environments naturally decreases problem behavior and results in a more positive lifestyle.

Positive Reinforcement

Behavior increases when a stimulus is delivered.

Positive Social Interaction

When two or more people have a discussion or interchange that results in a successful experience for all parties.

Positive Solutions (POS)

A parent training series of six sessions that supports positive and effective parenting behaviors, which will in turn promote children’s social and emotional development and address the challenging behavior and mental health needs of children.

Prevention Strategies

Behavioral support plans that are implemented before problem behavior has a chance to occur. Preventative strategies involve redesigning the environment and teaching new skills.

Primary Communication

A term used to designate a communicative process that a student prefers or uses most of the time. Communication refers to any process used to convey information so that it is received and understood by another person.

Principles of Human Behavior

Principles of behavior describe the relation between behavior and the variables that control it. The basic principles of behavior are the foundation from which positive behavior support plans are built. Examples of behavioral principles include reinforcement, punishment, extinction, and stimulus control.


The use of knowledge and experience to prevent problems or unwanted situations from reoccurring.

Proactive Interventions

The use of knowledge and experience to implement strategies before problem behavior or undesirable situations have a chance to occur.

Problem Solving

A systematic approach utilizing multiple perspectives to uncover the issues related to a particular problem, design an intervention plan, and evaluate the outcome.

Procedural Fidelity

The extent to which the independent variable is implemented. Used to provide an estimate of the quality of an intervention’s implementation over time.


In this context, a program is defined as any early childhood setting (i.e., pre-school, childcare, Head Start, etc) in Nebraska.

Program Quality

Program quality in early childhood emphasizes a child-centered approach with trained, nurturing, and responsive adults who are kind and gentle, and protect children’s health and safety while providing a wealth of experiences that lead to essential learning. Program quality is reflected in (a) results for children, (b) attainment of specified goals and objectives of the program, and (c) developmental appropriateness. Program quality is measured by standards of practice as evidenced in National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC) Accreditation, Environment Rating Scales, Nebraska Early Learning Guidelines, the Teaching Pyramid, and evidence-based curriculums, birth to five.

Program-wide PBS (PW-PBS)

A proactive system of preventative behavior support designed for all of the children in a multi-classroom program of early child care and/or education (e.g., Head Start, community early childhood centers). PW-PBS involves the program-wide adoption of a tiered model of practices and procedures for providing support to children and families. The first tier, universal practices, promotes the social development and engagement of all children. The second tier involves providing targeted children who have risk factors or behavioral problems with more focused instruction on social emotional skills. The final tier includes a process for the provision of intensive and individualized behavior support plans for the few children who are already engaged in patterns of challenging behavior.

Progress monitoring

Assessments that are conducted for the purpose of evaluating children’s behavior change over time.


Part of the antecedent. Must be used before (or sometimes while) the child performs the target behavior.


A consequent stimulus that reduces the probability a behavior will occur.

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Quality of Life

A variety of elements in a student’s life including predictability, environmental stability, level of social belonging, empowerment and control, well-being and satisfaction.

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The state of receiving or presenting a reinforcer. A stimulus that when presented immediately following a response increases the probability that the response will occur again. Can be the presentation of a reward or removal of something unpleasant.


A consequent stimulus that increases the probability a behavior will occur, or maintains the future rate of that behavior.

Replacement Behavior

A socially acceptable alternative response that results in the same functional outcome as the problem behavior.

Replacement Skills

Positive social and communication behaviors that serve the same function as the problem behavior. Interventions strategies that teach new skills replacing problem behavior with a functionally equivalent response are an important part of the positive behavior support plan.

Response Efficiency

When a person has the opportunity to choose between two or more possible responses, the response that the person perceives as most efficient will be chosen.


A unit of behavior with a clear beginning and end.

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Scatter Plot

An interval recording method where data are recorded during specific time or activity periods.

School-Wide Discipline Plans

A unified approach for implementing behavioral support strategies by all staff members within a school. The purpose of a school-wide discipline plan is to increase the consistency and effectiveness of behavioral support strategies and to decrease time spent dealing with minor problem behaviors.

School-wide PBS

Refers to the level of behavior support intended for all students, staff, and settings.


Brief and cost effective assessment of large numbers of children to identify children who have developmental delays and need further evaluation.

Setting Event

Any occurrence that affects a student’s responses to reinforcers and punishers in the environment. Setting events can be due too environmental, social, or physiological factors. Occurrences that affect a behavior at one point in time may change the likelihood of a targeted behavior at a later point.


Reinforcing successive approximations towards a desired response. Shaping is used to teach a new behavior by manipulating the consequences presented.

Social and Emotional Competence

Social and emotional competence refers to children’s ability to demonstrate and/or develop positive ways to experience and regulate emotions, develop relationships with others, and feel safe to explore and learn.

Social Network

A web of interconnected people who directly or indirectly interact with or influence the student and family. May include but is not limited to family, teachers and other school staff, friends, neighbors, community contacts, and professional support.


Anything that elicits or evokes action in a person or creates a response in a muscle, nerve, gland or other excitable tissue or organ of the body.


A set of related or interacting variables which function together for a specific purpose. Systems are dynamic and often change over time.

System of least prompts

Two or more prompts that are arranged to provide increasing levels of support. The sequence of prompts begins with giving the child a natural cue to complete a task or demonstrate a skill. If the child is not able to respond independently, the child is given increasing levels of support until he or she is able to complete the task or perform the behavior.

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Target behavior

What the child will do or say. This is the particular behavior that the child does to indicate that he or she is learning the objective.

Teaching Pyramid Model

The Early Childhood Teaching Pyramid Model is a visual representation of multiple interrelated levels of Social and Emotional concepts and practices and how those levels are connected. It is structured to guide the teacher/provider to reflect on and implement early childhood practices designed to support Social and Emotional competence in young children. The model was developed by the Center on Social and Emotional Foundations for Early Learning.

Time Delay

A procedure implemented during children’s ongoing interactions with the environment and at a point in which adult assistance or help has been regularly given in the past. It involves the adult waiting (delaying the help) for the child to initiate a target behavior at the point when help has regularly been given. During the delay, the adult looks expectantly at the child. If the child does not initiate the behavior during this delay, the adult provides a prompt (i.e., the regularly occurring help) and allows the child to continue the sequence.

Token System

Refers to a reward system that works in the same manner as money, where a “token” can be used to purchase select items.


The physical movements or description of a motor or verbal behavior.

Transition-based teaching

A procedure in which an opportunity to perform a target behavior is delivered to the child at the onset of a transition from one activity or area to another; it can be delivered when the child initiates a transition or when a transition is initiated by an adult. Often, a prompt is needed to get the child to perform the behavior, but the natural consequence is continuing with the transition.

Treatment Integrity

The degree to which an independent variable is implemented as intended.

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Visual Picture Schedule

Provides a student with information regarding the sequence of events or routines he will be engaging in throughout the day. A picture schedule may use words, photographs or drawings to convey information and is a method for providing a student with a sense of predictability and control over his environment.

Visual supports

The use of visual stimuli (e.g., objects or pictures) to communicate to children what behaviors are expected or to signal changes in activities and identify the upcoming activity.

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