In our training, we tell people that “the ultimate goal of The Mandt System® is to build healthy relationships in the workplace.” Our approach to Positive Behavior Support (PBS) is very much in keeping with this goal. We also tell people that in the assessment process, we always assess ourselves first before we assess others.

In the preface to the document Challenging Behaviour: A Unified Approach, Rob Grieg, National Director: Learning Disabilities said, in part:

“The real challenge to abilities and capacities is to
those responsible for planning, commissioning, managing and providing
services for people with such complex needs. It has been our historic
failure to do that successfully that has resulted in people being excluded
from mainstream society and segregated into inappropriate services. The
acceptance of that ownership by ourselves rather than attributing the
outcome to the individual’s behaviour is an important step towards achieving
better outcomes for all people.”
(Royal College of Psychiatrists, British Psychological Society, & Royal College of Speech and Language Therapists, 2007)

The Mandt System® approach to PBS is very much in keeping with the above quote. It is our responsibility to create the organizational cultures which support PBS, and our responsibility to always support people, not just their behavior. We know that all behavior is communication, and the result of complex neurological and sensory processes, and all behavior is either an effort by someone to acquire or escape something, someone, someplace. The task practitioners of PBS have is to listen to the person, and then find ways to support them to get and/or get away from what they want (or don’t want) in ways that do not hurt themselves and/or others.

The Australian Psychological Society has developed what we believe to be the most useful definition of challenging behavior:

“Challenging behaviour is a term that is used broadly and is sometimes also referred to as a ‘behaviour of concern’. Emerson et al. (1988) define challenging behaviours as behaviour that is of such intensity, frequency, or duration that the person and others around them are at serious risk, or behaviour that is likely to seriously limit or delay access and use of ordinary community facilities. McVilly (2002, p.7) uses the term ‘challenging behaviour’ to denote any behaviour that: (1) is a barrier to a person participating in and contributing to their community (including both active and passive behaviours); (2) undermines directly or indirectly a person’s rights, dignity or quality of life; and (3) poses a risk to the health and safety of a person and those with whom they live and work.”
(The Australian Psychological Society, 2011)

As practitioners of PBS, our job is to find ways to remove the barriers that prevent people from both participating in and contributing to the communities in which they live, learn, work and play, improve their quality of life, and increase their safety and the safety of those around them. How we do this, how we implement the plans that are developed is critical. The best written plan is dependent on how well the assessment was done, and as importantly (and perhaps even more importantly) how well it is implemented by the staff who are implementing the plan.

In our chapter on Positive Behavior Support, we use a definition from Northern Arizona University to guide the process of implementing PBS plans. The definition includes a part that says “Practitioners of Positive Behavior Support continually move away from coercion.” (Northern Arizona University, 2005) This statement recognizes that coercion is part of our society and that there may be times when someone’s behavior is so dangerous that coercive restrictions, non-physical as well as physical, may be needed. We will find ways to be less coercive next year than we were this year, so we can invite people to participate in plans to change their behavior rather than make them comply.

Moving away from coercion requires that we always “check ourselves” when we are in a position have to decide how to respond to a behavior that may pose a threat of harm to self and/or others. Moving away from coercion means that we focus on knowing who this person is and not just what this person does (or does not do). Moving away from coercion means supporting people, not just their behaviors. The New Brunswick, Canada, Department of Education Standards on Positive Learning and Working Environments says, in part:

“5.4 Students have a sense of belonging and connection, feel they are supported by school personnel, and have a positive relationship with at least one adult in the school system. 5.5 Parents, school personnel, district staff and the school community understand that social skills, self-discipline, empathy, compassion and ethics are learned throughout life. Each partner in education plays a role in transmitting these values through instruction and by example.”
(New Brunswick Department of Education, Policy 703, December, 2009)

In his paper on The Importance of Belonging, David Pitonyak writes:

“In my view, most people served by the human services industry are profoundly lonely. Loneliness is the central reason why so many are unhappy and distraught. It is not because our instructional strategies are ill-informed or because our planning processes are inadequate. It is not because our medications are in-potent or because staff are untrained. Their suffering results from isolation.”
(The Importance of Belonging, Imagine, Vol 5, 2010)

By centering ourselves on building healthy relationships, we can address the issues Pitonyak and others have identified, and be in a position where we can call people out of isolation and into relationship with at least one other person. When trust is present in relationships, coercion is rarely if ever needed. And in this way, we can support behavior positively.

Bob Bowen, CEO – The Mandt System, Inc.