Expert Corner: Behavior Basics and Multi-Tiered Systems of Support (MTSS)

by: J.P. Grelet & Kevin Smith

Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) is a scientific approach to understanding behavior. ABA refers to a set of principles that focus on how behaviors are adopted, how they change and are affected by the environment, as well as how learning takes place. It is focused on how we arrange the environment to elicit socially significant skills that have been thoughtfully defined and specifically taught.

It is important to understand that ABA does not seek to “fix” students/clients. Problem behaviors are seen as communicative and based on needs that must be met. In the case of undesirable behavior, specific behavior patterns have been learned. These patterns have become effective, efficient, and relevant to meeting a certain need. The challenge is that these patterns may work in the short term yet often have long-term negative outcomes of concern. The goal of any ABA practitioner is to assess problematic behavior and teach new alternative behaviors that meet the identified need but in socially significant ways. It must be emphasized that socially significant behavior is not for those who support a given individual but for their long-term growth, development, and quality of life.

Multi-tiered Systems of Support (MTSS) is a framework within education that helps educators design classrooms capable of supporting all students’ needs, including those with special education needs & neurodiverse learners. Supports are to ensure every student has access to high-quality first instruction. Screening students into interventions designed to meet their specific needs, including exit criteria, ensures that we do not “tier the student” but tier the support. Individualizing support for students allows the opportunity for students to acquire skills at a pace commensurate with their unique strengths and abilities. When we design educational environments and routines, from the start, with our most diverse learners in mind, we can meet the needs of our most diverse learners without exclusion, inequity, or stigma.

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