Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Identifying Student Needs and Causes of Behaviors

With a new class and a new school, I find myself jumping in and hitting the ground running. I want to know "what's the deal with this kid?" for pretty much every kid in my class. I have 10 kids this year with various disabilities. They each have their quirks, but there is an important question to ask. WHY??
This can be answered with the following questions:
What is causing certain behaviors? 
What is the purpose of the behavior?
What happens if I push their limits?
How can I help them?

So some teacher love the "honeymoon period" as the kids are extra sweet getting to know their new teachers. My partner and I have a different philosophy. We push their limits from the get go! We want to see what happens when we push their buttons during this calm 1st week of summer school before we jump into the more challenging academics next week. This way we can create a plan and start working on interventions immediately!
A Few Examples!
Asking for help
"Miss Parnello, Can you help me spell ____?" My answer, "Nope! You're smarter than you think you are. I won't help you until you try!" (this is a phrase I use A LOT in SPED thanks to far too much learned helplessness!). Now why didn't I just help him? I looked at his paper, I saw he hadn't written a single letter, and I determined he just didn't think he could do it! The purpose of the behavior was to avoid the challenge of doing it on his own because of a lack of confidence. The outcome: he spelled all but one letter of the word correctly! Plus, we chatted when he finished the word and I asked him why I didn't help. His response, "I'm smart and I can do it myself." Look, he just gained some confidence! Easy peasy, lemon squeezy!

Making Noise
Yesterday a kiddo kept making noises and silly faces excessively. I was stuck trying to decide if it was "stimming" or attention seeking, although I was pretty convinced it was negative attention seeking. None of our negative consequences seemed to help at all. Nor did praise for stopping the behaviors. How did I figure out a motivator? I took his paper from our morning writing prompt that said "I love to ___" and the kids said the things they liked. I discovered an iPhone/iPad game that he loved and was school appropriate. Today he had a chart of 10 images from the game taped on his desk (thanks to my awesome partner!). He got an "X" on one image every time he did a negative behavior. By the end of the day he still had 9 pictures and earned 9 minutes of his game. What did we learn? He can control the behaviors, but needs an appropriate motivator. Also, I have gum as a backup plan in case it really is a sensory need and he needs to fulfill! Today he had a GREAT day!

Off Topic Conversations
A kid asks questions about things from 5 minutes ago...repeatedly throughout the day. Plus he is constantly distracted while you are talking to him, and keeps turning around a lot to see what is happening around him. What's the problem? This is something newbie teachers would just get annoyed by and think the kid was being difficult. After a bit more experience, you learn this is a sign of a sensory processing disorder! NONE of these behaviors are in his control! How can you help? Sound reducing headphones for things he doesn't need to listen to, and a speaker with a microphone on the teacher for when he does need to listen. Complications: kids who don't like headphones, and speakers that can be very distraction for other students who are bothered by sound. I know, it's not an easy solution, but you can see the behaviors have a cause. 

Impulsive & Physical Behaviors
Kid is constantly calling out, grabs others when he needs/wants something and gets overly emotional to minor problems. The cause? Impulse control and inability to self-regulate! He can't help himself! The solution? Teach him how to catch himself! Teach him how to find that moment where he is about to lose it and what to do to stop it! How? Push the limits! We made our little guy lose on purpose when we know this is a HUGE trigger. I saw him get upset and start to get mad and cry and I gave him minimal prompts. I simply said, "This is a game for fun. It doesn't matter who wins or loses. Right now your goal is to figure out how to turn your mood around and figure out how to calm down" and I walked away. The outcome? He cried for about 30 seconds, said "good game" to the other team, and moved on. SUCCESS!! We praised him like CRAZY!!! We made him feel like a million bucks so he knows how great it feels to turn those emotions positive instead of blowing up!. We know he won't always react like this, but it's a start! We know what kind of prompts he needs to be successful.

Off Task
A couple years ago I had a kid who was always off task during writing despite his reading and spelling abilities. It was driving me crazy prompting him to get back to work all the time! Finally I had enough and asked why he wouldn't ever finish his work even when he knew what to do and how to do it. His response, "It makes my hand hurt! My hand gets so tired trying to write on the lines." It turns out because of his fine motor delays he got physically fatigued long before he was mentally tired of the assignment. The solution: He was allowed to type his writing assignments whenever possible. He instantly started writing stories that were twice as long as they were before!

Always remember: KIDS ALWAYS DO THINGS FOR A REASON! The trick is to find out what it is and how to fix it! Sometimes it's a really simple solution!
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