What is Positive Behaviour Support (PBS)?

Positive Behaviour Support (PBS) is an individualised and comprehensive approach that parents and carers use to teach and encourage children to behave in appropriate ways. The approach makes difficult behaviour unnecessary by removing the things that trigger, encourage or reward that behaviour. It also teaches children alternative, more appropriate behaviour to replace the difficult behaviour.

Who is Positive Behaviour Support (PBS) for?

Positive Behaviour Support (PBS) is for anyone with behaviour difficulties, including children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD). The approach can also be used with people with intellectual, learning, developmental and social difficulties.

What is Positive Behaviour Support (PBS) used for?

The main goal of Positive Behaviour Support (PBS) is to reduce difficult behaviour.

Where does Positive Behaviour Support (PBS) come from?

Positive Behaviour Support (PBS) emerged in the 1980s, evolving from Applied Behaviour Analysis (ABA). Both PBS and ABA are based on ‘learning theory’, but PBS developed with a stronger focus on being person centred or family centred.

Learning theory suggests that how people behave in a situation depends on their previous experiences of similar situations.

What is the idea behind Positive Behaviour Support (PBS)?

The idea behind Positive Behaviour Support (PBS) is that all behaviour serves a purpose. Difficult behaviour can be reduced if we know what children are trying to achieve by behaving in particular ways.

The PBS approach aims to teach children more positive and socially appropriate ways of communicating and getting what they want – for example, using words or signs to communicate. This makes difficult behaviour ineffective or unnecessary, which means children are less likely to do it.

The key feature of a PBS approach is an individualised plan that is:

  • implemented by everyone involved with a child on a day-to-day basis
  • used in the natural environment where a behaviour occurs.

What does Positive Behaviour Support (PBS) involve?

The child has a medical assessment to make sure the problem behaviours are not caused by a physical illness.

A psychologist then talks to the child’s family and carries out observation sessions to find out the purpose of the child’s behaviour and what the child gains by behaving in that way. This process is known as a functional assessment.

After the assessment, families work with the practitioner on a detailed plan to remove or minimise the triggers of the problem behaviour and, wherever possible, stop any accidental rewards for the behaviour. Once they have a plan, parents can teach and encourage the child to use new skills and alternative, appropriate ways of communicating with others to express wants and needs.

Cost considerations

Positive Behaviour Support (PBS) plans are implemented by carers in a child’s natural environment, so there’s no financial cost in implementing the plan. There’s a cost for developing the plan because this is done with a trained practitioner, usually a psychologist, or experienced education practitioner. This cost varies depending on how long it takes to develop the plan, as well as the practitioner’s qualifications.

You might be eligible to see a psychologist at a subsidised rate for a limited number of sessions through Medicare. Some private health care funds might also cover a portion of the consultation fee. If the therapist has HICAPS, you might be able to make a claim immediately.

Does Positive Behaviour Support (PBS) work?

Positive Behaviour Support (PBS) is supported by high-quality research that shows that PBS:

  • improves children’s school performance
  • helps children make requests appropriately
  • helps children give and share information
  • reduces children’s aggression towards themselves and others
  • reduces self-stimulatory behaviour
  • reduces tantrums and disruptive behaviour.

As with all types of behaviour interventions, how well the intervention works is influenced by whether it’s consistently and accurately put into practice.

Who practises Positive Behaviour Support (PBS)?

Psychologists and other professionals who are trained in Positive Behaviour Support (PBS) can develop PBS interventions and support carers in implementing them.

Parent education, training, support and involvement

If your child is in an intervention that uses Positive Behaviour Support (PBS), your involvement is essential. You’ll have a central role in the collaborative team that develops the PBS plan, and practitioners should train you in implementing the plan. They should also give you information about – and support for – responding to difficult circumstances in appropriate ways.

You’ll be responsible for implementing the PBS plan at home, and you’ll play an active role in providing feedback to the team about your child’s progress.

Where can you find a practitioner?

You can find a psychologist by going to Australian Psychological Society – Find a psychologist.

If you’re interested in Positive Behaviour Support (PBS), it’s a good to talk about it with your GP or one of the other professionals working with your child. You could also talk with your NDIA planner, NDIS early childhood partner or NDIS local area coordination partner, if you have one.

There are many treatments for autism spectrum disorder (ASD). They range from those based on behaviour and development to those based on medicine or alternative therapy. Our article on types of interventions for children with ASD takes you through the main treatments, so you can better understand your child’s options.