6 Ways to Write an Effective Individual Support Plan

Published On: 3 April 2024

Behaviour support plan, positive handling plan, support and intervention plan, individual care plan, individual support plan; with so many different potential names, it’s hardly surprising there are misconceptions surrounding what an Individual Support Plan could or should look like in schools and health and social care settings.

Before we explore what to include in a plan of this nature, it’s important to clarify what we mean by an Individual Support Plan, to ensure a shared understanding of its purpose.

A succinct and insightful working document
Put simply, an Individual Support Plan is a simple, succinct and manageable working document that gives us information about an individual. It allows us to predict and prevent potential scenarios, by providing background and context around those in our care.

It does not need to include every last detail, such as emergency contact numbers, medical reports, external agency reviews and so on; instead, it is a snapshot of an individual, offering insights into key strategies that we can use to support them effectively.

As a pivotal working document, it should be readily available to anyone involved in the care of the child, young person, or adult. That way, the relevant people and professionals can equip themselves with the knowledge and understanding they need to offer timely, appropriate support. Key staff members should have full ownership of the document, ensuring that the content is reviewed and updated regularly.

Individual Support plans are often used in conjunction with pen portraits and communication passports.

What should an effective Individual Support Plan include?
While the name of the document may vary, and the contents might differ depending on the nature of our organisations, there are some key areas we can consider when creating an effective Individual Support Plan.

1: Snapshot
This is a short summary of the individual, including things like their likes and dislikes, what they are good at, things they struggle with, and how they like to communicate.

These insights enable us to make connections with the child, young person, or adult, and identify ways to engage with them and develop trust. If an individual likes trains, for example, we could use this as a conversation starter to open up further dialogue and get to know them better.

2: Triggers
Triggers include things that the individual finds difficult to cope with, and that can cause heightened arousal and behaviours of concern. It could, for example, be a certain noise, a particular environment, or a specific person. It may be that making certain demands on the individual causes them to feel increasingly stressed and anxious.

If we are aware of a person’s triggers, we can pre-empt these, plan for them, and make appropriate adaptations where necessary when offering support.

3: Presentation
It’s important to understand what the behaviour of the individual can look and sound like when they’re feeling regulated (their baseline behaviour) and when they’re becoming dysregulated. These behaviours can give a valuable insight into how the individual is feeling at that point in time.

This needs to be individualised as one individual’s distressed behaviour, may be another person’s usual presentation. Flapping hands, for example, may indicate increased stress for someone, prompting us to respond with an appropriate support strategy to reduce arousal, whereas for another individual, this is a usual behaviour for them and does not require support

Different behaviours can be cues for us signalling what might happen next. Sharing experiences and scenarios with colleagues can help us spot patterns of behaviour and make decisions around how best to respond in a joined-up, coherent way.

4: Support Strategies
Different support strategies work for different people, so it’s important to reflect on what we know about an individual, and what has worked well previously. Some strategies will be proactive, such as anticipating triggers, or pre-emptively making adjustments to the environment. Others will be reactive, such as re-directing to a new environment, or employing ‘change of face’, to defuse, de-escalate and divert behaviour.

When introducing a new strategy, it’s vital to document and evaluate it in the plan. If something has been a success, it needs to be shared; equally, if the individual hasn’t responded well, colleagues and other stakeholders need to be made aware.

5: Risk Assessment
Depending on the needs of the individual and the nature of the setting, it may be appropriate to include a risk assessment in the plan, with details around changing the environment, altering routines, or providing additional supports, to reduce heightened stress and anxiety.

However, it’s also important to acknowledge that things don’t always go to plan, and formal risk assessments are limited in quickly evolving situations. We also have to make dynamic risk assessments in real time, to keep people safe from harm.

6: Physical Interventions
Plans should always include if physical interventions are used to support an individual. Restrictive practices should only ever be used when it is in the best interest of the individual. They must be reasonable, proportionate and necessary, and should involve the minimum force for the shortest time.

If physical interventions are on an Individual Support Plan, this doesn’t mean that they should be used automatically when an individual is showing behaviours of communication. Restrictive practices are a last resort, and we should focus our efforts on defusing and de-escalating situations to reduce or eliminate the need for them.

Ownership of the Behaviour Support Plan
Effective communication and consistency are key to ensuring that individuals always receive the most appropriate support. We can facilitate this by involving as many colleagues as possible, from various agencies, if necessary, in the formulation of any Individual Support Plan. Moreover, creating it in collaboration with, and sharing it with parents and carers can help ensure that they are kept informed, are able to voice their ideas, and are fully on board with the suggested support strategies.

Individuals should also be included as fully as possible in creating and understanding their own Individual Support Plans. Alternative and augmentative communication aids and devices should be used to help facilitate this to support understanding. By including individuals in their own plans, we can help to involve them in creating the best supports for their needs.

When working with individuals to create support plans, we can use simple prompts to discuss and name feelings, identify the associated behaviours, and look for suitable support strategies:

  • ‘When I do X, it means I’m feeling Y.’
  • ‘When I’m angry, I…’
  • ‘I don’t like it when….’
  • ‘I like to…’
  • ‘To calm down, I…’
  • ‘People can help me by…’

We must be careful, however, not to press individuals to reflect on their behaviour if they are not ready to; timing is key, and they need to feel calm, relaxed and at ease. It should be a non-judgemental process of working together and building trust.

Final thoughts
Individual Support Plans are a pivotal working document. They should be readily available to anyone involved in the care of an individual. They should be kept regularly updated to ensure they are relevant and used by professionals working with the individual. If they’re not up to date, they will only ever be of limited value, and could even become detrimental to providing the best support.

Well-crafted Individual Support Plans equip us with the confidence to support and understand the children, young people, and adults we care for, and gain valuable insights into the strategies that best meet their needs. It’s one of the many ways we can create consistent support across our settings.

And if you’d like to talk to us about your needs when it comes to supporting behaviour in your organisation, please get in touch any time.