Positive Behavior Supports

The Center on Brain Injury Research and Training, University of Oregon
In the Classroom: Positive Behavior Supports

Description of the Problem

Students with TBI often need a systematic approach to behavior management that differs significantly from the approaches commonly used in schools. They often have difficulty learning from the consequences of their actions; the skills they’ve learned in rehab frequently don’t translate across contexts, and approaches that focus on their disability tend to be counter-productive.


The parts of the brain that control impulsive behavior and permit learning from the consequences of previous behavior are frequently damaged in a TBI. Loss of ability in many areas paired with recovering from a significant injury can result in depression, sadness and frustration. These challenges can make behavior management difficult and stressful.


Be proactive in dealing with students who present challenging behaviors. Use established routines, positive communication, lesson planning and environmental modifications to prevent or minimize challenging behaviors.


  • Use positive, negotiated, well-understood routines. Even among healthy adults, not knowing what to expect in a situation can cause anxiety. As much as possible, make each day predictable. Use graphic organizers so students can see what is going to happen next. Manage transitions between activities so students aren’t taken by surprise.
  • Promote positive interactions. Keep your interactions with students as calm and positive as possible.
  • Teach students how to notice and control their emotions. When you notice a student getting frustrated, you might say, “I notice that your knuckles are white. Often that means you’re getting frustrated. Yesterday, I noticed your knuckles were white just before you lost control and shouted. What could you do now, while you’re still calm, to feel less frustrated and prevent an outburst?” Then talk about what options are open to the student: asking you for help, taking a break by turning to another task, and so on. Use positive communication and control of the setting to create a momentum of success before introducing difficult or unpleasant tasks. If reading is a nightmare for a particular student but she loves science, start with science. Lead her through tasks she knows she can do and enjoys doing before asking her to read.
  •  Even young children like to feel that they have meaningful choices to make and at least some control over their own lives. As much as possible, give students both choices and control within the constraints of the school setting.
  • Tasks and instruction need to feel meaningful, important, and interesting to the students doing them. Good lesson planning can prevent problem behaviors by engaging students in high interest activities that are instructionally appropriate.
  • Prevent negative behaviors by changing the environment (setting up the space to create clear areas for certain activities, moving two students who frequently bicker to opposite sides of the classroom, for example).
Posted on BrainLine August 14, 2013.

In The Classroom, Copyright 2012, supported by Oregon Department of Education (ODE) and National Institute on Disability and Rehabilitation
Research (NIDRR) grant #H133B090010, is the sole responsibility of the authors and does not necessarily represent the official views of ODE or
NIDRR. Adapted from LEARNet, a program of the Brain Injury Association of New York State, and funded by the Developmental Disabilities Planning
Council. Copyright 2006, by the Brain Injury Association of New York State. Used with permission.

For more information, go to www.cbirt.org.