Students with Disabilities

High five. Child with downs syndrome giving high five to her teacher in classroom
Creating safe, supportive learning environments for children and youth with disabilities is a critical responsibility of all school personnel. Students receiving special education and related services under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) have civil right protections, including a free and appropriate public education. To ensure a high-quality education prepares them for further education, employment, and independent living, students with disabilities need to be part of an inclusive school-wide system of positive behavior support. When implemented school-wide, the tiered framework of PBIS benefits all students – including students with disabilities.

Why Use PBIS to Support Students with Disabilities?

Historically, schools found reasons to exclude students with disabilities from general education settings. With the passage of the Individuals with Disabilities in Education Act (IDEA) and its amendments, Congress recognized schools must be inclusive of all students and use evidence-based approaches to support the behavioral needs of students with disabilities. PBIS is the only approach specifically mentioned in the law for preventing exclusion, improving educational outcomes, and addressing the behavior support needs of students with disabilities. In addition to PBIS, the law states education for students with disabilities can be more effective when schools:

  • Provide incentives for whole-school approaches
  • Implement scientifically-based early reading programs
  • Use early intervention services to stop labeling students as ‘disabled’ in order to address their learning and behavioral needs

Supporting Students with Disabilities within a Tiered Framework

Children and youth with disabilities benefit from free, appropriate, public education designed to meet their unique needs. At the same time, we serve students with disabilities best when we integrate their general and specialized supports into the larger school-wide framework.

Tier 1  

Students with disabilities benefit from Tier 1 supports by including the school-wide language for expectations in their individualized education plan (IEP) and goals. Adopting these expectations and applying them during specialized instruction is important, too. School personnel teach students behavioral expectations using the core PBIS lessons and use the school-wide acknowledgement system for appropriate behaviors. Within classrooms, children with and without disabilities benefit from lots of opportunities to respond, positive acknowledgements, and reminders like prompts and pre-corrections.

Tier 2

At Tier 2, students receive targeted interventions beyond what are provided at Tier 1 support. Students with disabilities may benefit from Tier 2 supports the same as any other student in the school. One consideration when placing students with disabilities on Tier 2 supports is to insure the Tier 2 support does not reduce or replace services outlined in the student’s IEP.

Tier 3

Tier 3 supports a few students who engage in chronic, severe behaviors and who haven’t responded to Tier 1 and Tier 2 supports. Part of the Tier 3 framework includes designing Behavior Intervention Plans (BIP) with interventions driven by Functional Behavioral Assessments (FBA). Teams may apply a person-centered or wraparound process. These processes place student and family needs at the center of the support provided for students with complex needs. Students with disabilities access Tier 3 interventions in two ways

  • As part of typical school practices or
  • As required through the IEP

If the individualized behavior supports are part of the student’s IEP, school teams follow procedural safeguards afforded students with disabilities through IDEA. When a student is suspected to have a disability, teams follow their district policies and procedures to comply with IDEA regulations.

See More/Less


Resources in this section include assessments, blueprints, examples, and materials to aid in implementing PBIS.


Publications listed below include every eBook, monograph, brief, and guide written by the PBIS Technical Assistance Center.


Presentations about their experiences, published research, and best practices from recent sessions, webinars, and trainings


Recordings here include keynotes and presentations about PBIS concepts as well tips for implementation.