Education and Counseling for Individuals Affected by Oppositional Defiant Disorder and ADHD

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School Behavior Problems

Hi Again Mark,

It’s the beginning of week 4 and I’ve just finished reading through the last sections. We’ve continued to make great progress at home and the positive behaviours we’ve started to see from our son are nothing short of amazing. I’m sorry to ask the same questions, but I still don’t know how to handle a couple of situations. I hope you can help me with some specific ideas.

As I mentioned, our son will often become over-excited in social situations and be either annoying, offensive and/or aggressive. This can even escalate into a violent tantrum. We can now handle any meltdowns at home quite well with poker face etc. and mostly ignoring him until he’s calm. This has worked really well and we even got an unprompted apology the other day (unheard of!). My question is: if he’s in a situation where I can’t ignore or leave him alone because he may harm/disrupt others, how do I handle it without giving him any intensity – especially if it usually means we may have to physically remove him from the situation?

My second question is about school again. Unfortunately since I last emailed, he was reported for hurting another boy, given a suspension and told that one more physical incident will mean being expelled. I guess all I can do is stick to the program and hope that doesn’t happen. But also as I mentioned, he comes home each day with a report of how he’s performed against a set of ‘goals’ - ie key areas he MUST improve in – if he can’t, again he will be asked to leave the school (which I think will destroy him). He is given a ‘score’ of 1 (good) to 3 (bad) each day for: sitting still, listening without interruption, working in a group and respecting others. He is still constantly getting 3s. Should I let this run its course? Or should I impose consequences for constant bad scores as they essentially mean he’s behaving badly at school?

Thanks so much again

Hi L.,

Here are some ways to start dealing with problems or potential problems early, when there is still time to work with teachers and administrators to make school a tolerable place for your son.

  1. Listen when your son talks— Kids don't answer the question "How was school?" because they know parents only want to hear good news. Parents should reconnect with what it really feels like to be in school -- the uncomfortable desks, the stuffy classrooms, the disengaged teachers, the work that is either too easy or too hard. Think about what it really feels like to be your child at school. Ask questions about feelings, and really listen to what he or she says. Don't be quick with a pep talk and a pat on the back. Having someone to listen, without judging, can help defuse some of the frustration that might later erupt in dangerous behavior. And if you listen closely, you may be able to figure out other ways to lessen your child's emotional burden.
  1. Be realistic about your child's abilities-- Pushing and motivating and holding high expectations can drive some children to be all they can be, but it can drive others straight into anxiety and depression. Would you want to work at a job, day in and day out, where you always had to be at the top of your abilities, handling things you weren't quite on top of and hoping things turn out alright? Kids can't quit, and they have very little recourse in terms of demanding better working conditions, but they can find all sorts of ways to act out their anger and despair. Be honest and compassionate when considering what sort of classroom your child will learn best in and what sorts of supports he or she will require. Academics are important, and it's not wrong to make them your biggest concern, but emotional support and feelings of mastery are important, too.
  1. Be respectful of authority yourself-- We all know how important it is to fight for our children and be strong, effective advocates. That struggle may lead us to conclude that some teachers and some administrators are not worthy of our respect, and their judgment is subject to doubt. But be very, very careful how you communicate that to your child. You may think the message you're giving is that grown-ups can be wrong, and you will always stick up for him, and she should value herself even when others criticize. The message your child receives, though, may be that it's okay to be disrespectful to teachers, the rules don't apply to her, and you will clean up every mess he makes. That's an attitude that's sure to cause major problems at school, and beyond -- if you teach a kid to question authority, sooner or later he's going to question yours.
  1. Volunteer at your child's school—Being a presence at your child's school -- whether you volunteer at the library or help in the lunchroom, serve as class parent or staff special events -- pays numerous dividends. It gets you known by the administration in a non-adversarial context. It lets your child know that school is important to you and a place you want to be. It gives you an opportunity to observe what goes on in that building, from the conduct of the students to the morale of the teachers. If you can't spare the time to volunteer during the school day, attend every Home and School Association meeting you can, and be sure to show up for Back to School nights and teacher conferences. When school personnel get to know you as an involved and interested parent, they're more likely to be your ally when problems come up.
  1. Request an FBA— If the school is sending home complaints about your child's behavior -- and expecting you to do something about it -- put the ball back in their court by requesting a Functional Behavior Assessment (FBA). This will force school personnel to really think about your child's behavior, not just react to it. An FBA examines what comes before bad behavior and what the consequences are for it; what possible function the behavior could serve for the child; and what sorts of things could be setting him or her off. If a child finds classwork too hard or a classroom too oppressive, for example, getting sent to the hallway or the principal or home could become a reward, not a punishment. Conducting an FBA and writing a behavior plan based on it is probably the best way to head off discipline problems. If teachers and administrators refuse to go along with it, you might need to do a little behavior analysis on them.

A Functional Behavioral Assessment (FBA) is an attempt to look beyond the obvious interpretation of behavior as "bad" and determine what function it may be serving for a child. Truly understanding why a child behaves the way he or she does is the first, best step to developing strategies to stop the behavior. Schools are required by law to use FBA when dealing with challenging behavior in students with special needs, although you may need to specifically push for it. The process usually involves documenting the antecedent (what comes before the behavior), behavior, and consequence (what happens after the behavior) over a number of weeks; interviewing teachers, parents, and others who work with the child; evaluating how the child's disability may affect behavior; and manipulating the environment to see if a way can be found to avoid the behavior. This is usually done by a behavioral specialist, and then becomes the basis for a Behavior Intervention Plan.

Examples: A student may act up frequently and be sent to stand in the hallway. But, a FBA may find that the student acts up only during times when a lot of writing is required in class, and that he has documented difficulty with fine motor skills. The misbehavior serves the function of getting him out of written work. Supports to reduce the amount of writing needed and tools to make writing easier may eliminate the behavior in a way that escalating punishments never will.

There is no hard and fast rule regarding what sources of information an FBA includes to lead to some hypothesis about the function of a particular behavior. Let's start by considering what type of information we need and then we can think about how to obtain the answers to these questions:

· Does the behavior occur frequently or infrequently?

· Does the behavior occur in all settings or just some?

· Does the student have the ability to control the behavior or will she need some supports to control it?

· Does the student have the necessary skills to engage in the desired behavior or is there a skills deficit that needs to be addressed?

· Does the student understand the expectations for behavior?

· If the student does have the skills to perform the desired behavior, does the student have the motivation to perform it?

· What is the "payoff" is for the behavior -- e.g., does the student get to avoid some unpleasant activity or get to escape some setting?

To answer the above questions, the school team will generally need to employ a variety of techniques. An FBA should not be based on one person's report or observations. It really requires multiple participants and techniques. When it comes to techniques, in addition to direct assessment of the student and recording of behavior ABC-style, the team will probably also use:

· Scatterplots or matrices tailored to the student that plot the relationship between instructional variables and student behavior over time and situations

· Structured or semi-structured interviews with the student (if appropriate), the student's parents, and school personnel involved with the student

By the end of the data collection process, the team should have sufficient quantitative data on the behavior and qualitative data to develop some guess or hypothesis about what function(s) the behavior serves for the student. It is these hypotheses that will lead to the intervention. There is an important point to be emphasized here: an FBA does not lead to a definite answer or "proof" of anything about the behavior. It leads to an "educated guess" which will then be tested or explored.

Problem behavior typically falls into one or more of three general categories:

(a) behavior that produces attention and other desired events (e.g., access to toys, desired activities)
(b) behavior that allows the person to avoid or escape demands or other undesired events/activities
(c) behavior that occurs because of its sensory consequences (relieves pain, feels good, etc.)

The antecedents and consequences are analyzed to see which function(s) the behavior fulfills. Problem behavior can also serve more than one function, further complicating the matter. The interview, combined with direct observation of the behavior is what most people use in determining the function of the behavior. This is fine when the data collected on the antecedents and consequences is clear. Most of the time this is sufficient in determining the behavior’s function(s).

For example, to determine the function of screaming, we could arrange for attention to be given to the child each time she screams and measure how frequently screaming occurs. We could also make demands on the child, terminating them each time she screams and measure how frequently it occurs. In addition, we could leave the child alone and measure how often screaming occurs. If screaming is more frequent when attention is given, we hypothesize that it occurs to get attention. If screaming is more frequent when demands are made, we can assume that screaming has served to let the person escape or avoid demands. Finally, if screaming is more frequent when left alone, we can assume that it is occurring because of its sensory consequences. This third method should be reserved only for situations in which the functions of behavior are not clear through systematic and direct observation.

Sample Functional Behavior Assessment—

Student Grade Date

Person Completing this checklist______________________________

1. Current Challenging Behavior

This can have as many descriptions of the challenging behavior. Example: Check boxes with Inconsistent behavior, sleeps in class, irresponsible, lacks motivation, etc. Boxes are checked for all that apply.

2. School History

A. Academic Skills
Strengths __________________________________ Deficits_____________________________________

B. Previous Behavior Interventions and Results (on a scale of 1-10 with 1 being poor and 10 being very effective). Put the number on line or leave blank if that intervention has not been attempted in the past.

Some examples of the check boxes for this area are: Incentives for appropriate behavior, work etc., Verbal Praise and Attention, Independent work in private , low-stimulus area, parent contacts, etc.

3. Strength Areas

A. Social Skills
Gets along with peers
Gets along with adults
Sense of humor
Likes to please others

B. Natural Talent/Skills

Mechanical Skills
Carpentry Skills

C. Coping Skills
Works well independently
Verbalizes concerns
Sorts through options before acting

4. Learning Style Description

Consider Visual, Auditory, Kinesthetic, Environmental Conditions, Instructional Presentation/Style. Indicate + or -

Overheads, blackboard
Oral Presentation
Hands on Tasks
Small Groups
Low visual distractions
Low auditory distractions

5. Medical/Physical Conditions That May Have Effect on Behavior

List of medical conditions

6. Positive School-Based Situations

Include classes or situations that are successful, along with those that the student enjoys.

Has positive friends, Positive role models, works independently, good support system, ext.

7. Difficult School Based Behavior (Academic and Social)

How long can the student tolerate the difficult situation before he/she reacts with a challenging behavior?

Situation Frequency/Duration of Tolerance

Large group situations
Auditory distractions
Tasks above ability level
Comparisons to others
Direct confrontation
Too much responsibility
Changes in environment
Poor Follow through, lack of consistency

8. Antecedent Behaviors and Conditions

Early signs of frustration or anger, what happens just before the challenging behavior?

Verbal Signs:
Loud voice
Complains of Headache
Non-Verbal signs:
Increased activity
Head down
Poor eye contact
Sad face
Hunched over
Disheveled appearance
Withdrawal from activities and peers
Decline in grades
Sudden change in friends
Physical complaints
Environmental signs:
Direct confrontation
Lack of attention
Poor follow through by adults
Increased activity in environment
Increasing demands/responsibilities
Substitute teacher
Running out of medication/not refilled
Change in family situation

9.Possible Functions of Challenging Behavior

What kind of need may have been met by the challenging behavior?

Gain attention
Escape responsibilities
Coping with stress
Coping with pain
Coping with disappointment
Dealing with depression
Dealing with lack of sleep

I hope this helps,


P.S. I’ve attached a PDF from the Child Study Center that will provide more info on FBAs.

1 comment:

Unknown said...

It sounds like he may be autistic. Escalating punishments doesn't do anything to help a child like that. Autistic children for example find it really hard to sit still, and giving him constant 3s doesn't do anything to change that. He needs proper support from the school. He could probably benefit from having an education assistant for awhile too. Get the FBA then sort out a way forward.

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