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  • Activity matrix. A chart that lists the classroom schedule of activities down the left column and the child’s current objectives or target behaviors across the top. A matrix can also have the schedule of activities down the left column and different children’s names across the top. Within the boxes is a description of how the objective or target behavior would be embedded into each of the activities. 
  • Assistive technology. Any item, piece of equipment, or product system, whether acquired commercially, off-the-shelf, modified, customized or created that is used to increase, maintain, or improve functional capabilities of children with disabilities.
  • Augmentative and alternative communication (AAC). Use of strategies that supplement or replace an individual’s verbal or vocal abilities. AAC involves considering the use of gestures or graphic modes to increase the effectiveness and efficiency of the child’s communication skills.
  • Coaching. An ongoing, outcome focused approach to improving intervention practices by providing opportunities to observe practices, implement with support and eventually implement independently.  Coaching refers more specifically to on-site and in-vivo guidance provided by a consulting professional in order to help a practitioner (parent, teacher, child care professional) learn to implement an intervention procedure with fidelity.
  • Challenging behavior. For the purpose of the Center, challenging behavior is defined as any repeated pattern of behavior, or perception of behavior, that interferes with or is at risk of interfering with optimal learning or engagement in pro-social interactions with peers and adults. Challenging behavior is thus defined on the basis of its effects. While some children’s challenging behaviors are developmentally normative and effectively addressed by adult vigilance and the use of appropriate guidance procedures, the Center is focused on identifying evidence-based practices that prevent and/or address challenging behaviors that are persistent or unresponsive to those approaches.
    For infants and toddlers, challenging behavior must be considered within the context of the relationship of the child to caregivers. Behavior that is challenging, for example, may manifest as attachment difficulties, sleeping and eating difficulties, excessive crying, and difficulty in soothing. Challenging behaviors may be defined as behaviors that interfere with the development and maintenance of reciprocal, positive, and nurturing relationships with the parent or caregiver. Challenging behavior, as a pattern of behavior, is noted by considering the relationship of the child and adult and the difficulties that are manifested in the dyadic exchange.
  • Criterion level. How well the child should perform a skill. The criterion level can be determined based on time, latency, duration, or frequency, as well as qualitative indicators.
  • Embedded Instruction. Inserting planned, individualized teaching into children’s ongoing activities, routines, and transitions in a way that relates to the context of what the child is doing. It involves distributing opportunities to use teaching strategies for the child’s objectives throughout the regular routines of the day.
  • Emotional Literacy. The ability to give word meaning (e.g., angry, frustrated, happy, proud) to one’s emotions. Children who have larger "emotional" vocabularies tend to have less problem behavior.
  • Engagement. Children actively manipulating materials, participating in an activity, or interacting with others in appropriate ways.
  • Evidence-based Practice. Refers to the use of interventions and supports that have research documenting their effectiveness. The identification of evidence-based practices promotes the use of approaches that are linked to positive outcomes for children and families. Practices that are considered evidence-based are ones that have been demonstrated as effective within multiple research studies that document similar outcomes. Dunst, Trivette, and Cutspec (2002) offer the following operational definition of evidence-based practice that is particularly meaningful for the field of early education and intervention [1] Evidence-based practices are "Practices that are informed by research, in which the characteristics and consequences of environmental variables are empirically established and the relationship directly informs what a practitioner can do to produce a desired outcome".
  • Friendship. In young children, friendship is the reciprocal sharing of toys and materials, helping each other, organizing play episodes and sharing affection.
  • Function of behavior. Purpose the behavior serves for the child. Children’s behavior usually serves one of two primary functions: to obtain something or to avoid something.
  • Functional communication. Involves being able to communicate in a way that is readily understood by the listener and that achieves the communicative intent of the communicator.
  • Functional communication training.  A procedure in which a desirable, communicative behavior is taught as a replacement for a challenging behavior, with the critical feature being that the replacement behavior serves the same function as the challenging behavior. 
  • Functional goal. A specific behavior that is needed by the child to participate more independently in a particular activity or routine.
  • Generalization. A phase of learning that involves the use of a skill outside the context in which it was initially acquired. This is often thought of as performing a behavior in another setting, with other people, and/or with materials different from those used in the instructional setting.
  • Graduated guidance. A response prompting procedure used with chained behaviors (a series of behaviors sequenced together to form a more complex skill). It involves prompting the child with the amount and intensity of prompts needed to ensure that the behaviors occur and immediately removing those prompts (but reapplying them as needed) to ensure that the series of behaviors are done correctly. As the child becomes more proficient, the adult "shadows" (follows) the child, and applies and removes prompts as necessary.
  • Incidental teaching. Teaching that takes place in response to a child’s initiation and based on a child’s interest. When the child initiates, the adult requests more elaborate behavior. If more elaborate behavior is forthcoming from the child, the adult praises the child and responds to the content of the child’s initiation. If more elaborate behavior is not forthcoming, the adult prompts the child, allows the child to respond, and then responds to the content of the child’s initiation.
  • Least to most. Another name for the system of least prompts, which involves developing a hierarchy of prompts that are ordered from the least to the most assistance needed for the child to perform a behavior. For each trial, the adult initially gives the child an opportunity to perform the behavior without prompts; if the child does not respond correctly, the adult delivers the least controlling prompt and gives the child another opportunity to respond. Again, if the child does not respond or starts to respond incorrectly, the adult delivers the next more controlling prompt. This continues on each trial until the child responds correctly or the most controlling level of prompt is provided.
  • Intentional communication. Behaviors have a deliberate effect on a communication partner. Intentional communication may be expressed nonverbally or verbally.
  • Intervention plan. A lesson plan that has been developed for an individual child and includes what to teach, when to teach, how to teach, and how to measure the effects of teaching.
  • Implementation fidelity. Implementation fidelity refers to the degree in which an intervention or practice is delivered as intended. In delivering evidence-based practices it is crucial that intervention agents deliver practices in a fashion that does not vary from how the practices were originally performed in research studies.
  • Language expansion. Listening to what a child says, then after the child speaks, responding to the child by repeating what the child has said and adding new words to the child’s statement.
  • Language sample. A list of utterances a child makes during a specific period of time or activity.
  • Mand-Model procedure. A systematic teaching strategy in which the teacher observes where the child is focusing his attention, gives a mand (i.e. asks a question or gives the child a direction to respond) and waits for the child to respond. If the child does not produce the target behavior by himself, the teacher models the target behavior for him.
  • Most to least prompts. A series of two or more prompts that provide progressively decreasing amounts of assistance. This strategy always begins with the most help a child needs in order to be able to do something with few or no errors. Over time, as the child learns the skill, the amount of support the adult provides decreases until the child is able to do the skill independently.
  • Naturally occurring antecedents and consequences. Words, events, and activities that typically occur, elicit target behaviors and serve as a consequence to target behaviors.
  • Parallel talk. Running commentary in short, simple phrases provided by the teacher or caregiver to describe the child’s actions, thoughts, and feelings.
  • Peer-mediated Intervention.  A systematic teaching strategy in which typically-developing children are taught to deliver specific social and communicative behavior to children with social skill deficits.
  • Positive Behavior Support (PBS). An individualized process for understanding and resolving the problem behavior of children that is based on values and empirical research. It offers an approach for developing an understanding of why the child engages in problem behavior and strategies for preventing the occurrence of problem behavior while teaching the child new skills. Positive behavior support offers a holistic approach that considers all factors that impact on a child and the child’s behavior. It can be used to address problem behaviors that range from aggression, tantrums, and property destruction to social withdrawal.
  • Program-wide PBS (PW-PBS).  A proactive system of preventative behavior support designed for all of the children in a multi-classroom program of early child care and/or education (e.g., Head Start, community early childhood centers).  PW-PBS involves the program-wide adoption of a tiered model of practices and procedures for providing support to children and families.  The first tier, universal practices, promotes the social development and engagement of all children.  The second tier involves providing targeted children who have risk factors or behavioral problems with more focused instruction on social emotional skills. The final tier includes a process for the provision of intensive and individualized behavior support plans for the few children who are already engaged in patterns of challenging behavior.
  • Progress monitoring. Assessments that are conducted for the purpose of evaluating children’s behavior change over time.
  • Prompt. Part of the antecedent.  Must be used before (or sometimes while) the child performs the target behavior.
  • Response Efficiency. When a person has the opportunity to choose between two or more possible responses, the response that the person perceives as most efficient will be chosen.
  • Screening.  Brief and cost effective assessment of large numbers of children to identify children who have developmental delays and need further evaluation. 
  • Social Competence. A complex set of skills that allow children to make friends, solve interpersonal conflicts and express and understand feelings in others.
  • System of least prompts. Two or more prompts that are arranged to provide increasing levels of support. The sequence of prompts begins with giving the child a natural cue to complete a task or demonstrate a skill. If the child is not able to respond independently, the child is given increasing levels of support until he or she is able to complete the task or perform the behavior.
  • Target behavior. What the child will do or say. This is the particular behavior that the child does to indicate that he or she is learning theobjective.
  • Time Delay. A procedure implemented during children’s ongoing interactions with the environment and at a point in which adult assistance or help has been regularly given in the past. It involves the adult waiting (delaying the help) for the child to initiate a target behavior at the point when help has regularly been given. During the delay, the adult looks expectantly at the child. If the child does not initiate the behavior during this delay, the adult provides a prompt (i.e., the regularly occurring help) and allows the child to continue the sequence.
  • Transition-based teaching. A procedure in which an opportunity to perform a target behavior is delivered to the child at the onset of a transition from one activity or area to another; it can be delivered when the child initiates a transition or when a transition is initiated by an adult. Often, a prompt is needed to get the child to perform the behavior, but the natural consequence is continuing with the transition.
  • Visual supports. The use of visual stimuli (e.g., objects or pictures) to communicate to children what behaviors are expected or to signal changes in activities and identify the upcoming activity.


  • [1] Dunst, C. J., Trivette, C. M., & Cutspec, P. A. (2002). Toward an operational definition of evidence-based practice. Centerscope, 1(1), 1-10.
  • Sandall, S., Giacomini, J., Smith, B.J., & Hemmeter, M.L., (Eds.). (2006). DEC recommended practices toolkits [CD-ROM]. Missoula, MT: Division for Early Childhood of the Council for Exceptional Children.
  • Sandall, S. R., Hemmeter, M. E., Smith, B. J. & McLean, M. E. (2005). DEC recommended practices: A comprehensive guide for practical application in early intervention/early childhood special education. Longmont, CO: Sopris.

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