Behaviour Intervention Planning
Critical Programming Needs: Team Thinking Process
The discussion on programming needs easily flowed from the discussion on background and purpose. In fact, many needs were identified as part of the background discussion. For this reason, a recorder was identified early in the process to record critical needs on the blackboard as the discussion progressed. The three areas of programming need were presented before the discussion begin. When people confused a child's need with a programming need, the recorder would ask: “So what does he need from us?” or “What does that mean for programming?” When the discussion for background and purpose was done, the team looked at the needs list and filled in any additional information. The social-learning needs list had to be shortened as it was quite long when the process was complete.
Jim has become quite aggressive in his play and has injured students more than is usually expected of someone at his grade level. He carries battles into the classroom and, although these are usually verbal, he can be very cutting and threatening to the children. He has a knack of picking on the most vulnerable children (victims) and can harass them quite mercilessly if no one intervenes. On most occasions he is better behaved when he is at the office and the principal is present although there were times when the principal's control was questionable. There is no plan in place if he crosses this line.
Mrs. Sommers finds the lunch times quite difficult. She is a working parent and sole provider. She cannot always be home, but she worries about Jim's behaviour in the home. His younger brother and older sister are at home during this time and Jim has a tendency to terrorize them when she is not present. The calls to her at work may also create some hardship with her employer. She would like these to stop. She also recognizes the need for help at home when Jim's behaviour becomes uncontrollable.
These needs are summarized in the Behaviour Intervention Plan with the following statements:
- “Jim stop hitting or kicking children on the playground.”
- “Jim must stop threatening and belittling children in the classroom.”
- “Have an action plan agreed to with Mrs. Sommers when Jim becomes uncontrollable.”
- “An alternative to being sent home at noon hours be developed.”
- “Family Services provide some in home support when Jim's behaviour becomes dangerous to his brothers and sisters.”
NOTE: A team may also decide to word the first need in a positive frame, such as “Jim will learn positive ways to handle conflict on the playground.” This is preferred but does not always carry the impact of the negative version. When the negative version is used, as was the case here, the team should be sure to spend at least as much energy on teaching the child what to do as what not to do.
Jim becomes explosive and threatening when having trouble working on a challenging task. It appears that his fear of failure triggers other fears that cause him to use survival strategies. It could be helpful for him to learn a better way to deal with some of these fears. There is an indication that a fear of inadequacy may underlie this feeling. For this reason, he could use some extensive experience working at the mastery level. An accumulation of positive work experiences should help to condition some positive feelings to the work. He has gaps in his learning and needs to develop some basic writing and reading skills. However, he is vulnerable to feelings of inadequacy, and this could work against any direct intervention with primary materials. One way to provide needed practice and to help him maintain his self-confidence is to provide an opportunity for him to work as a peer tutor. We are not positive how this will work at this time, but it would be worth initiating under adult supervision.
When children “bug” him at recess or on the way to school, he becomes quite angry and, on some occasions, has lashed out at the students. This is particularly evident during sports activities that involve physical contact. It is as if the natural contact or pushing in the game triggers some old memories of abuse to which he responds with an extreme reaction. The anger comes quickly and may not be controllable at this time. However, he could develop some alternate strategies for dealing with the anger when it arises. Some of the interventions used in rational emotive therapy might help here.
These needs are summarized in the Behaviour Intervention Plan with the following statements:
- “Jim receive cognitive behavioural training to help him handle his fears.”
- “Jim be taught new responses to dealing with angry feelings.”
- “Jim have the opportunity to experience working within his mastery level and receive structured, positive feedback to help him recognize his strengths.”
- “Jim have the opportunity to take a leadership role with children who are academically weaker than him.”
The examples given above are quite specific. This is useful when we know exactly what the child needs. When we are less certain we may state the needs more generally (e.g., “Jim receive training to help him deal with his fears”). The team can then agree on the need and discuss alternative interventions that may be used to address these needs. Such an approach allows for informal as well as formal techniques to be included in the Behaviour Intervention Plan. For example, an informal technique could involve the teacher in providing Jim with a word or task when he clearly begins to move into his fears. It could also involve the teacher assistant in helping Jim debrief a positive day. These informal interventions support the formal cognitive behavioural training intervention.
Educators are very good at identifying the skills that a child should learn. Together with the parents, a large number of social-learning needs can be identified. The problem is that many of these skills are difficult to teach. For example, Jim could learn to better understand the pragmatics of communication. He often misses important elements in conversation that create confusion. He may try something that we suggest in a social situation but do it with a tone and mannerism that upsets other students, and from his perspective, it does not work. He clearly has difficulty differentiating volume from anger and reacts in an extreme manner to verbal statements that would normally be ignored. He could be taught this skill but it may take a long time to teach. It may be better to address this issue as a personal/emotional need at present and teach the critical pragmatic elements when he has developed a greater trust and sense of community with students and staff.
Teams are encouraged to keep the number of social-learning needs small and practical. If a team insists on choosing a large number of social-learning skills, then it will be important to prioritize these needs and identify those that should be addressed first. Remember, some can be initially addressed as personal/emotional needs while others are taught immediately. Our first task is often to help the child develop hope that they can belong and that there is some acceptance and approval for them within our school. After that is established, children become interested in learning prosocial behaviours and replacement of survival strategies become possible.
Since Jim was identified as having Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) there is a strong likelihood that he will require consistent routines and structures. This has been borne out by previous teachers and his mother. When routine changes and he is not prepared, there is a strong possibility that he will move into an agitated state. Once agitated, his defences, oppositional behaviours, and other survival strategies intervene. He responds to Ritalin when classroom stress is low. He should be encouraged to continue Ritalin as a part of the intervention strategy.
Previous results indicate that he works better with females than males when stressed. This may be due to the likelihood that he was abused by his father and the fact he was abandoned by him. He has critical times when he needs to talk with a woman. Volume triggers his agitated state, so it is helpful to keep volume low. He has not separated the volume used in angry conflict from other language qualities. His face turns red and he quickly moves into a fight or flight stance. He responds readily to smiles and eye contact when he is in a positive state. He even relaxes when these are used. However, when he is agitated, he will often misinterpret serious looks as angry stares or challenging. For this reason, hard messages are best given without direct eye contact using a calm, clear voice.
The results of team discussion on the above personal programming needs could be reported as follows:
- “Classroom routines and structures be taught maintained as much as possible.“
- “Jim have the opportunity to meet with a female staff person, one-to-one during times of stress.“
- “Volume be controlled whenever possible and particularly when dealing with Jim on problem issues.“
- “Positive alternatives to high risk activities be provided, particularly to replace unstructured activities that involve physical contact.”
- “High eye contact and smiles during positive interactions, and limited eye contact or frowns during stressful interactions.”
- “Medication be maintained and monitored.”
These needs can also be more general and, initially, a team may be fairly general until they have experience interacting with the child. However, the more specific we can be about what the child needs from us, the better we will be at creating an environment where problem behaviours are not needed. In the example given above, we provide routines and structures since we are aware from Jim's pattern that he becomes very anxious when he is faced with the unexpected, and he responds poorly when anxious. We eliminate loud voices, which are triggers for Jim's inappropriate behaviour. We create opportunities for Jim to deal with problems, privately, with a women - past experience has indicated that this is the most positive way to do this. We have found that Jim needs quiet time to process issues when they arise and that women are less likely than men to trigger aggression during stressful times. We also know Jim feels a strong need to fight back when he feels challenged, but responds positively to social interaction at other times. Accordingly, during positive interactions we are increasing smiles, which have been found to be effective in maintaining positive interactions, and when interactions are negative we are reducing eye contact, which is taken as a challenge.
Personal/emotional needs are the second most critical element in Behaviour Intervention Planning. However, they are only effective if they are tied to our understanding of the child.