Those words, so difficult to hear, confirm what you've feared for quite some time: your child’s school behavior is very different from that of the typical school student. It probably started with calls from your child’s teacher about “inappropriate” classroom behavior. The teacher noticed that your child was having problems relating well with others, following rules and directions, or acting in a safe manner. Those concerns continued to be voiced, so your child’s teacher requested help from a team of experienced school professionals, known as a “school based support team” (SSBT) or “child study team” (CST). This committee, comprised of a teacher, counselor, and perhaps a social worker, school psychologist, and assistant principal observed your child, reviewed records, and conducted interviews with individuals who had contact with your child. They then met with his/her teacher to suggest ways to help your child show more acceptable actions.
Unfortunately, those strategies were not effective, and your child was referred to the “IEP team” (sometimes known as the “Committee on Special Education”). With your written permission, they conducted a more in-depth assessment that involved medical checkups, testing, interviews, and surveys. Then came the fateful day when you met with the IEP team to hear their report and recommendations. Their conclusion: your child needs special education services. Those services might include semi-weekly counseling, assignment of an escort for your child, placement in a special education classroom for all or part of the school day, or some other standard interventions designed to help your child better manage his/her behavior and make better choices.
Now that special education services are being provided, what role can you play in assuring that your child receives optimal services and is helped to overcome the emotional or behavioral issues that brought about these special services?
Obtain A Copy Of Your Child’s IEP
The IEP is a document that describes your child’s school program and services. It contains a great deal of information regarding your child’s educational program. Upon your request, this document must be provided in a timely manner and free-of-charge. Once you have a copy, check for the following things:
1. Are the recommended services being provided? Be sure that your child is actually receiving them. For example, is your child being seen by the counselor twice a week as written in the IEP?
2. Is there a “Behavior Intervention Plan” (BIP), and are its procedures being followed? A BIP MUST be a part of your child’s IEP. It MUST describe positive and respectful ways (known as “positive behavior intervention strategies”) that teachers MUST use to help your child change his/her behavior for the better.
3. Is your child being taught the behaviors that the school wishes to see? Check to determine if your child is actually being TAUGHT how to behave in a more acceptable manner. If your child gets angry easily, s/he should be receiving “anger management” training. If your child has been bullying others, s/he should be enrolled in “anti-bullying” training. If your child shows immature or inadequate social skills when interacting with others, s/he should be receiving “social skills training”. Is your child being provided with “character education” if s/he needs to learn the values of honesty, trustworthiness, responsibility, and respect for others? Schools should teach students how to display the behaviors they wish to see.
Check On The Quality of Services
1. Is your child’s special education teacher trained in positive behavior management techniques and the education of students with behavior disorders (BD)? There is a shortage of teachers trained to work with students with BD. Even if your child’s teacher does have special education certification from the state department of education, did s/he receive advanced training in positive behavior management and methods for teaching new behaviors to students with behavior disorders? If not, is the school bringing in consultants on these topics, arranging for the teacher to attend professional conferences, or sending for him/her to attend a college class?
2. Does your child’s program go beyond coercion and “the curriculum of control”? Most programs for students with BD use a point system in which students are awarded tally marks for displaying certain behaviors (following directions, staying on task, respecting others). These points are traded for privileges and rewards. However, a good behavior management system goes further. Your child should be receiving instruction in HOW to make better behavior choices. Does the teacher hold regular sessions that teach and role play social skills, anger management, and conflict resolution?
3. Is your child being treated respectfully? Perhaps its human nature to become angry at those who make our lives difficult. However, educators should NEVER yell, belittle, or fail to respect the inherent dignity of your child. Educators should view your child’s behavior as their challenge while always being supportive and respectful to him/her. Failure to do so indicates a need for more training in behavior management.
What Can I Do At Home?
1. Support the efforts of the school. A cooperative effort between home and school enhances the chances for your child to overcome the behavioral challenges s/he faces. Meet with your child’s teacher to discuss how each of you can support the efforts of the other.
2. Increase your skills in managing behavior. There are a number of easy-to-read, supportive books available to help parents better guide their children. A couple of especially good ones are Assertive Discipline for Parents by Lee Canter (Santa Monica, CA: Canter and Associates) and How to talking so kids will listen and listen so kids will talk by Adele Faber and Elizabeth Maslich (New York: Avon). You can also find helpful advice at www.BehaviorAdvisor.com or www.DisciplineHelp.com
3. Have your child read stories that promote positive values and behaviors. Select books in which the major character(s) show bravery, honesty, generosity, or other admirable qualities. Books of this type can be located by asking your local neighborhood librarian, or going to the web sites of Free Spirit Publishers (www.freespirit.com), Magination Press (www.maginationpress.com), or Parenting Press (www.parentingpress.com).
4. Enroll your child in groups that provide guided activities that promote positive interaction and fun. Boys/Girls clubs, scouts, “the Y”, and other organizations can support the efforts of you and your child’s teacher.
5. Be a good role model. Show the behaviors you want your child to emulate. For example, do you handle frustration in a calm and thoughtful manner? As the old saying goes: “Actions speak louder than words.”