Environmental Factors

Big Picture

"A Behavior Intervention Plan will not be effective unless it addresses the environmental factors which are contributing to the challenging behavior".

Now that you have identified the challenging behavior, have a baseline of this behavior, and antecedent conditions for this behavior, you can now begin to tailor a behavior intervention plan that will inform others of the environmental structures needed or that need to be changed to reduce the probability or future occurrence of challenging behavior. It is essential for plan developers to identify what environmental structure and supports are needed or need to be changed to reduce student engagement of challenging behavior.


When planning for behavior interventions for challenging behaviors that are socially mediated (i.e., externally reinforced, behavior that serves that purpose of getting something or rejecting/escaping something in an environment), it is important for educators/BIP implementors to understand that behavior or behaviors occur within an environmental context and conditions within the environment that may contribute to, predict or "trigger" challenging behaviors. Any of the following factors may act as possible triggers:

  • Structure and predictability of the student environment
  • Active engagement in instruction and activities
  • Degree of independence within the school day

This analysis is critical because these are variables to alter later in your plan, to remove or reduce the student's use of the behavior to achieve a desired outcome.

Key Concepts

  • BIPs must document how the environment can be modified to make it less likely that the known/identified antecedent(s) will trigger the behavior.
    • What is missing in the environment that needs to be added?
    • What is present in the environment that needs to be changed?
  • The environmental modifications must logically relate to the identified function (e.g., student is trying to escape task demand -> environmental modification: provide reduced number of problems).
  • The intent of the Environmental Analysis is to identify areas of need which directly contribute to the demonstration of challenging behavior. It is not intended to identify elements that are not related or associated with the students use of challenging behavior. For example, providing best practice recommendations for environmental supports which may be missing from the environment but do not directly connect or relate to the individual student's challenging behavior.


An environmental analysis gathers data and information about the student's environment, with the intent of identifying factors that contribute to the demonstration of challenging behavior. There may be factors which are PRESENT in the environment, that need to be changed or modified, OR factors that are MISSING, that need to be added. Determining these factors allow for the identification of interventions, supports, or modifications which will reduce the likelihood the students to need to engage in challenging behavior to get their needs met.

Assessment Methods

Review of current and existing data, A-B-C analysis, interviews of the student and others, and observation.

Steps to an Effective, Appropriate Environmental Analysis:

Step 1: Consider the identified challenging behavior

  • When conducting an environmental analysis, it is important to focus on areas of need which directly contribute to the demonstration of challenging behavior.
  • Looking at the challenging behavior as it connects to the environment, the known antecedents, and hypothesized function.

Step 2: Consider the environment as it relates to the identified challenging behavior

  • What is PRESENT that may lead to the demonstration of challenging behavior?
  • What is MISSING that may lead to the demonstration of challenging behavior?

Step 3: Consider what modifications need to be made in those areas

  • After conducting the Environmental Analysis, identify areas that will have the most impact on supporting the student's positive behavior. Consider recommendations that reduce likelihood of challenging behavior and increase likelihood of positive behavior.

Step 4: Collaborate with the implementor(s) about what they can commit to doing to support these areas of need.

  • Effective program implementation is best achieved through collaborative consultation methods. Utilizing a collaborative approach will increase team consensus and buy-in as well as increase the likelihood that interventions designed by the team will lead to greater plan implementation and fidelity.

Examples and Non-Examples




Antecedent Information

Environmental Recommendation Example


Student engages in tantrums as seen by screaming “No”, crying and tearing up papers and swatting materials off their desk.

The hypothesized function is escape from tasks demands and activities.

Student engages in behavior regularly when given difficult, lengthy, and non-preferred tasks or activities (PRESENT).

After observation it appears there are no opportunities to engage in alternate/easier tasks or activities (MISSING)

Given that we know this behavior occurs for “Difficult, lengthy, and non-preferred tasks” the team may consider looking instructional activities (i.e., is there a mismatch between learner needs and instruction?), scheduling factors (any need for transition supports/warnings, intersperse preferred tasks upon difficult transitions), and/or degree of choice.

Example: Intersperse tasks with success-level items (tasks that the student can complete with little difficulty)

The suggested environmental supports were identified because they address what is PRESENT that may lead to the demonstration of challenging behavior and what is MISSING that may lead to the demonstration of challenging behavior.

Non-Example of Environmental Recommendation:



Antecedent Information

Environmental Recommendation Non-Example


Hitting adults with a closed fist.

Hypothesized function is attention, specifically access to adult attention

Student engages in hitting during snack time when teacher attends to other students (PRESENT).

Additionally, Student hits when there is prolonged downtime (5+ minutes) and adult attention is focused on peer or otherwise diverted from student.

Provide sensory materials (such as silly putty, take student to the swings) to allow student to calm when they begin to demonstrate hitting behavior.

Not only does this suggestion not match with the function (attention), but the suggested supports are not logically related to what is missing in the environment that needs to be added (i.e., more frequent opportunities to access adult attention) and/or what is present in the environment that needs to be changed (prolonged downtime).

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