Autism and Behavioral In-Service

I went to my first inservice for the new job this morning. It is weird to walk in as a paraprofessional rather than a classroom teacher. The topic was autism, but really a lot of the focus was on behaviors and how to get what you want out of kids.

Here are some of the suggestions that I liked:

1. Give guided choices. Don’t ask if a student wants to use scissors, but if he wants to cut lines or circles.

2. Try to understand what drives a student’s behavior. Is the student looking for escape? Attention? Or some sort of material reward? If you figure that out ahead of time, you might be able to meet the need BEFORE the behavior occurs.

3. Use planned ignoring. You know what little Johnny or Susie do that drives you insane. Ignore them when they exhibit that behavior, but notice them right after and say something like, “I’m so glad you quit making that noise. It was really bugging me.”

4. Be proactive, not reactive. Now, this is not as easy as it sounds, and the presenter acknowledged that. If you are dealing with 20+ students and you have to hand out papers or present a lesson, you don’t always have the time to figure out why a student has chosen this particular moment to act out.

4. Understand that you will never get rid of all undesirable behaviors, but you can reduce their frequency or intensity.

5. Be aware that sometimes it is best to state your expectations in as few words as you can. Even though some educators believe it is best to state all expectations in the positive (keep your hands to yourself), some kids need to hear the negative because it is more concrete to them (don’t hit).

I had to laugh at the presenter, who was not a teacher. A teacher was telling him that it had been decided at an IEP conference that when a certain special ed student acted out in gen ed classes, the teachers were to empty the room of the other kids before dealing with that student. She thought that she would not be able to implement his strategies in a gen ed setting and wondered what she should do since mainstreaming is required by NO CHILD LEFT BEHIND. He stroked his goatee thoughtfully and then said, “Well, good luck!”

Anyone who works with kids knows that just when you think you have a certain behavior conquered, the motivator you have been using ceases to work. Dealing with human behavior is trial and error and although you can identify trends and read up on proven strategies, you have to understand that such strategies will not work with all children or all of the time. NO CHILD LEFT BEHIND, as far as I am concerned, has some holes in it when it comes to special ed. The law has always said that children should be placed in the least restrictive educational environment, and I think that gen ed classes sometimes restrict special ed students. They have already been identified as having learning difficulties, and just the stimulation of a gen ed class room may interfere with their learning even more.

I do not claim to have the answers when it comes to education. Maybe it is best to approach the whole thing as this young man did, with humor. When thinking back on teachers who made a difference in my life, the ones that come to my mind first are not the ones who yelled. The teachers I remember fondly are the ones who spoke softly and encouraged me. I know positive behavior even from educators is not going to happen all the time, but it is certainly something to strive for.

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