The operational definition for an educational context that I’ve always heard for “behavior” is: something you can observe the student doing.
When I googled the definition I got “The way in which one acts or conducts oneself, especially toward others” or “The way in which an animal or person acts in response to a particular situation or stimulus.”
Almost anything a student does is observable. It is the social context, as put forth in the first definition, that determines whether it is a behavior (conducting oneself in relation toward others.)
To put that in a behavior tracking context: We can observe anyone breathing, but for most students there is no reason to track that as a behavior. For a student who is severely respiratory compromised, for whom continued ability to maintain consciousness (and therefore maintain any relationship with others) is a concern, it is a very appropriate behavior to track.
The problem comes, I think, not when we try to define the behavior (defining observable behavior is a skill, but is one that can be mastered with practice.) Where we struggle is in defining the social context. When the norm is typically developing age-peers, almost everything a student with high support needs does will be considered a behavior, because the things they do successfully and independently often look very different from their peers: indistinguishability does not allow for the beauty of neurodiversity. However, when the norm is peers with high support needs, we are often setting ourselves on a slippery slope of low expectations: “this is the best they can hope for so we just have to accept it.”
The justification I so often see for tracking indistinguishability behaviors (stimming, eye contact, etc) is that that kind of behavior will not be accepted “in the real world.” There are certainly neurodiverse individuals out there spending a lot of energy practicing indistinguishability behaviors in order to be successful “in the real world” right now. What would it take so they, and our students, didn’t have to?
In the classroom, we have near-complete control over the social context. And the social context that students learn in school is the one they will bring with them into the adult community and workplace. If we build a classroom community that values neurodiversity over indistinguishability, that is the social context that students will learn. It has worked for successful businesses like Google and Apple. It will work in our classrooms too. And it just might change the world for the better.