“Bad” is about perspective. Positive Behavior Supports

I’m going to take a bit of time to talk  about my slice of the world of education, special education. More specifically I teach children with autism.  Occasionally people will see one of my students having a challenging moment during a transition time while we’re out in the community and they may think, “That kid is just bad.”

The parents of my students tell me how when they calmly and firmly redirect their daughter/son other people at the grocery store, barbershop etc…give suggestions of what they should be doing. Those suggestion often involve spanking, because the child is obviously bad or  spoiled, because you’re doing too much talking.

I’m taking an extreme position. There are no bad kids.

Too often I hear children who have autism described as bad.  Too often I hear children who are emotionally disturbed, have learning disabilities, or have adhd described as bad.

If a peach is bad, you can’t fix it or assist it can you?

Kids aren’t bad.  I think you truly have to work your way to bad.  It takes 25 years of hard work to get to bad.

I’m a big proponent of positive behavior supports not just for differently abled kids, but for their typically developing peers. There is nothing that breaks my heart more than the 1950s military model of discipline. This isn’t the 1950s, so why are people still using that style of discipline? You know the type of discipline that doesn’t view behavior challenges as teachable moments, but moments to get stricter, louder, and more aggressive in an angry fashion. As a person who has been in the education system as a student and a teacher I have never seen yelling, zero tolerance, and inflexibility work.

I grew up in LA and attended elementary and high school in the 80s and 90s, so I don’t remember a time when the classroom wasn’t a bit chaotic.

In school I  remember people doing whatever they wanted and the teacher just yelling to stop and it not working.

If you yell at a child to stop yelling, what are teaching? You’re teaching the child that if you get angry,  yelling is what you should do.

And let’s not play the raise your voice game.

Raising your voice is yelling.

For people who have autism and don’t develop in the same way as their typically developing peers, they need daily social skills training. People with autism have a tendency to mirror your behavior. If your behavior solution is to punish and say “no,” then you’ll hear alot of “no” and “I’m going to call your mom,” from a child with autism.

Social skills (how to appropriately interact socially with people, how to deal with challenges, rejection…)  need to be taught, even to typically developing children.

I often feel that the harshness to control the students in inner city schools in elementary leads to nightmarish behavior management issues in the upper grades.  People always wonder why in the inner city the elementary schools are so much more controlled than the high schools and I think it has to do with the elementary schools being too strict. (Yeah I know it’s ground breaking, being less strict, but that will be another post.)

When a 15 year old who has been yelled and scared into behaving realizes he is bigger than you and that you’re no longer scary, what do you think happens. What do you think happens to a kid who behaves only owing to intimidation when they are no longer intimidated?

This discipline style is wrong. It’s damaging to typically developing kids and it can be down right deadly to children with autism.

Children with autism already have many challenges in a variety of social situations. Children with autism need good role models in conflict resolution, all children do.

What is positive behavior supports:

“Positive Behavioral Support (PBS) is an empirically validated, function-based approach to eliminate challenging behaviors and replace them with pro-social skills.  Use of PBS decreases the need for more intrusive or aversive interventions (i.e., punishment or suspension) and can lead to both systemic as well as individualized change.

PBS can target an individual student or an entire school, as it does not focus exclusively on the student, but also includes changing environmental variables such as the physical setting, task demands, curriculum, instructional pace and individualized reinforcement.  Thus it is successful with a wide range of students, in a wide range of contexts, with a wide range of behaviors.

Blending behavioral science, empirically validated procedures, durable systems change and an emphasis on socially important outcomes, PBS always involves data-based decision making using functional behavioral assessment and ongoing monitoring of intervention impact.

According to IDEA ’97, PBS is the recommended form of intervention for dealing with challenging behavior in children with disabilities.” (Positive Behavioral Supports Information for Educators By Andrea M. Cohn)

I know many educators hear about ways of reaching children from people who’ve spent a total maybe of one year in a classroom and they roll their eyes, but this truly works. Well it worked well with my personality and within my classroom.

Good solutions for behavior are not quick. Good solutions are structured, well thought out and based on evidence and research; not emotions. Science isn’t hippie nonsense, but it may look like it.

“Despite medical and scientific evidence, the ACLU and Human Rights Watch received numerous reports of children with autism who were punished because of their behavior.” (Human Rights Watch, August 2009)

And that’s a shame. It’s a shame that people don’t view social skills as part of the learning process instead a problem that needs to be yelled, snarked or 1000 unenforceable nonsense ruled out of a child.

Try PBS in your classroom. It’s not a quick fix, but it is a long-term solution that encourages appropriate behavior in students without the fear component.

If I had a wish for all students it would be for PBS to be implemented from kindergarten. We need to teach children to behave appropriately because it benefits them,  not to behave appropriately because if they don’t they will get in trouble.

Mrs F

One Response to ““Bad” is about perspective. Positive Behavior Supports”
  1. Alison says:

    Thank you, Thank you, Thank you! I teach teens who have autism and severe cognitive disabilities. I can not tell you how hard it is to persuade staff that positive behavioral supports will work. They say I am soft and that I need to raise my voice. It makes me cry to hear these students being yelled at and nagged all day.

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