Unveiling Barriers with Behavior Intervention Plans

By Morgan van Diepen, M.Ed., BCBA, Co-owner of ABA Visualized

Developing and disseminating Behavior Intervention Plans (BIPs) is a crucial and common approach for providing effective support for individuals who exhibit challenging behaviors. These individualized plans are designed to decrease these behaviors that impede learning and pose safety risks. However, despite their significance, several barriers hinder the realization of desired outcomes. Chances are, you’ve encountered some of these barriers firsthand and perhaps have even experienced feelings of burnout or imposter syndrome as a result. In a recent pilot study, we interviewed and surveyed more than 200 people responsible for writing or implementing BIPs. One theme from our findings was alarming: many of us are quietly struggling.

When we asked behavior experts to complete this sentence, “When I first was expected to write behavior plans independently, I felt _____________,” the answers were troubling: like I was thrown in, completely overwhelmed, like I had to learn through trial and error, terrified, unsure, stressed, lost, nervous, so much pressure of being a brand new BCBA & parents are looking to you with desperation.

When we asked parents and teachers about their experiences with BIPs, many expressed sentiments such as “not understanding it,” “having only seen it once,” or “not believing it’s helping.” Considering that this carefully curated plan is intended to help support neurodiverse individuals to lead safe and meaningful lives, these shared experiences highlight the critical need for enhanced support in creating and implementing BIPs. In this article, we’ll reveal the four main barriers we identified through our research and propose a solution!

Barriers Impacting Effective BIPs

  1. Effective Training While it is a crucial skill set for behavior experts and is part of their required coursework, our research has revealed that these professionals lack confidence in their ability to develop and teach BIPs. In our survey of over 200 individuals responsible for developing BIPs, only 43% reported feeling confident choosing strategies to fit individual learner needs. In this same survey, 79.4% reported initially not feeling prepared to independently develop a BIP and only 35% of respondents reported currently feeling effective at disseminating their plan to their staff & stakeholders.
  • Technical Jargon The complexity and confusion associated with commonly used, technical behavior terminology contributes to the abandonment of potentially beneficial BIPs. This abandonment leaves stakeholders feeling under-supported and service providers feeling ineffective. Technical language negatively affects comprehension and acceptability of evidence-based strategies, particularly for individuals with little or no training in Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) principles. In our own survey, we found that 90% of stakeholders expressed a greater likelihood of using behavior strategies if they were presented in a more understandable manner. This difficulty in understanding likely contributes to published research findings indicating that team members implement fewer than 60% of the strategies outlined in a BIP, with an average accuracy rate of only 68% when implemented.
  •  Time Constraints In our pilot study, we discovered that the average time spent developing a BIP was 3.6 hours. While BCBAs have genuine intentions to develop an individualized support plan that considers the learner’s preferences, strengths, and needs, as well as the practicalities for the team, the demanding nature of this process consumes a considerable amount of time and effort. In fact, “time” was the number one barrier reported by behavior experts in our pilot study interviews. Many BCBAs face constraints on their time, limiting their ability to dedicate the necessary resources for creating comprehensive and tailored BIPs. This time limitation may compromise the thoroughness and quality of BIPs, impacting their overall effectiveness in supporting individuals with behavioral needs.
  • Traditional Teaching Methods After a behavior expert has developed a BIP, the traditional method of teaching this plan to the team involves providing them with a multi-page text document and reviewing it together. However, our surveys and research indicate that this method is not effective for optimal learning and retention, and it does not adequately support those who could benefit from the plan. In our pilot study, the average number of strategies included in a BIP was 26 (ranging from 4 to 45), while those responsible for implementation were only able to recall an average of 3 strategies (ranging from 0 to 5). This discrepancy aligns with established research on memory retention, which indicates that information presented in dense text is prone to being forgotten. The brain quickly loses information, tends to overlook the middle portions of lengthy texts, and may become overwhelmed by dense material.

Finding a Solution

In addressing the barriers to effective Behavior Intervention Plans (BIPs), one solution shines bright: the transformative impact of visuals!

Whether utilizing resources like the ABA Visualized Guidebook or making your own illustrated scenarios of the recommended behavior strategies, integrating visual elements into coaching sessions improves retention, understanding, and engagement.

Also, because you can leave the visual resource with the parent, teacher, or behavior staff, visuals provide a tangible reference point between your sessions, ensuring continuity in implementation. By embracing the power of visuals, you can feel more confident when explaining behavior strategies and your team can feel more prepared to support their learners.

Ready to learn more about the impact of using visuals in Behavior Intervention Plans? Download our free The Power of Visuals infographic!

About the Author

Our mission at ABA Visualized is to make behavioral expertise approachable, accessible, and relatable. This has been our mission since our first publication in 2018 and continues to guide decisions in everything we do.

As a BCBA working abroad and then with the vibrant international community in Los Angeles, Morgan quickly developed a passion for supporting under-serviced families. She realized the recurring barriers affecting these communities and limiting their access to effective behavioral expertise: long waitlists to learn from expert service providers and an abundance of technical jargon-filled texts. Morgan began to refine her approach to better disseminate behavior strategies to those who truly need it: families and educators.

As an infographic designer, Morgan’s husband, Boudewijn (Bou), naturally understands how visual storytelling can make the unclear, clear and the unknown, known. In a true collaboration between Morgan and Bou’s skillset, their flagship product, the ABA Visualized Guidebook, was created utilizing step-by-step visuals and approachable language to accomplish that sought-after accessible behavior expertise.

Since this publication, ABA Visualized as a company has grown to offer a collection of books and trainings available worldwide. We aim to continue empowering others through approachable education on strategies that can make truly meaningful impacts on individuals’ lives.

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