Children build-up their understanding of their world through experience and this is gained through their attempts to get their needs met in the environment in which they are raised. Throughout these Newsletters we have continued to explain that the reason for most dysfunctional behaviour is a product of the environment in which the kids were raised. Remember our work does not address those kids who have been born with neuro-atypical brains, things like autism, psychosis and the like; we try to deal with the children whose cognitive structures have been transformed through the interaction with their environment particularly their parents or primary caregivers.
Beliefs about the world are built from experience. When a certain stimulus occurs, a chosen action will get an expected result. So, when we are faced with a situation that needs to be addressed we believe something will happen based on what happened in the past. The illustration below shows this process; we build our beliefs on our emotional and cognitive memories.
For most of us this ability to know what will happen works well and the better people can predict the more intelligent they are deemed to be. The consistent narrative gives us a fundamental view of the world, a sense of consistency, control and cohesion – conditions that give us confidence in the future. In fact, all learning is based on the ability to predict so beliefs are crucial.
But for our belief system to be ‘intelligent’ it must be based on reality of the presenting situation. The issue is that our beliefs are formed in one reality and when we are faced with another it is challenged. When you consider that our beliefs are about actions that help us survive and if we are threatened in the contemporary situation the anxiety that is generated will have us apply those beliefs on which we have relied.
Stress is a critical factor in dealing with anyone’s beliefs. On a purely survival level, when our survival is threatened our cognitive response can be almost instantaneous, we have all experienced the fight/flight reaction when we experience our general adaptive system pouring adrenaline and associated hormones throughout our body to prepare us to act to survive. That quick referral to our memories, beliefs is the extreme of our propensity to rely on our memories rather than the presenting evidence in the environment.
It is hard enough to take account of our beliefs as adults, every night we see intelligent adults arguing about the current political system. It is easy to lampoon some of the more colourful characters; the USA currently have a textbook case. When confronted with the evidence regarding the recent elections a substantial number of people believe the ‘alternative facts’. The results have been deadly and no amount of evidence seems to have made a difference. Change is hard and evidence is insufficient.
The only way that beliefs can be changed is when the evidence is presented in a non-threatening manner importantly by a person or persons with which the individuals have a strong, personal and positive relationship.
So, we return to these kids we work to support; it is clear to classroom teachers that when these kids are not stressed, say in a one-on-one meeting with the school counsellor they will accept that they need to change their behaviours and on a superficial level they really accept this. However, when they return to class and are challenged they invariably return to the behaviours driven by their long-held beliefs!
How to change their beliefs is at the heart of our work. Our model, structure, expectations and relationships provide the scaffold for dealing with this. It does this by:
Expectations – this teaches how the contemporary environment operates. If you act in a certain way then certain things are most likely to happen.
Structure – provides the evidence of our expectations. If the student acts in away contrary to the expectation then they experience negative consequences. Likewise if they comply with the expectations they will get the rewards that go with acting appropriately in society.
Relationships – we have always put relationships as the top priority. If the teacher can build such a relationship, and I believe that occurs if the structure and expectations are delivered consistently and persistently, then it is possible to accept new ways of behaving in certain situations.
This process takes a lot of time; remember it has taken years for the student to get to their current belief structure so be patient, it will take a significant amount of time to make any permanent change.
In Australia, governments have made the attendance to private schools so much more accessible for parents the consequence is that our public schools are becoming residualised and the proportion of students with significant needs creates a challenge for the staff. Despite any protestations from the private sector the reality is they continually place barriers to protect themselves from parents who wish to enrol a child with a difficult disability citing the lack of ‘facilities’ and they never enrol students who display disruptive behaviours!
The following is a revisit to a previous Newsletter.
Morally a society must accept the ownership of all children including those with disabilities. Children with physical or intellectual disabilities with their requirement for extra, special care normally evoke emotions of compassion. Special consideration to provide for their learning is rarely resisted. Teachers are happy to help students who can’t do tasks, because of their physical or intellectual disability.
However, attitudinal research shows that students with behaviour dysfunctions experience the highest rejection rates of all categories of ‘special’ kids. The reality that these kids with severe mental problems ‘can’t behave’ in a functional manner are somehow transformed to a belief that the student knows what to do but refuses. The teacher translates ‘can’t do’ into ‘won’t do’ and from the perceived refusal builds resentment. The principal task for the teachers in special programs, when attempting to reintegrate their students back to mainstream is to address this belief. Unlike some of the other disabilities, given time and special attention these kids can learn to act in a functional manner.
The Case Against Integration
The arguments against integration can be summarized as follows:
Classroom teachers are not trained nor equipped to deal with these students
The presence of these often violent and out of control students present a risk to others
Special students need special teachers, they don’t belong in mainstream
Educational services for special students are complex and intrude on mainstream learning
Historically these students do not succeed in mainstream settings. Placement is based on the perceived ‘availability’. That is, schools that take, and succeed with, one student will be rewarded by being the place of referral for all future students
There is a degree to which all these objections could be defended however they are problems that are not insurmountable.
The Case for Integration
It is possibly the most basic human drive to be accepted by others. Therefore, as a civilized society, schools must accept their responsibility for ownership of all children. The arguments for integration are as follows:
There is a moral obligation to include all students in their home school. By learning how to accept students with special needs, including those with an ED/BD disability, schools develop a more supportive attitude that benefits all students
Learning to deal with these students with special needs results in teachers learning new skills. The acquisition of new levels of mastery will satisfy a basic human drive within the school staff.
The ‘special skills’ required to deal with students with severe behaviours involve the use of best practices in classroom management, teaching styles and lesson presentation. The benefits accrued when preparing for the dysfunctional student are translatable to all students. All students should be exposed to best practices.
The use of differential programming is a viable alternative to common curriculum presentation.
Effective preparation for the inclusion of dysfunctional student involves a whole school perspective. This collaborative approach has a flow on benefit for the whole school particularly in the area of student discipline and welfare.
It must be noted that the Department has an obligation to provide the resources to allow the schools to provide the extra attention needed, this is above and beyond the normal teaching duties. However, in recent years with the significant increase in administrative requirements there is even less resources for these students!
THE PROCESS OF INTEGRATION
To successfully move an ED/BD student from full time attendance at a special facility on to full time attendance in a mainstream setting is a gradual process. To facilitate this in an effective manner the following steps must be followed.
1. Identification of The Student’s Needs
Any move to integration must be part of the long-range educational plan of the student. This plan must be the result of collaboration between the student concerned and all significant people involved. When the long-term plan is established the educational needs of the student will be apparent. Identification of the most appropriate setting to integrate into is effectively identified.
Further once the students’ long-term goals are established the staff, at the special setting, can introduce an independent learning package that best prepares the student for successful transition to the new school. This will be in the form of an independent transition program.
2. Initial Contact.
At the time of the initial meeting the staff can address the questions that commonly asked. These include:
Who pays for the increased services required?
What about the safety and liability issues that may arise?
How do the individual needs of the student fit in with the needs of others?
If we take this student will we be identified as a preferred site thus receiving a disproportionate number of these difficult students? These are some of the legitimate concerns of a school and the program staff should prepare to answer them.
If, and when objections to the proposed integration have been overcome it is vital that the staff and the school leader develop a ‘vision’ for the process to be successful.
At this time the following can be addressed:
The setting of achievable outcomes can be established
The support requirements for the school can be outlined
The concept of the dysfunctional student’s integration to the school must be introduced to the rest of the staff. The best way for a positive outcome to be achieved is through thorough planning at this time
After this phase has been completed a final decision on the procedure to be followed is made by the student and all key players such as the parents, program staff, targeted school and other involved personnel.
3. Development of a Whole School Plan
It is important for the staff of the special program to be available to address concerns when the staff is informed about the integration of the dysfunctional student into their school. At this time the staff member should:
Answer the questions that will come including those outlined above
Highlight the negative aspects of the integration of an ED/BD student
Assist in the development of a school ‘plan’ which incorporates expected outcomes and the establishment of a welfare and discipline policy that includes the special needs of the student within the existing school policy
Development of a team to support the student
Identify support needs required by the school
4. Graduated Integration
The period that has the best chance of success is first thing in the school day. This is the time when the student and the teacher have their highest levels of energy. If either become uneasy about the placement there is not long until the student returns to the special facility. Another important consideration is that lessons traditionally given at this time are based on basic skills such as numeracy or literacy. Instructions are generally more structured providing a more predictable environment for the student. Continuation along a learning plan is less disrupted for the student and the teacher needs less time to fill in the gaps that occur if a student only appeared for one day per week.
When this approach is adopted it creates a daily routine for both parties and the belonging needs are quickly established. It is not uncommon for schools to be the first to negotiate an extension in this period of attendance. The schools quickly adopt ownership of the student.
Partial integration is more difficult in the secondary setting for the following reasons:
In a secondary setting the student will be taught by many staff members. They will have to cope with a range of personalities and management styles. This reduction in consistency creates an extra dimension to the difficulties faced by the student.
The secondary school is not at all likely to have the same subjects recurring at the same time each day. Therefore, attempts to partially integrate at a set time each day will most likely mean that the student will be exposed to a variety of subjects all of which are not presented in an unbroken sequence. This situation produces gaps in the instructional presentation of lessons creating a great deal of frustration for both the teacher and the student.
Ideally the secondary integration should be initially for subjects the students enjoy, perhaps craft or art, and they would attend only when these subjects are timetabled. As they become more comfortable at the school, more subjects can be included. This system of integration works well when the special program is in close proximity to the school however if any significant distance separates the facilities this process is not feasible.
In cases, where students face the tyranny of distance, each integration process is best done on a case managed basis where all stakeholders negotiate the integration process and identify how support will be provided.
Develop A Plan for The Student
At the time the targeted school accepts the student then the special program staff should prepare the student for successful integration. At this time the student should receive the following:
Visit the school and be introduced to key support people identified at the previous staff meeting.
Outline the discipline policy of the school and explain the ramifications of acting outside expected levels of behaviour.
Investigate the current programs of the designated class and prepare the student for the best chance of early academic success.
Address the administrative requirements of the school.
It is vital that the student’s apprehension towards the integration be minimized. High levels of stress that come from the student’s uncertainty will almost ensure failure of the integration process.
Develop A Plan for The Teacher(s).
It is a daunting task dealing with the introduction of a student with severe behaviours. To assist the teachers the following steps should be taken:
Training in practices that best meet the academic and behaviour needs of the student
Training should not be a ‘one shot’ input but should be ongoing and supportive
There should be a supportive team formed around the teacher(s) who include staff members of the special facility, school counsellor, specialist teachers, supervising teachers and members of other agencies
Teachers should be invited to join any district support networks that exist, or could be formed
Teachers should be included in any case managed activities that affect the student.
As the student moves from one facility to the other it is important that all stakeholders have a clear picture of what is occurring. The practice of keeping good record such as daily information sheets, personal diaries, etc. provides a useful vehicle for the exchange of information between each facility. At regular intervals the status of the level of integration should be reviewed and the student can move on the continuum between full exclusion to full inclusion.
The principals of the company have had long careers in education with a combined total of eighty-one years service. After starting as mainstream teachers they both moved into careers in providing support for students with severe behaviours.