CA Dept. of Education


On Haitus

Behavior 2018-19


Tara Zombres, M.Ed.
Education Specialist

Tara Zombres, M.Ed., is an Education Specialist at the Diagnostic Center-North.  She is a special education teacher who has taught students with a wide variety of disabilities. She has a master’s degree in Curriculum and Instruction in Special Education with the Moderate/Severe population.  Her areas of expertise are providing engaging and appropriate instruction for students with complex needs, developing educational programs for students with severe emotional and behavior disorders, teaching students with Autism using Evidence Based Practices and designing comprehensive programming for students with Emotional Disturbances.  At the Diagnostic Center, she provides trainings in Behavior Basics, and in Creating Student Success: How to Provide Meaningful Access to the CSS for Students with Moderate/Severe Disabilities. She is a BCBA candidate and a member of PENT (Positive Environment Network of Trainers) and CAPTAIN (California Autism Professional Training and Information Network).   


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Click a topic below to expand the full question and answer.

  • This year’s PENT materials!


In the past, you have provided a link to the PENT (Positive Environment Network of Trainers) materials from the year’s forum. Is that available this year? It’s always so helpful.


Thank you so much for asking! Yes – the PENT materials have been uploaded following this year’s amazing forum.

Go to and click on the “2019 Forum Handouts” button that looks like this:

The focus of this year’s forum was on discussing how to make behavior support plans DOABLE! J In addition, the cadre members spent a lot of time discussing and sharing resources for supporting implementation of MTSS (Multi-Tiered System of Supports) and SEL (Social Emotional Learning) in the classroom. These are just a few of the great resources available:

  • Making Behavior Interventions Happen: Real Strategies for Supporting Implementation – Dr. Austin Johnson, University of California, Riverside
  • Supplemental resources for:
    • Check-in Check-out (CICO)
    • MTSS Data Analysis procedures
    • MTSS Implementation Assessment Guide
    • Mental Health Fact Sheets
    • Social Emotional Learning Resources (a one page list of MANY resources)

-----And so many MORE! J

It’s all there for the taking. Use it, share it…get the word out that these amazing resources exist.


Tara Zomouse, M.Ed., BCBA

  • What to do about out of control behavior for a general education student with mental health needs?



I am a Resource Specialist, who has volunteered to help in an elementary classroom with tier one and two supports. In particular, there is a student who has been officially diagnosed as having ADHD, Mood Disorder, and Anxiety. His parent has indicated that doctors feel certain it is Bipolar Disorder, but that he is too young for that diagnosis.

The student, the teacher, and the classroom assistant are all struggling. An SST has been held, and a follow-up SST is in the making. However, I was asked to assist because of several reasons:

  1. Frustration on the teacher’s and aide’s part; not knowing what to do, or feeling like she’s unable to do what’s being asked
  2. Student is getting kicked out of class multiple times a day, 4 to 5 days a week
  3. Student engages in yelling, screaming, running away, physical aggression, not following directions, task avoidance, etc.

We are in the process of taking observable and measurable ABC data, but I am wondering if you have any go-to solutions/strategies that we can implement with a student like this, with these known diagnoses.



This is an excellent question that cannot be answered without first considering the problem this student’s behavior is causing. In order to proceed to work on his mental health issues, you will need to address his behavior.

Behavior Interventions:

When considering how to intervene with this student from the perspective of addressing the behavior significant behavior that you’re reporting there are several first step strategies and idea to keep in mind:

Identify the problem
While there is some consideration that should be taken regarding student specific diagnoses, the external symptoms that manifest as maladaptive behavior are what teachers and school staff can focus on, rather than the labels that may be attached to them. The most important question for the team to consider is what is the cause, or function of the disruptive behavior. Given that this child has a complex mental health profile, it is likely that at least some of the behavior is driven by internal emotional factors. This kind of behavior requires a combined approach that addresses both the external behavior and the internal emotional distress. Therefore, keep in mind that behavior intervention will help with decreasing maladaptive but is only one piece of intervention for this child.

The Goal: Create a plan
It sounds like this student may require intensive intervention to address his complex behavior and mental health needs. It sounds like your team has started this process by collecting ABC data. From that point, it may be appropriate to:

  • Involve a professional who has expertise in data analysis and determine of function of behavior
  • Create a Behavior Intervention Plan that outlines how the student will learn a more appropriate replacement behavior, rather than engage in the maladaptive behavior, that meets the same functional need.
  • Create a dense positive reinforcement system that allow immediate and highly attainable access to desired activities/items several times per day for appropriate behavior.
  • Determine what triggers the behavior (antecedents) and determine if any preventative strategies can be put in place to decrease the likelihood that the behavior will occur. This is particularly important given that the student will likely be learning new coping tools within a therapeutic setting…and that takes time.

Implement Tier One (and Two) Positive Behavior AND Social Emotional Supports

It will take time for the higher level interventions described above to come together, especially at this time of year! In the meantime, it is important that the team focus on ensuring that supports are being provided for behavior and social emotional wellness at the Tier 1 and 2 levels. Sometimes it is easy to overlook the “basic” strategies because the behavior is so severe. However, the consistent implementation of these supports can often be highly effective. Below are several “highlights” from each tier of support with the behavior and social/emotional domains. In addition, resources are provided for additional information on providing robust lower tier supports.

Universal and targeted Positive Behavior Supports

  • Ensure that the learning environment has 3-5 positively worded rules that are explicitly defined and referenced throughout the day
    • Consider: Be safe, Be Responsible, Be Respectful
  • Provide direct behavior feedback when the student is following the rules. Catch them being good!
  • Provide more positive verbal reinforcement – the more the student struggles the more positive feedback they need. Aim for 5 positive interactions for every 1 redirection
  • Align work and academic demands with the student’s personal areas of interest. Provide instruction at the student’s level
  • Use simple first/then statement when you want the student to engage in non-desired tasks or activities (i.e., First do 5 minutes of math, then you can have computer time)

Universal and targeted Social Emotional Supports

  • Create a safe and supportive learning environment (see resources for environmental checklist of strategies)
  • Address fundamental needs prior to placing demand – this may include ensuring that students are not hungry, have adequate sleep, and are physically well enough to learn
  • Spend time creating a trusting relationship with all students (but especially the difficult students). This is a primary support that must be in place for students struggling with social/emotional difficulties to learn
  • Create physical and emotional safety in the classroom
    • Tell students “it is my job to keep you safe.”
    • Ask students “how will you know you’re safe in my classroom”
  • Keep the perspective that big picture isn’t about the work – it’s about helping students be more successful
  • Provide daily instruction in Social Emotional Learning, using evidence-based curriculum


Mental Health:
Once this student’s behavior is under control, you will need to start addressing some of his underlying emotional struggles. Because I am missing significant details about the manifestation of his ADHD, anxiety, and mood disorder, I have just listed a couple of key considerations under each reported diagnosis.

This student likely has significant difficulties with inattention, impulsivity, hyperactivity, or any combination thereof. Additionally, students with ADHD often struggle with executive functioning and self-monitoring.

  • Add a rating scale to all assignments. This student will benefit from the practice of rating how hard he perceives a task/request to be, and then afterwards rating how hard the assignment actually was. This helps a learner with ADHD understand how their aversion to the task can often be worse than the reality of the task itself. Rating is generally done on a scale of 1 to 5.
  • Use a visual timer so the student has a better understanding of the time quoted, and can visually see how long certain tasks will take.

This student likely experiences frequent worry, fear, and distress. He may suffer from somatic symptoms including headaches, stomachaches, or fidget on a regular basis. Additionally he might feel a significant need for control and demonstrate rigidity when faced with changes in routines and transitions.

  • Provide more structure and consistency in the classroom setting. The student should have a visual schedule, and the ability to check off tasks as they are completed.
  • Identify the stressors that are causing anxiety and utilize Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) interventions such as teaching relaxation strategies, or providing fidgets or sound-cancelling headphones and other supports that could decrease his distress.

Mood Disorder/Bipolar Disorder
This student probably struggles with emotional regulation. He likely has intense reactions to various people, tasks, and situations. A student with emotional dysregulation will need help expressing their thoughts and feelings in a more prosocial manner.

  • Consider incorporating therapeutic supports that teach emotion identification and coping skills for dealing with “big feelings.”
  • Use role playing and create a “tool kit” of skills and options the student can use in various situations where they tend to struggle.

On a side note: considering this student’s profile, I wonder about the possibility of trauma, given the strong overlap between trauma symptoms and the three disorders outlined above. This might be something to keep in mind.

Good luck!

Kristen Moore                                                  
Clinical Psychologist                                       

Tara Zomouse, M.Ed., BCBA, NCED
Behavior Analyst/Education Specialist

  • Conferences and professional development for behavior supports


Do you have some ideas/resources of professional development opportunities for school staff in the area of behavior supports? Also, we have seeing more and more students who struggle with behavior and mental health needs, are there any conferences or opportunities for staff to learn more about this area? Thank you!


There are many great opportunities available for school staff. Conferences provide a wealth of information and can be very motivating and energizing for staff to attend. If conferences and travel are not an option, local trainings and/or online professional development opportunities can also be very helpful.

Here are some suggestions and places to start.


  • 16th International Conference on Positive Behavior Support “The Expanding World of PBS: Science, Values and Vision”

Online Professional Development

  • Diagnostic Center trainings
    • Professional development calendar provided for the entire academic year.
    • Trainings provided in: implementation of behavior supports for teachers, implementation of behavior supports for paraprofessionals, mental health supports in the classroom, conducting FBA’s, understanding trauma/stress, and much more

If you have feedback or further questions go to the Diagnostic Center-North Facebook page and comment or send us a message!


Tara Zomouse, M.Ed., BCBA

  • How to re-engage a student after they earn a reinforcement


I am a special education teacher and I have a group of students who have been benefitting from earning “choice time” when they have appropriate behaviors and complete their work. This has been successful, for the most part. However, I have several students who continue to act out when it is time for “choice time” to be over, and to transition back to work. Do you have any suggestions for how to make this process easier?


This is a fantastic question! I am so happy to hear that having students earn access to a designated time to engage in preferred activities (i.e., choice time) is working for your classroom. When implementing these strategies a common concern and struggle is how to have student finish with their desired activity/item and transition to more work and/or a less desired activity….without engaging in the behaviors that they didn’t engage in  to earn the preferred activity in the first place…

Well, there are a few simple tricks for implementation that may result in increased ease of transition and less behaviors at that time. Give it a try!!

First are the basics of implementing a First/Then contingency

A First/Then contingency is an agreement between the person placing demands and the student. By using the simple frame of “First [demand], Then [reinforcement]” clarifies to students what they need to do, and that they will get what they want when that is done.

The “how to” is what makes or breaks success

In order for a First/Then to be effective, implementation needs to include the following components:

Below is a step-by-step for how these steps would be implemented:

  • (Set-up contract) “First you need to complete five math problems and then you can earn choice time for 5 minutes.”
  • (Make it visual) Providing a visual makes the expectation so that it is more concrete. This may be words for some students and pictures/icons for others.


  • (Attain an agreement) A crucial step is having a verbal (or nonverbal if the student uses another form of communication such as pointing or a device) agreement to the first/then contract. This will increase the likelihood that the student will stop the preferred task when it is time.
    • Staff: “Ok. You first 5 math problems and then 5 minutes of choice time. What are you going to do?” (Repeat contract)
    • Prompt student to verbally repeat back the contract
    • Student: “I will do 5 math and then choice!”
  • (Set-up a new First/Then and allow access to reinforcement ) – As soon as the “first” part of the contract is completed by the student, they should immediately access their reinforcement. However, prior to allowing access to reinforcement, attain a new first/then contract.
    • Determine that he will first earn reinforcement
    • Then return to work and
    • Then earn reinforcement again
    • Set-up a new visual
      • “Now you earned choice time for 5 minutes! Remember than then you are going to read and then you can earn 5 more minutes of choice!
      • Have student repeat the contract.

This process will further decrease the likelihood of the student refusing to transition from earned reinforcement back to work/demand.

(Use a timer) – Set a visual timer for the student to see how long they will get with their reinforcement. As soon as the timer goes off, prompt should be given to return to the new First/Then.

Final note: When implementing this process for the first time with a student, it is important that they earn their reinforcement several times within a short duration of time. This will teach them that they can expect to regain access to the reinforcement, and thus do not need to engage in maladaptive behavior when it is time to return to work and give-up the desired activity.

Try it out!

If you have feedback or further questions go to the Diagnostic Center-North Facebook page and comment or send us a message!


Tara Zomouse, M.Ed., BCBA

  • Help! Helping parents with summer behavior


Help! I am a parent of a young child with behavioral difficulties. We have worked hard to put together supports at school and he had a pretty good year. Once school was going more smoothly for him, his behavior at home improved as well. But now he’s home for the summer and his behavior has gotten worse! Do you have any ideas on how I can help him be successful while he’s home all day during the summer? Thanks so much!


Thank you so much for this question. It is incredibly relevant for so many parents out there! It is very common for kids to struggle with increased behavior during the summer months. It is difficult to say why exactly any given child is engaging in behavior without specifically analyzing the factors that contribute to maladaptive behavior (sorry the behavior analyst in me can’t help it! J). But there are basic tips that can be helpful for almost every child (and family!)

Create home structure- Kids needs structure. Even though they often fight it and complain about it – it’s a huge underlying factor for inappropriate behaviors. School provides a daily routine, structure, and consistency from day to day. Therefore, making home-time during summer somewhat structures can be very helpful. This can be accomplished in lots of ways. Some examples:

  • Create a written or visual schedule of what the day will entail. If the locations and/or activities that a child is going to be engaging in varies from day-to-day, a schedule is highly recommended. If there is less variance, but a lot of open time a schedule can create that structure.
  • Include leisure activities and chores and self-hygiene as part of the schedule. Therefore, there is an expectation that all day isn’t just lazy and/or play time.

Limit the amount of time spent on “favorite” activities – During the school year kids will typically be limited in the amount of time they get to spend doing their very favorite things (i.e., iPad, video games, watching videos, playing outdoors, engaging with a favorite toy). In the summer it is very easy to let these boundaries lax a bit. However, when there are no limits on these activities, kids tend to increase the behavior when that time is then limited. This means that when you ask them to turn off the devices or come inside – there may be an increase in tantrums/refusal/negotiating, etc. because those limits feel unexpected to them. Therefore, continue to provide clear time limits and implement them consistently! This is so helpful in the long run…I promise!

Require that kids earn what they want- When it comes to successful behavior at school, kids are usually having to complete some kind of work or task demand to access items/activities that they want. This technique can be highly successful at home as well. Consider having your child complete chores or practice academic skills for a period of time before gaining access to the item/activity that s/he wants. This also establishes the requirement that kids participate around the home as part of their summer and across life!

I hope these ideas are helpful!

Good luck, be consistent, be creative and keep in mind that structure and expectations will make summer more fun for everyone! J


Tara Zomouse, M.Ed., BCBA

  • How can I access resources from this year’s PENT Cadre forum?


Hello! I know that each year the Positive Network Environment of Trainers (PENT) meets to discuss new information in the field of behavior. Is there a way for people who did not attend to access that information?


Hello and thank you for reaching out regarding resources from the PENT Forum. The answer is, yes there is an easy way to access all of the information from this year’s wonderful forum.

Go to and click on the “2018 Forum Handouts”. The button looks like this:

The focus of this year’s Forum was on re-introducing the elements of the Direct Treatment Protocol (DTP) and how to design an effective plan that meets both emotional and behavioral needs of students. I would recommend checking out the following specific resources (although everything there is fantastic!):

  • “Functional Behavior Assessment to Inform Treatment Decisions” – Dr. Clayton R. Cook, PENT Research Director
  • Direct Treatment Protocol: Steps for Implementation” Dr. Clayton R. Cook, PENT Research Director, Vanessa Smith, PENT Director, Dr. Bruse Gale, PEND leader
  • “Student-to-Intervention Matching System”

Good luck and enjoy all of the rich content that PENT provides!


Tara Zomouse, M.Ed., BCBA

  • Positive and preventative behavior strategies


I am a special education teacher and I have several students who engage in a lot of behavior throughout the day. When I ask my administration about Functional Behavior Assessments (FBA) for those students, they told me that I need to implement positive and preventative behavior strategies before we look at interventions that are more intensive for these students. The problem is that I’m having a hard time finding information about what specific preventative behavior strategies are. Can you help?


This is a wonderful and very timely question. There is a strong focus right now across the educational system to create more preventative measures to support students who struggle with appropriate classroom behavior. Positive Behavior Intervention & Supports (PBIS) is a national movement whose mission is to use positive behavior interventions to, “improve social, emotional and academic outcomes for all students, including students with disabilities and students from underrepresented groups (”

Implementation of PBIS within the classroom consists of a set of specific strategies that include how the environment is designed, how students receive positive feedback (or reinforcement), and considerations for style of instruction.

The key to what makes a strategy positive is that it calls attention to the appropriate and correct behaviors in which students are engaging. The practice of finding positive ways to reinforce and praise students when they are doing the right thing is more effective than the practice of telling students what they are doing incorrectly.

The key to what makes a strategy preventative is that it is implemented prior to students engaging in any kind of negative or inappropriate behaviors. Preventative strategies should be in place consistently and be a regular part of the classroom culture.

Below is self-assessment that includes nine common positive and preventative behavior strategies. Below the self-assessment is a link to a padlet that outlines examples, videos, and more explanation of each of the nine strategies.

There is a great deal of information on preventative behavior interventions and it can be overwhelming! I hope this self-assessment can help provide a few specific strategies so that implementation is not quite so daunting.

Good luck!

Tara Zombres, BCBA



  • Online resources for all your behavior needs! (or at least some…)


I am a classroom teacher who is supporting students both in general education classrooms, and within my own special education room. I am always looking for new ideas and strategies to try and to recommend that other teachers try. Do you know of any helpful resources that area easily accessible?


Hi! Thank you for your wonderful question. There are a plethora of wonderful resources available on the internet in the area of behavior supports. However, I know it can be overwhelming to try and decide how to select a strategy, which websites are evidence based and which ones provide strategies that are supported by the California educational system. As a person who provides trainings across the state in positive behavior supports and reinforcement systems, I run into the same problem! Where do I start?!?!

My solution has been to use the format to put together a “one stop shop” for behavior supports. This is an online resource that allows for a ton of content (i.e., videos, articles, checklists, examples) in an easily accessible format. I’ve made this Padlet open to the public in hopes that it can be a resource that is relevant and helpful to what teachers are needing to support their students.

Below is a screen shot of the Padlet, and a link.

Good luck!

Tara Zombres

  • Why Are Replacement Behaviors Not Working?


Can you provide some tips on how to identify and teach replacement behaviors that will work?


Effectively identifying and teaching replacement behaviors to student who struggle with problem behaviors is an integral part of the behavior change process. While each student’s identified replacement behavior should be highly individualized, to address their specific behaviors, here are a few steps and tips to consider.

Tip 1 – A replacement behavior is a functional equivalent of the problem behavior. This means that the replacement behavior has to get the student the same thing (i.e., to escape or attain) that the problem behavior gets the student when they engage in the undesired behavior.

Tip 2 – Replacement behaviors should be easier than the effort needed for the student to engage in the problem behavior.

Often this step most significantly affects the success of a replacement behavior. If the skill that the student is asked to engage in is difficult, the likelihood of the student using the problem behavior instead increases.

Tip 3 – Replacement behaviors should not be contingent on a student performing target skills before accessing desired response.

Keep in mind that another component of a behavior plan is to identify a skill to increase. This is the appropriate place to identify the behavior that the team has identified for the student to learn so that the problem behavior is no longer needed.

This is a place to start! For more information and examples, check out California’s Positive Environment Network of Trainers (PENT) website at

  • Behavioral teaching strategy for the non compliant student


Can you please provide an example of a teaching or learning strategy that can be used with a student who has high rates of noncompliant behavior? This student has an intellectual disability and has Fetal Alcohol Syndrome. We use reinforcement systems, but they don’t seem to be highly effective, especially when trying to get her to learn new skills or engage in novel activities.



Thank you for your question. This is a very helpful subject area for so many teachers and parents struggling with students who engage in difficult behavior when exposing them to new learning activities.

A best practice behavior intervention that targets compliance, completion of task, and builds behavioral momentum is high probability instructional routines. When a student struggles with noncompliance and refusal to engage in tasks and demands, using a high probability instructional sequence will increase the motivation for the student to comply with given directives. This strategy can be used across all aspects of a student’s day. It is especially effective when a child is being asked to engage in a request that is less likely to produce a compliant response. The theory behind the strategy is that providing requests that are more likely to produce a compliant response (high p) before introducing the less likely request (low p), the student will gain positive momentum towards compliance and, thus, increases the likelihood that the low p will occur.

An example sequence is provided below

  • Identify high probability tasks – These are tasks that the student is likely to engage in when asked. The tasks can be academic in nature, but can also be “silly” and/or kinesthetic.
      • Examples: sit down, spell your name, touch your nose, spin around, etc.
  • Identify the low probability (low p) task – This is the task that the student is unlikely to engage in.
      • Examples: time to come in from recess, beginning academic tasks, etc.,
  • Present multiple high p requests followed by the low p demand – The process of presenting several tasks that the student will more likely to engage in builds behavioral momentum and increases the likelihood that they will complete the task they are less likely to engage in. These tasks should be presented in fast succession (within a few seconds of each other).
    • There should be 3-4 high probability tasks followed by verbal praise
    • Present only 1 low probability task
    • When the low probability task is completed, the student should earn immediate reinforcement that is highly motivating and desired.

See example below: