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October 2021


Dear Miss Kitty:

I was so looking forward to the pandemic being over and having a “normal” school year in person. Now because of the variant we have been told that we are going back in person, but students and teachers will not be required to wear a mask.  I am worried.  I have asthma and some other medical conditions.  I will wear a mask, I am vaccinated, and will clean my room as thoroughly as I can because our custodian does not clean well. I teach a self- contained special education class of students who are 6th and 7th grade, mostly boys, and know that some of them will not wear masks. What else can I do to make sure I don’t catch the virus?

Worried Wendy

Dear Worried Wendy:

Your fear is shared by many others and thank you for your dedication to your students and your willingness to return.  Of course, the first thing you want to do is to talk with your doctor about whether it is safe for you to return to school with your medical issues.  You have not told me about all of them, but it is important for you to have that discussion with your doctor and ask if he or she believes or does not believe it is safe for you to return to school. If the doctor does deem it safe for you to return, ask whether there are accommodations that should be made for you, get those in writing, and then meet with your principal about those accommodations which need to be made because you are a person with a disability.

I am concerned that you have a custodian who, apparently based on your past experience, has shown that he or she is not cleaning adequately. More than ever, your room needs to be cleaned and disinfected on a daily basis with non-toxic materials. Because of your asthma, make sure that all cleaning supplies are non-toxic. Discuss this issue with your principal and see whether you can brainstorm solutions to the cleaning problem within your classroom. Discuss also with the principal about whether you can receive any financial reimbursement if you have to purchase your own cleaning supplies. If you cannot get resolution on the cleaning of your classroom, you may want to seek out the assistance of your teacher’s organization because there are other teachers who probably share your concern.

Now about the issue with masks that is a nationwide discussion now.  It is important you wear your mask, but you obviously are in a state or local school district where the students do not have to wear masks. Since you are the role model, if you have your mask on, the students may follow your lead. It will not be beneficial to get into a power struggle with your students about the masks, but you should establish rules that require physical distancing within the classroom. Many teachers are dealing with students not wanting to wear masks at this age, and you can address it by having the students design their own masks as an incentive to want to wear one or making them masks with their names on them.  You can also get masks with their favorite ball stars or other characters on them. It is important also that you recognize the students who will wear a mask.  

Another activity you can do with your students is to have them wear a sticker—red means that the student does not want anyone to invade their space or get too close to them, yellow means that they prefer to be cautious, but someone can get close to them, but they don’t want to be too close, and the green says that the student is comfortable with people getting close within parameters that you set.  You can then do lessons on respecting people’s personal space and talk about why the student identified himself or herself as needing the specific color of their comfort zone.

Wishing you a great school year that gets off to a smooth and productive start.


Improving the Research-to-Practice Gap in Classrooms Supporting Students with Emotional and Behavior Disorders 

Kristin S. Robertson & Carl J. Liaupsin
University of Arizona
Department of Disability and Psychoeducational Studies
Tucson, Arizona


Students with emotional and behavior disorders (EBD) exhibit a wide variety of difficult behavior and the responsibility of educating them is equally difficult.  Additionally, students with EBD face historically bleak outcomes. EBD teachers have had a continual nationwide shortage, have the highest rate of turnover, and have more teachers on emergency certification than any other teaching group. Multiple literature analysis’ have concluded that evidence-based practices are widely absent in EBD classrooms and student outcomes have had dismal improvements. This article provides suggestions for future research collaborations between practitioners and researchers in curriculum and intervention development such that interventions are feasible, relevant, and maintainable in the classroom. 

Keywords: emotional and behavior disorders, research-practice partnerships, teacher attrition

Poor Outcomes for EBD Students

There is extensive literature documenting the bleak school and post-school outcomes for students with emotional and behavior disorders (EBD). Long-term data show students with EBD perform one to two grades lower than students without disabilities (Freeman et al., 2019). Data from the National Center for Education Statistics (2021) reported 33% of students with EBD dropped-out of high school during school year 2018-2019.  In addition, post-school outcomes suggest students with EBD struggle with interpersonal relationships, unemployment, incarceration, mental health problems, and lower rates of full-time employment (Simpson et al., 2011).

The Situation of EBD Teachers

Classroom Difficulties

Teachers of students with EBD face a daily continuum of behaviors ranging in severity from low intensity behaviors such as disrespect and noncompliance to high intensity behaviors including elopement and aggression (e.g., physical harm and property destruction; Lewis, 2016).  EBD teachers face burnout at an alarming rate, which in turn has a negative impact on teachers’ health (i.e., depression, physical symptoms, wellness) and student outcomes (i.e., social and emotional struggles, academic performance; Brunsting et al., 2014).  Gilmour and Wehby (2020) reported the percentage of students with EBD was strongly associated with turnover across teacher certification categories. Additionally, a one percentage point increase in the probability of teacher turnover was associated with each additional student in their classroom with EBD.  

Poor Preparation

A continual nationwide teacher shortage of teachers of students with EBD has compounded the problem of poor resources and training. The teacher shortage has resulted in many teachers being hired on emergency certification without specialized training in teaching students with emotional and behavioral deficits.  Billingsley and colleagues (2006) reported EBD teachers have the highest proportion of teachers without certification (e.g., only 44.52% fully certified for their position). Unsurprisingly, EBD teachers report feeling unprepared and lack adequate resources to meet the intense demands of their students (Wagner et al., 2006) which is correlated with burnout and attrition (Bettini et al., 2020). Districts are often filling a revolving door of EBD teachers that have not been adequately trained.

Available Resources/Unknown Use

In addition, even fewer EBD teachers receive in-service specialized training regarding strategies for teaching students with EBD (Bradley et al., 2008). Special education teachers report professional development opportunities are rarely relevant in supporting their students (Cavendish et al., 2020). Furthermore, if professional development opportunities are available, they are mostly one-day workshops without continued support (Maggin et al., 2010).  

To mitigate the intense needs and poor outcomes of students with EBD, qualified teachers need to be trained in evidence-based practices which help ameliorate problem behavior (Billingsley & Bettini, 2019; Oliver & Reschly, 2010). However, multiple publications have suggested there is a general lack of evidence-based practices occurring in EBD classrooms (Simpson et al., 2011).  There are several reasons the research-to-practice gap exists in EBD classrooms including researchers use a “hit and run research” approach with school districts; where researchers conduct the study, gather data, analyze the results, limited information is provided to the district, then researchers move on to the next study (Lane, 2017, p. 611). In addition, research is often “top-down,” where educators are recipients of interventions and teachers’ expertise are not included in the process (Conroy, 2016, p. 192). As a result, teachers often do not continue the classroom-based interventions after research has concluded.  

Another significant limitation in the research-to-practice gap is researchers disseminate their research findings outside of sources that teachers rely on for instructional information (e.g., professional development, social media, websites, other teachers, curriculum packages; Cook et al., 2013).  Furthermore, educators often do not have the time, resources, or access to scholarly publications (Cook & Farley, 2019).  In addition, experiments are usually firmly controlled, interventions are implemented by researchers with small groups of students and are often conducted outside of the classroom setting.  Accordingly, teachers often feel that the research is not applicable or generalizable to their classroom and students.  

Improving the Research-to-Practice Gap

There is also a substantial gap in the literature demonstrating how schools adopt curriculum for students with EBD.  Given it is unknown how curriculum for students with EBD are attained, it is likely teachers are developing their own curriculum.  Moreover, evidence-based curricular resources have a substantial impact on the amount of time teachers spend curriculum planning outside of the school day, teacher feelings of adequacy, and student outcomes (Bettini et al., 2020). Lack of curricular resources interferes with a teacher’s ability to manage their workload and leads to teacher burnout (Billingsley & Bettini, 2019).  

Future research in EBD classrooms needs to develop research-practice-partnerships with teachers and administrators to determine what is working, what resources are needed, and mutually collaborate with researchers to improve the research-to-practice-gap. School data will guide short- and long-term goal outcomes and subsequent research is based on data-driven needs. Then, researchers and practitioners can mutually design classroom curriculum and interventions based on evidence-based practices, policies, and teacher expertise. Resulting partnership efforts will make intervention strategies more applicable and accessible for schools.  Research partnerships have an immediate benefit to students, while practitioners and researchers create structures and systems for intervention sustainability (Lane, 2017). In addition, including practitioners in intervention development can increase teachers’ feelings of adequacy and could reduce teachers’ burnout and attrition

Author’s Note

Kristin S. Robertson, M.A., is a doctoral student in special education at the University of Arizona. (email:; phone (520) 449-2382; 8772 W. Atlow Rd., Marana, AZ, 85653).

Carl J. Liaupsin, Ed.D., is a professor and head of the Department of Disability and Psychoeducational Studies at the University of Arizona. (email:; phone: (520) 626-3810).

This work was in part supported by U. S. Department of Education Grant H325D160006.

Conflict of Interest
The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.


Bettini, E., Gilmour, A., Williams, T., Billingsley, B. (2020). Predicting special and 
general educators’ intent to continue teaching using conservation of resources theory.  Exceptional Children, 86(3), 310-329.

Billingsley, B., & Bettini, E. (2019). Special education teacher attrition and retention: 
A review of the literature. Review of Educational Research, 89(5), 697–744. 

Billingsley, B., Fall, A., & Williams, T. (2006). Who is teaching students with
emotional and behavioral disorders? A profile and comparison to other special educators. Behavioral Disorders, 31(3), 252-264.

Bradley, R., Dootlittle, J., & Bartolotta, R. (2008). Building on the data and adding to 
the discussion the experiences and outcomes of students with emotional disturbance. Journal of Behavior Education, 17, 4-23.

Brunsting, N. C., Sreckovic, M. A., & Lane, K. L. (2014).  Special education teacher 
burnout: A synthesis of research from 1979 to 2013.  Education and Treatment of Children, 37(4), 681–711. 

Cavendish, W., Morris, C., Chapman, L., Osasio-Stoutenburg, L., & Kibler, K. (2020). 
Teacher perceptions of implementation practices to support secondary students in special education. Preventing School Failure, 64(1), 19-27.

Conroy, M. A. (2016).  Moving the dial for students with emotional and behavioral 
disorders: Ensuring early access to intensive supports.  Journal of Emotional and Behavioral Disorder

Freeman, J., Yell, M. L., Shriner, J. G., & Katsiyannis, A. (2019).  Federal policy on 
improving outcomes for students with emotional and behavioral disorders: Past, present, and future.  Behavioral Disorders, 44(2), 97–106. 

Gilmour, A., Wehby, J. (2020).  The association between teaching students with 
disabilities and teacher turnover.  Journal of Educational Psychology, 112(5), 1042-1060.

Lane, K. L. (2017).  Building strong partnerships: Responsible inquiry to 
learn and grow together: TECBD–CCBD keynote address. Education & Treatment of Children, 40(4), 597–618. 

Lewis, T. J. (2016).  Does the field of EBD need a distant set of “Intensive” 
interventions or more systematic intensity within a continuum of social/emotional supports?  Journal of Emotional and Behavior Disorders, 24(3), 187-190.

Lewis, T. J, Wehby, J. H., & Scott, T. M. (2019).  The Peacock Hill working group 
“Problems and Promises” three decades later: Introduction to the Creek Bend 
Consortium Special Issue. Behavioral Disorders, 44(2), 67-69.

Maggin, D., Robertson, R., & Oliver, R. (2010).  Integrating research, policy, and 
practice to bring science to the classroom: New leaders’ perspectives on the field of emotional and behavioral disorders.  Behavioral Disorders, 35(4), 308-324.

Oliver, R., & Reschly, D. (2010).  Special education teacher preparation in classroom 
management: Implications for students with emotional and behavioral disorders.  Behavior Disorders, 35(3), 188-199.

Simpson, R., Peterson, R., & Smith, C. (2011).  Critical educational program 
components for students with emotional and behavioral disorders: Science, policy, and practice. Remedial and Special Education, 32(3), 230-242.

U.S. Department of Education, Office of Special Education Programs, Individuals 
with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) Section 618 Data Products: State Level Data Files. Digest of Education Statistics 2020, table 219.90.

Wagner, M., Friend, M., Bursuck, W. D., Kutash, K., Duchnowski, A. J., W, C. S., & 
Michael, H. E. (2006). Educating students with emotional disturbances: A national perspective on school Programs and Services.  Journal of Emotional and Behavioral Disorders, 14(1), 12–30.

Identifying Culturally and Linguistically Diverse Students with EBD and Gifts and Talents
Alejandra A. Fernandez1, M.S.Ed., and Michelle M. Cumming1, Ph,D.
1Florida International University

As a Latina special educator and gifted teacher (first author), and a Latina assistant professor of special education, we have witnessed ongoing pushback about referring and identifying students from culturally, linguistically, and socioeconomically (SES) diverse backgrounds, who are twice-exceptional – gifted with a co-existing disability. We have often observed reluctance to refer students of color or whose first language was not English for a gifted evaluation, especially if they displayed problematic behaviors. Instead, they were often classified with emotional and behavior disorder (EBD) or another disability and placed into classrooms that focused on addressing their behaviors but not their giftedness. To ignore their giftedness resulted in students sitting in special education resource rooms or self-contained classes without receiving the education or full array of supports they needed to excel in school and later in college or on the job. 

Our experiences are a reflection of what is occurring nationally. For instance, students who display problematic behaviors (e.g., aggression, depression) are more likely to be referred for EBD if they are Black or Latinx than their White peers (Fish, 2017). Conversely, students are more likely to be referred for gifted and talented if they are White, with significantly lower rates of students classified as gifted and talented from marginalized backgrounds (Card & Giuliano, 2016; Fish, 2017; Mun et al., 2020). Further, the likelihood that students are identified as twice-exceptional, such as EBD and gifted, tends to be fairly low (Gilman et al., 2013). Thus, failure to accurately identify students from diverse backgrounds as twice-exceptional has not only long-term consequences (e.g., graduation rates, employment), but also has civil rights and legal implications.

Key Leverage Points

Because much of the failure to identify students with EBD and gifts and talents happens during the referral and evaluation process, they can be powerful leverage points to improve identification rates for culturally, linguistically, and SES diverse students. For instance, seventy- five percent of gifted referrals come from general education teachers, most of whom are White (80% of the teacher workforce is female and White; Mun et al., 2020) and may not have been trained to identify the manifestation of giftedness nor twice exceptionality in marginalized students (e.g., Lee & Ritchotte, 2019). Thus, gifted classrooms are often filled with students whose demographic is equal to most teachers across the United States: White. We have outlined several key ways school professionals can improve twice-exceptional identification for students with EBD who also have gifts and talents. 
Pre-Referral: Understand Giftedness and EBD and Check Bias

At the pre-referral phase, when interpreting whether students’ behaviors in the classroom are problematic and academic achievement is exceptional, school practitioners should (a) have an established knowledge of giftedness and EBD separately and together, (b) understand the ways they can manifest in the classroom, and (c) know what they look like for culturally, linguistically, and SES diverse students. Additionally, school professionals should check if their interpretations are rooted in implicit bias (i.e., automatic and unconscious stereotypes). Girvan and colleagues (2017) argued that implicit bias in how teachers perceive, interpret, and make decisions about students affects their discretionary decision-making. 

A key to improving the quality of the pre-referral phase and helping to decrease implicit bias comes via leadership at school and district levels, although, in many cases leaders (e.g., principals) may have limited experience and education in special education and gifted education (McHatton et al., 2010). Thus, building culturally relevant leadership that is well-versed in twice-exceptionality is important to guiding and nurturing an inclusive school culture via hiring trends and professional learning opportunities (Lee & Ritchotte, 2019; Mun et al., 2020).

Referral and Evaluation: Consider Cultural, Linguistic, and Socioeconomic Diversity 

At the referral and evaluation phases, school professionals should take into account the students’ background when considering special education and gifted referrals, as well as during the evaluation process. Enhancing their own multicultural awareness, can not only improve school professionals understanding, sensitivity, and appreciation of the values, experiences, and lifestyles of students (Aceves & Orosco, 2014), but also accurate interpretation of students’ behaviors as typical (e.g., preference for indirect, group-level feedback due to a collectivist cultural background) or problematic. Considering diversity can also guide decisions during the evaluation process to ensure reliable and valid results. For instance, guaranteeing students from low SES have had breakfast before taking an evaluation is critical to ensure results capture the student’s ability. Also, considering the use of more flexible methods of evaluating giftedness, such as not limiting to IQ tests, offering evaluations in native languages, and including portfolios (Card & Giuliano, 2016; Gubbins et al., 2018) can enhance identification effectiveness.

Improve Existing Policies

As evidenced by the limited number of students who are identified as twice-exceptional, especially students with EBD and gifts and talents, improved policies are needed related to identifying students from marginalized backgrounds. This is an area that will require strong advocacy from school professionals, leaders, and policy makers given the growing movement against addressing implicit bias and systemic racism, as evidenced by Florida’s newest amendment (State Board of Education Rule 6A-1.094124, F.A.C). The amendment has placed a gag order on teachers to not teach Critical Race Theory, despite its core construct that “racism is a social construct, and that it is not merely the product of individual bias or prejudice, but also something embedded in legal systems and policies” (Sawchuk, 2021). The policy of denying such theories will only perpetuate a system that fails to fully meet the needs of individuals who are culturally, linguistically, and SES diverse. Yet, the demands for equity and justice that came to the forefront in 2020 for individuals from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds in the United States continues to gain national and worldwide attention and support. This provides hope that, much like the civil rights movement, the educational legal framework will continue to shift to identify, include, and empower culturally, linguistically, and SES diverse students who are twice-exceptional. 


Aceves, T. C., & Orosco, M. J. (2014). Culturally responsive teaching (Document No. IC-
2). University of Florida, Collaboration for Effective Educator, Development, Accountability, and Reform Center.…  

Fish, R. E. (2017). The racialized construction of exceptionality: Experimental 
evidence of race/ethnicity effects on teachers' interventions. Social Science Research, 62(2017), 317-334. 

Gilman, B. J., Lovecky, D. V., Kearney, K., Peters, D. B., Wasserman, J. D., Silverman, L. 
K., Postma, M. G., Robinson, N. M., Amend, E. R., Ryder-Schoeck, M., Curry, P. H., Lyon, S. K., Rogers, K. B., Collins, L. E., Charlebois, G. M., Harsin, C. M., & Rimm, S. B. (2013). Critical issues in the identification of gifted students with co-existing disabilities: The twice-exceptional. SAGE Open.

Girvan, E. J., Gion, C. McIntosh, K., & Smolkowski, K. (2017). The relative contribution 
of subjective office referrals to racial disproportionality in school discipline. School Psychology Quarterly, 32(3), 392-404. 

Gubbins, E. J., Siegle, D., Hamilton, R., Peters, P., Carpenter, A. Y., O'Rourke, P., 
Puryear, J., McCoach, D. B., Long, D., Bloomfield, E., Cross, K., Mun, R. U., Amspaugh, C., Langley, S. D., Roberts, A., & Estepar-Garcia, W. (2018, June). Exploratory study on the identification of English learners for gifted and talented programs. Storrs: University of Connecticut, National Center for Research on Gifted Education. 

Lee, C. W., & Ritchotte, J. A. (2019). A case study evaluation of the implementation of 
twice-exceptional professional development in Colorado. Journal for the Education of the Gifted, 42(4), 336-361.

McHatton, P. A., Boyer, N. R., Shaunessy, E., Terry, P. M., & Farmer, J. L. (2010). 
Principals' perceptions of preparation and practice in gifted and special education content: Are we doing enough? Journal of Research on Leadership Education, 5(1), 1-22. 

Pinar, W. F., & Bowers, C. A. (1992). Chapter 4: Politics of curriculum: Origins, 
controversies, and significance of critical perspectives. Review of Research in Education, 18(1), 163-190.

Sawchuk, S. (2021, May 18). What is critical race theory, and why is it under attack? 
Education Week.…


“Non-contingent Reinforcement: An Expose”
Eric Alan Common, Ph.D., BCBA-D, University of Michigan-Flint
Kelly Carrero, Ph.D., BCBA, Texas A&M - Commerce
Erin F. Farrell M.A., BCBA, University of St. Thomas

Recreational Reinforcement is a column highlighting the recreational and leisurely pursuits of educators and professionals while also making connections and offering illustrations and examples related to applied behavior analysis. This month’s column, drawing on the literary genre of investigative journalism, examines behavior analysts use of non-contingent reinforcement in their personal recreation and leisure lives. Through our investigative reporting, we explore, is this an antecedent- or consequence-based strategy, the proof is in the pudding. 

Keywords: non-contingent reinforcement, antecedent-based intervention, reinforcement 

2021-2022 Call for Columns:
Recreational Reinforcement is a bi-monthly (6/year) column dedicated to discussing recreational or leisurely pursuits, making connections, and offering illustrations and examples related to applied behavior analysis. The only rule is nobody wants to hear about work being your “recreational reinforcement.” Please send submissions or inquiries to Dr. Eric Common at  Directions for submissions: (a) article title, (b) names of author(s), (c) author’s affiliations, (d) email address, and (e) 700–1500-word manuscript in Times New Roman font. Bitmoji, graphics, tables, and figures are optional.

“Non-contingent Reinforcement: An Expose”

Non-contingent reinforcement (NCR) is defined as “a procedure in which stimuli with known reinforcing properties are presented on fixed-time or variable schedule completely independent of behavior” (Cooper et al., 2020, p. 796). NCR is a behavior change technique often used as an antecedent intervention to reduce problem behavior.  

While reinforcement is a key term within the term NCR, in actuality, while writing this expose, we relearned NCR is actually a strategy used before the behavior targeted for change occurs. Specifically, NCR is when the interventionist delivers ongoing, brief reinforcement to an individual independent--or not contingent--of a behavioral response. Using this begs the question, is this term even accurate? A key tenet of behaviorism is the three-term contingency--antecedent, behavior, and consequence--with each term leading to the subsequent term. We can predict, observe, and shape behavior by targeting one or more elements of the three-term contingency. Antecedent conditions, for instance, refer to what is happening in the environment and sets the stage for the behavior to occur. The environment can be modified to make some behaviors more likely and other behaviors less likely; this refers to antecedent-based interventions and is described in more detail subsequently. Behaviors are the action of organisms and generally refer to all things observable, measurable, and repeatable (think action words, i.e. verbs). We can promote behavior development by identifying if behavior is or is not happening by the extent to which it is an acquisition (can’t do) or performance (won’t do deficits). In general, acquisition deficits are best remediated through direct instruction (think antecedent-based intervention) or adjusting the contingencies following the behavior, which brings us to the final term in the three-term contingency, consequences. Consequences refer to what happens in the environment following behavior. Consequences that increase the likelihood of the behavior it follows are referred to as reinforcement whereas, consequences that decrease the likelihood of future use of the same behavior are referred to as punishment.  When a consequence that was previously reinforcing is no longer delivered following the behavioral response, we have what is called extinction. A key element of consequence-based strategies is that they occur the following behavior. A key element of reinforcement is its impact on future behaviors. Therefore “reinforcement” is not at play AT ALL in NCR. So, what is NCR really?

Antecedent-based interventions are interventions that occur within the “antecedent” term of the three-term contingency. Simply put—it is a prevention strategy that is implemented before a behavioral response to promote the most desirable behavior and/or deter an undesirable behavioral response. Since NCR does not require a specific or targeted behavioral response to be delivered, many practitioners use it as an antecedent-based behavior. Perhaps it is because the word “reinforcement” is used to describe the procedure, and yet, there is no need for a desirable behavioral response to be emitted in order to access this reinforcement, which makes the term somewhat controversial. Personally, Kelly considers NCR to be an excellent pairing method or even a reinforcer sampling activity. For example, she uses this strategy to remind the person she is working with that she has things they want/like; therefore, they may be more attentive to her and whatever program she is going to try and run with them. That being said, she does not typically time her delivery of reinforcement during pairing or sampling, so what she is actually doing does not qualify as NCR.  But it is a great tip, nonetheless. Returning to NCR, instead of reinforcement, the stimulus presented independent of behavior are just known and desirable things. 

While none of us have enough street cred to change the term--yet. We encourage this academic year to help shed some light on this controversy, maybe drop NCR in conversation, give it a real proper illustration. Then ask, “Yo, what do you think of the philosophically and technically adequacy of NCR?” or “Oh my gosh, what if we changed NCR to “Non-contingent Rewards on Schedule '' (NCRoS)? (rhymes with La Croix)”

For example, 

Eric: I love taking baths, I’m on an NCR schedule of talking baths, I don’t need to do anything to earn a bath. But I do require a publication before I can take a $6 bath—complete with a bath bomb (unless I get presents from my friends with explicit instructions for them to be used non-contingently). As we say at Recreational Reinforcement, you can’t spell friendship without instructional control. 

Kelly: I love a delicious cup of coffee! I do use it as an actual reinforcer throughout my day, but I ALWAYS get a cup first thing in the morning. I wouldn’t say that I am reinforcing any specific behavior (maybe choosing to wake up instead of press snooze?), but you can bet your next paycheck that I will deliver this “reinforcer” to myself on a fixed time schedule of “as soon as I roll out of bed.”

Erin: I love talking and singing with people, but I’m on an NCR schedule of talking and singing with people, I don’t need to do anything to earn that. I do however need to convince some people to talk to me on certain occasions, or to sing with me at karaoke. When I’m able to convince others to come to a fun place to sing and talk with me, it is a much more reinforcing experience that is contingent on my ability to get others to come with me.   
Hi honey! It’s perfect!

As we close, what do you think? We encourage you to have a La Croix moment and explore the idea of NCRoS. What are your NCRoS activities? How do you incorporate NCR or NCRoS activities into your recreational activities? Is anyone able to deliver a high enough level of contingent reinforcement to get Eric to try a non-preferred activity? What is NCR really? If you see any of us at an upcoming conference, we would love to discuss this with you...and do some singing...non-contingent or contingent to the time and place.


Cooper, J. O., Heron, T. E., & Heward, W. L. (2020). Applied behavior analysis. Pearson.

Authors Bio

Eric Common is an Assistant Professor at the University of Michigan-Flint in the Department of Education and is a Board Certified Behavior Analyst at the Doctoral Level. Eric enjoys sorting, classifying, and putting into boxes all of his favorite rec and leisure activities in his free time.

Kelly Carrero is an Associate Professor at the Texas A&M Commerce. She engages in a complex reinforcement system, which requires regularly exploring new tangibles and activities as potential rewards without replacement. She also confesses to using NCR out of simple oppositional defiance and saying to herself, “You don’t need to complete that task to get that SR+/-! Just give it to yourself—that SR+/- doesn’t get to determine your behavioral response!!” 
Erin Farrell is an adjunct professor and doctoral student at the University of St. Thomas and is a Board Certified Behavior Analyst who wears many hats professionally and personally. Erin enjoys discussing behavior analysis and recreational reinforcement activities with Eric (while trying to convince him to try new reinforcement activities) and having the opportunity to explore these activities as Co-Editor of this column.

Will I Know it When I See it? Culturally Sustaining Practices

By Kelly M. Carrero, Ph.D., BCBA, LBA-TX

Our field, and many human services fields, throw around the terms cultural responsivity, culturally relevant, and culturally sustaining when citing recommended practices—but how many of us would be able to identify instances when we actually see these approaches in action? In my personal and professional journey to better understand these terms and what they look like, I have found it helpful to break down the terms and operationalize them. The first term to grasp is “culture”. Culture can be loosely defined as values, beliefs, and traditions shared by a group of people. I think it is important to note that while race and ethnicity are often aspects of how people identify, a person’s cultural identity is so much bigger than simply race and ethnicity. There are so many elements within a person’s experience that informs how s/he/they crafts his/her/their cultural identity and, quite frankly, as we grow and become autonomous from our caregivers, we bring our history with us, but we also get to select some of our cultural identity. 

So now, let’s move on to the terms “responsive”, “relevant”, and “sustaining.” All these terms center on validation and promotion of the perspective of the “other” (i.e., the “other” is the person who you have identified to be from a different culture than your own). The famous author, C. S. Lewis, said, “Humility is not thinking less of yourself, but thinking of yourself less.” When working with children and youth with emotional and behavioral health concerns, it is critical to be empathetic. The best *behavior teachers are those who do not take anything their students do or say as a personal slight. When one of our students or clients are having an “episode”, we know that even if the maladaptive behaviors are geared towards us, the behavioral episode is not really about us (for those of you who do not know—it is about the child working through his/her/their own issues, often communication issues or simply emotion regulation issues). Within this context, it is easy—dare I say it, natural—for us to practice humility. We do not believe we deserve to be the target of today’s behavioral episode, but we also know that it really isn’t about us. In order to generalize this concept of humility to culture, we must consciously choose to be aware that the person with whom we are interacting with has a different history, values, experiences, expectations, and traditions than we do AND those differences do not make our history, values, experiences, expectations, and traditions wrong or less than theirs, it is just different. Moreover, when you are practicing cultural humility, you recognize that even if you are in the same room with the same stimuli as another person that does NOT mean you are both having the same experience. Our history, beliefs, and perspectives inform how we filter stimuli and understand our experiences. Therefore, to adopt a posture of cultural humility, we must battle our assumptions and seek information and clarification from the other person and validate the ways in which they experience the situation—or the world. Adopting cultural humility takes intentionality, reflection, and grace. 

For a practice or approach to be culturally sustaining, it must validate and honor your student’s values, beliefs, experiences, identities, and perspectives. This can be incredibly difficult for those of us who are charged with teaching social skills and behavioral expectations to students with emotional and behavioral health concerns. Who decides what social skills are “appropriate”? How do we know if we are being culturally insensitive when we design our behavior intervention plans, teach behavioral expectations, or select our social skills targets and corresponding lessons? To this, I respond with two terms: social validity and cultural reciprocity. 

Social validity is defined by the field of applied behavior analysis (ABA) as: the appropriateness of a target behavior, the acceptability of the intervention strategy, and the social significance, or importance, of a target behavior (Wolf, 1978). In the context of special education and ABA services for children and youth with behavioral health concerns, both the professionals delivering the services and the caregivers of the child/youth are the panel who check the social validity of all proposed programs. This is another instance of when the term and the practice sounds great, but what does it really look like? How do we actually do this? Here is where our next term is highlighted: cultural reciprocity.

Cultural reciprocity is a stepwise “method of inquiry for [special education] professionals to reflect on their practices and question the assumptions of the field [of special education]” (Kalyanpur & Harry, 2021, pg. 16). There are four distinct steps of reflective inquiry that guide the special education professional through the process of identifying their own values and assumptions and then—in a transactional format—gathering information from the caregivers and other involved professionals about their values and assumptions. The final step in this method is collaboratively identifying targets and approaches that honor all the parties’ involved—social validity achieved!

Programming for and serving children and youth with emotional and behavioral health concerns can be so rewarding because it is truly challenging! Those of us who have lasted in this profession love a challenge and adjusting your paradigm and posture to acknowledge, validate, honor, and celebrate the values, beliefs, and experiences of others—even if we do not share the same perspectives—can be incredibly challenging on a moment-to-moment basis. I want to encourage you, though—you are better at it than you think you are. We use these same “muscles” when we are negotiating with general educators to please permit our students to practice some of their skills in the general education classroom. We use these same approaches when we identify the explicit AND hidden rules in the various contexts within the school building and we teach our students to code switch between these settings. Identify your students’ strengths and teach them to be proud of the good moments. Teach them to identify, acknowledge, and articulate their values so they can advocate for themselves as they navigate this tricky world. 

*The author recognizes that the term “behavior teachers” is neither grammatically correct nor an actual position within a school district; however, this term is reflective of our culture. Those of us who work with children and youth with the most significant and severe behavioral health concerns may have the title of “Behavior Support Teacher” or “Special Education Teacher”, but we often refer to one another as “behavior teachers.”


Kalyanpur, M., & Harry, B. (2012). Cultural reciprocity in special education. Paul H. Brookes.

Wolf, M. M. (1978). Social validity: The case for subjective measurement or how applied
behavior analysis is finding its heart. Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis, 11(2), 203-214.

Procedural Safeguards and Amanda J. v. Clark County School District

Mitchell L. Yell

In previous issues, I have written about the two Supreme Court decisions that created a standard for determining if a school district had provided a free appropriate public education (FAPE) to a student with a disability who had been determined eligible under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). These two decisions, Board of Education v. Rowley (1982) and Endrew F. v. Douglas County School District (2017), divided school district personnel’s obligations in two types of requirements: Procedural and substantive. The first type of obligation, procedural, involve the IDEA’s requirements such as child find, prior written notice, assessments, IEP teams, IEP components, IEP reviews, and notification of procedural safeguards. School district personnel must adhere to these procedural requirements when developing and implementing students’ special education programs. The second type of obligations are substantive, which involve the content of students’ IEPs (e.g., present levels statements, goal, services, progress monitoring) and whether a student’s IEPs was likely to or actually enabled the student to make progress appropriate in light of his or her circumstances.   

In 2004, when Congress passed the Individuals with Disabilities Education Improvement Act, the substantive obligations were made to be the more important of these two requirements in a section that required hearing officer make decisions on substantive grounds based on a determination of whether the child received a FAPE. This did not mean educators need not worry about their procedural obligations, rather; when a procedural violation occurred, a hearing officer could only find a student did not receive a FAPA if the procedural violations resulted in substantive harm to the student. This Congressional division of the FAPE standard into procedural and substantive requirements codified the distinction that the U.S. Supreme Court drew in Board of Education v. Rowley (1982), which was later affirmed in its Endrew F. ruling.

School personnel’s procedural obligations under the IDEA are still very important. In the following case, we see how committing the very serious procedural violation of failing to involve a students’ parents in the development and implementation of their child’s IEP may lead to a denial of FAPE, in violation of the IDEA.

Amanda J. was born in 1991. Amanda and her family lived in Clark County Nevada.  When Amanda was two years old, she was assessed by a psychologist who recommended placing her in the Clark County early childhood program to determine her eligibility for special education services and to provide speech services. She was later evaluated by a psychologist and a speech and language clinician for the school district.  They found that Amanda was developmentally delayed and suggested she be further (a) assessed by a child psychologist, (b) put on a reward consequence program to improve her behavior, (c) provided speech and language services, and (d) further evaluated for special education services. These recommendations were put in a report shared with school district personnel but not shared with Amanda’s parents. In a later assessment, a psychologist found Amanda to be severely autistic and recommended further assessment and speech and language therapy. Amanda’s mother later reported the psychologist did not share his findings with her.

In 1995, an eligibility team found Amanda was eligible for special education services. Before an IEP meeting was held, Amanda’s mother asked to be given a copy of her daughter’s assessment report. The school district sent a two-page summary of the assessment report to Amanda’s mother after the initial IEP meeting was held. In the IEP meeting, goals were written for toilet training, matching colors and shapes, establishing eye contact, making choices, and following classroom procedures and rules. Amanda was placed in an early childhood special education program.

At the end of October 1995, Amanda and her family moved to California. Shortly after moving Amanda’s mother signed consent to have Amanda’s records transferred to her new school.  A few months after beginning school, Amanda was assessed by a psychologist, who diagnosed her as having autism. When attending an IEP meeting in the new school district, Amanda’s parents were given the full assessment reports that had been conducted and the early assessment reports from the Clark County School District. Amanda’s parent discovered the district had had been aware Amanda may have had autism, although they were not informed of the possibility. This was not included in the assessment summary nor was in Amanda’s IEP.

In October 1997, Amanda's parents requested a due process hearing in the Clark County School District, to determine whether Amanda had been correctly identified and whether she had received a FAPE. The hearing officer (HO) ruled that Amanda had been misidentified and therefore had been denied a FAPE. The school district appealed to the state. A state review officer (SRO) overturned the HO. The parents appealed to the U.S. District Court for the District of Nevada. The district court affirmed the SRO’s ruling, finding that Amanda had neither been misdiagnosed not had she been denied a FAPE. Amanda’s parents appealed the ruling to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit.

The ninth circuit court noted that “Procedural compliance is essential to ensuring that every eligible child receives a FAPE, and those procedures which provide for meaningful parent participation are particularly important” (Amanda J. 2001, p. 892). The court recognized not all procedural violations, especially “technical deviations” will render an IEP invalid, but any procedural violation that infringes on a student’s educational opportunity will result in a denial of FAPE. The court also held that “Procedural violations that interfere with parental participation in the IEP formulation process undermine the very essence of the IDEA. An IEP which addresses the unique needs of the child cannot be developed if those people who are most familiar with the child's needs are not involved or fully informed” (Amanda J. 2001, p. 892). The court held the school district by not providing Amanda’s parents the full assessment information had prevented the parents full and effective participation in the IEP process. The circuit court reversed the decision of the district court. 

As the Amanda J. decision shows, when school district personnel commit procedural violations that result in parents not being fully involved in the IEP process, it is likely a hearing office will find a violation of the FAPE requirements of the IDEA. A number of special education-related cases, including rulings from the U.S. Supreme Court, have confirmed the critical obligation of school personnel to ensure that parents are partners in the special education process, from evaluation to IEP development and review. It is critically important that school-based personnel adhere to all the procedural obligations of the IDEA, but above all ensure that parents are involved in the development of their child’s IEP.


Amanda J. v. Clark County School District, 260 F.3d. 877.

Board of the Hendrick Hudson Central School District v. Rowley, 458 U.S. 176 (1982).

Endrew F. v Douglas County School District, 137 S. Ct. 988 (2017).

Posted:  13 September, 2021

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