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By Diane Wagner, BA, Grad. Dip. Child Study, LD@school LD Expert

Image of a student Student asleep in class

The Ministry of Education document, Caring and Safe Schools in Ontario: Supporting Students with Special Education Needs through Progressive Discipline, Kindergarten to Grade 12, outlines a useful approach to dealing with behavioural issues in students with special education needs:

“To manage behaviour effectively, educators need to consider not just the behaviour itself – what the student is doing – but also the underlying cause(s) of the behaviour. If educators focus only on what the student is doing, and try to eliminate the behaviour, they may find that another inappropriate behaviour arises in its place, because the underlying need has not been met. It is important to remember that inappropriate behaviour is usually a response to something in the student’s environment and is an attempt to communicate a need, rather than being deliberately aggressive or purposefully negative.” (p. 21)

Image of the book Caring and Safe Schools in Ontario: Supporting Students With Special Education Needs Through Progressive Discipline, Kindergarten to Grade 12

Click here to access the Ministry document, "Caring and Safe Schools in Ontario: Supporting Students With Special Education Needs Through Progressive Discipline, Kindergarten to Grade 12", in PDF.

The Ministry document goes on to outline factors affecting behaviour, including difficulties with communication (including language processing), with executive functioning (including self-regulation), and with mental health issues (including anxiety or depression).

Students with LDs can experience difficulties in any or all of these areas. In addition, their ongoing experience of academic failure can result in frustration that can be expressed in behaviours that can get them into trouble.

Considering the underlying cause(s) of behaviour:

  • Assess the student’s social, emotional and academic needs
  • Consider the program, e.g. the reading level, content and pace, to look for areas of frustration for the student
  • Look for triggers for behaviours, e.g. transition points in the day, interactions with particular students
  • Look for evidence of misunderstanding of instructions and/or of class rules
  • Determine if the student has the skills required to solve the problem at hand
  • Talk to parents to find out what is happening at home (e.g. family stresses)

Recognizing, teaching and reinforcing appropriate behaviour:

  • Find out from parents what behaviour strategies work at home
  • Catch students demonstrating prosocial behaviour
  • Identify and teach the skills needed for social and academic success
  • Provide students the opportunities to practice these skills
  • Acknowledge student efforts to apply skills
  • Reward and reinforce use of skills and skill improvement
  • Share student success with parents, principal, and other teachers

Tips for dealing with students who have a high frustration level:

  • Break tasks into small sections, from easy to complex
  • Vary the pace of the activities from active to sedentary
  • Give honest, immediate feedback
  • Assign tasks that are realistic for the student
  • Use high interest material
  • If student has writing difficulties, allow extra time or use of a scribe or computer technology
  • Assign a well matched peer buddy who has strengths in the areas in which the student has difficulties

Tips for dealing with students with attention difficulties:

  • Decrease distractions
  • Introduce material prior to giving instructions
  • Use a daily planner/agenda
  • Use high interest material
  • Use drama for appropriate subjects
  • Relate learning to real life
  • Use video, drawings, photos, and music to demonstrate abstract concepts

Tips for dealing with students’ behavioural challenges:

  • When possible design the environment to minimize trigger situations
  • Help students to anticipate dealing with trigger situations that can’t be avoided
  • Assist students to process the steps to problem solving
  • Give choices that allow the student some control and responsibility for their choices, and do not result in ‘losing face’
  • When appropriate, allow students to experience the consequences of their choices and decisions without blame or criticism.
  • Avoid using recess as a reward or consequence. Students need the break and/or the physical activity

Remember, most students WANT to do well and do well if they CAN.

Bibliography

Ontario Ministry of Education. (2010). Caring and Safe Schools in Ontario: Supporting Students With Special Education Needs Through Progressive Discipline, Kindergarten to Grade 12

Adapted, with permission, from materials developed for the Learning Disabilities Workshop on the SNOW website. (Source: www.snow.idrc.ocad.ca/)

LD@school Resources

Click here to access the Evidence Based Summary, "Self-regulation", by Michael Fairbrother and Dr. Jessica Whitley.

Click here to access the Evidence Based Summary, "Errorless/Keystone Approaches for Proactive Classroom Management", by Emily Wiener and Dr. Judith Wiener.

Click here to access the Practice Informed Summary, "Learning Disabilities and Mental Health", by Cindy Perras.

Click here to access the webinar, "Supporting the Social and Emotional Development of Students with Learning Disabilities".

Click here to access the video, "Lessons Learned: Personal Stories of Learning Disabilities, Resilience and Mental Health".

Click here to access the Practice Informed Summary, "A Primer for Teaching Students with ADHD", by Cindy Perras.

Click here to access the Evidence Based Summary, "Promoting Social and Emotional Competence Through Mindfulness", by Dr. Jillian Haydicky and Dr. Judith Wiener.

Additional Resources

Click here to access the resource Addressing Student Problem Behavior, Mary Magee Quinn, et al, on LD Online (an introduction to functional behavioral assessment and behavior intervention plans).

Click here to open the article Collaborative & Proactive Solutions, from Ross W. Greene’s website, www.livesinthebalance.org (a “compassionate, productive and effective approach to understanding and helping behaviorally challenging kids”.