I've experienced several reports, this week, that seriously disturb me - reports about extremely undesirable behaviors. I won't share details; some of them would horrify you. Trust me that it is not something you would want to experience, in print or in person.
I ask myself - what are these behaviors "saying"?
- is the person exhibiting these behaviors truly unable to control himself/herself?
- is the person bored, and not able to choose an appropriate behavior to engage in?
- is it an unmet sensory need?
- could appropriate medication help manage the behavior? Or is it possible that the medication is exacerbating the behavior?
- is it a learned response; one that has garnered a lot of attention? More attention than given to more desirable behaviors?
- what supports are lacking? Are there consistent visual schedules - visual supports - video models - reinforcement - motivation - satisfying social opportunities - exercise - FOOD??
- is the student able to participate in some activities without engaging in the highly undesirable behavior?
- do the important people in the person's life just accept the behaviors as something "expected" - it happens all the time...this is what he/she is like...we just have to put up with it?
These things run through my mind and form a mental checklist - to think about, to look at, to consider and hopefully to resolve!
Some things I know for sure:
> Students who can productively engage in some learning, social, recreational or other activities are able to do so across more people and settings if the same structure and supports are implemented.
> Students who do not have a reliable system of communication - whether it is gestural, pictorial, written, aided or verbal - experience greater frustration, anxiety and boredom than students who have even a very rudimentary system of communication.
> The more attention paid to any behavior, the more likely it is to occur again.
> People with serious sensory considerations often "lose it" because tolerating the sensory dis-regulation along w/ everything else in life is just too darn difficult!
> When others just assume that undesirable behaviors are something that have to be tolerated, they do not appropriately intervene to teach better ways of expression and release.
Some opinions that I have, that have an evidence base -
> Other students in the classroom should not be subjected to highly undesirable behaviors. They should be removed, or the student exhibiting the behavior should be removed, until the episode is resolved. This "saves" the other students from observing inappropriate examples - preserves better social interactions - reduces stress and anxiety on the part of staff who are concerned for the other students - and decreases the anxious energy in the room. The process should be respectful of and kind to all parties. It should also be pre-planned, pre-informed and pre-practiced through the use of social narratives or video modeling.
> Staff involved in these situations need to understand that ANY verbal input just increases frustration and is likely to exacerbate the undesirable behavior. Forgive me when I say - SHUT UP!! The person experiencing the difficult behavior canNOT process verbal input at that point.
> Soothing, non-verbal sound, however, can dramatically and quickly change behavior. So can soothing scents, as long as the person involved is not allergic or does not have an averse reaction. Don't underestimate the power of sensory input - turning on the sound of the ocean or a waterfall and activating the diffuser with some lavender can make a huge difference. So can some silent deep pressure (if touching is possible).
> Simple applied behavior technique - we all know that ignoring a behavior decreases its likelihood while paying attention to it (reinforcing it!!) increases the probability of re-occurrence. As long as the person is safe - and you are as well - IGNORE IT!! Until it stops!
And some conclusions I've drawn -
> We cannot pat ourselves on the back about our good practice with students when we still have students "blowing out", with unsafe or highly uncomfortable situations occurring on a regular basis. Yes, there are going to be "bumps in the road" but those should be potholes, not sinkholes.
> Early intervention that assumes competence, promotes comfort in the sensory and biological realms, provides a reliable system of communication and respects all individuals is KEY. If a student has gotten to be middle-school or high-school age or beyond and is still "blowing out" in a big way, we've all failed them.
> Training, practice and good role models for 1:1 staff (and even professionals!) is absolutely required. Staff need to understand these episodes are not "bad behavior" - the student does not just choose to engage in highly undesirable episodes. Something is wrong - it could be any of the things listed above - and our responsibility as "typical" people and supportive adults is to figure out WHAT, resolve it in the moment, and work to calmly prevent letting the student get to "that point" in the future.
I speak from experience. I've had several students who, without appropriate intervention, would still be "melting down" in late adolescence/early adulthood. None of them are, and I am so thankful to the staff and professionals I have worked with for their consideration, dedication, passion and hard work. If even one individual can be "saved", they all can. Let's make that our goal.