Tomorrow Is Too Long to Wait for Inclusion

Solutions To Help Educate Young People With EBD

In almost every classroom there are children with behavioral challenges. Here are some solutions to help educate young people with EBD.

Do you know that it is almost certain that in every classroom you enter in the school system there is a learner struggling with a condition called Emotional and Behavioral Disorders (EBD)? The unfortunate thing about this scenario is that in most cases, such students are never identified. They may be given other labels such as dull, lazy, on uncooperative. If not addressed, problems caused by such learners can make the work of the teacher challenging and disturb other learners. This is the reason why there is a need for smart solutions to help educate young people with EBD.

The aim of this article is to look at this problem in depth to try and solve the misunderstanding associated with it. The discussion will start by looking at what EBD is and then go on to discuss some ways by which learners with EBD can be educated in the modern classroom. Since the problem can affect kids, teenagers, and adults, it is important to look at solutions for all these groups. Educating such learners can present challenges which, when correctly identified, can be mitigated.

Defining EBD

Experts indicate that attempting a definition of EBD, which is sometimes known as Emotional Disturbance (ED), is quite difficult because it is a misunderstood phenomenon. For example, one question frequently asked is how emotional and behavioral disorders can be distinguished from a behavioral disorder. Even though it may be difficult to come up with a scientific definition, it is easier to pin down some of the physical behaviors that define this problem.

While all students in the classroom will exhibit typical daily behavioral problems, and sometimes even dangerous ones it is not all of them who suffer from EBD. A young person with EBD would usually exhibit what is known as antisocial, externalizing, or internalizing behaviors.

Externalizing Behaviors

When a learner constantly gets out of their seat for no apparent reason, curses, and yells at anybody who crosses their path without provocation and is disturbing to peers, that learner is showing externalizing behaviors. Other symptoms of this problem are exhibited in the student ignoring instructions from the teacher, constantly hitting and fighting with other students, complaining or excessively arguing and failing to comply with directions. The signs above do not represent all the behaviors that should be watched for. Others such as destruction of property, failing to complete assignments, stealing, lying and throwing temper tantrums should also be noted.

Internalizing Behaviors

While some young people suffering from EBD may show the signs described above, others will show the exact opposite while still suffering from the same problem. They exhibit a very limited need for social interaction with others. Such children’s behavior is defined as internalizing.

While it is easy to ignore such children because their behavior does not present a threat to others, doing so endangers their development. If a child is not interested in playing with other children their age, lacks the necessary social skills required to make productive friendships, and often finds refuge in outlandish fantasies and daydreams, they may be suffering from EBD. Other behaviors indicating the prevalence of this problem in a young person can include being afraid without due cause, always complaining that they are sick or have been injured, and sometimes just looking depressed.

Possible Problems Educating People With EBD

As can be seen from the definition above, there are serious problems associated with attempting to educate learners with EBD, the common model of learning and teaching is one that depends on classrooms, and lecture theaters having learners who follow certain regulations about behavior. This is exactly what people with EBD do not do very well, and this represents massive problems for the teacher, the learner themselves and the other students in the classroom. This is the reason why children with this disorder tend to have a high chance of leaving school prematurely, ending up in jail, going into both drug and alcohol abuse, living on the margins of society and eventually dying early.

The main problem when educating learners with EBD is that they tend to perform below their grade level at a particular time. They find it difficult to read and perform mathematical calculations. Learning depends on learners being willing to corporate with the teacher, the rules, and needs of other students. Experts also indicate that such learners’ behavior interferes with their ability to learn the skills needed for productive scholarship and therefore tend to score very low marks in intelligence tests.

Educating Kids With EBD

While Children may suffer from EBD, they still need to be educated. A few things can be done by the teacher to mitigate this challenge including ensuring that class rules and activities are maintained clear and straightforward. Learners, especially those suffering from EBD, struggle with rules that are too demanding and complicated. The teacher can attempt to keep standards in the classroom broad and minimal. For example, the teacher can train the learners to arrive on time, be polite and respect the needs of others. They can then emphasize these rules until every student internalizes them.

Teaching activities should also be simple and clear. When the teacher uses events that are clear and simple, learners with EBD are given a chance to be part of the learning. This allows the learners to participate and interact with the activities of the lesson. This makes them feel that they are a part of the class.

Teaching Teenagers With EBD

When it comes to teenagers, the strategy is the same as with kids but should be made suitable for their age. Since teenagers with EBD generally lack the emotional balance required to concentrate for long periods of time, teachers should ensure that lessons have some small breaks to help bring such learners into the lesson.

If the teacher starts to feel that some of the learners are starting to fall behind in the lesson, they should stop teaching and allow them to catch up. Sufficient time should also be allowed for such learners to finish their assignments. Allowing for physical activities will give learners a chance to use their energy for something productive and controlled.

Education For Adults With EBD

It is probable that people with EBD will need to be educated later on in life when they are adults as the chance that they would have left school earlier is quite high. The most important thing to remember when dealing with such adults in the classroom is to understand the need for motivational strategies. Success should be celebrated appropriately. Educators should allow such learners to make decisions about their learning and be part of setting the rules.

How The Education Approach Differs When Educating People With EBD

The discussion above shows that educating learners with EBD is something that should be approached in a different way from educating everyday learners who do not suffer from such disorders. Teachers of such learners should always understand that these learners are slow and therefore lessons should be planned with them in mind. The teaching should be slow, and when there is a need to stop and allow these learners to catch up, the teacher should allow for this time. Teachers also need to ensure that their instructions are clear and simple.

Programs For EBD Learners In Different Countries

Different countries have various programs aimed at helping learners with EBD to get alternate learning. Such services provide therapeutic services to such learners. In the United States, such learners can benefit from The Elementary Learning Program, the Secondary Alternative Learning Program, or the Secondary Transition Program.

In the United Kingdom, learners can attend one of the many special needs school specifically dealing with learners who face such problems. Parents can check with the education departments in their countries to identify special schools in their communities that offer services for learners with EBD.

Learners with EBD attending colleges of higher learning can find it difficult to cope with the workload required in higher institutions of learning. This is made worse by the fact that higher intuitions of learning are not designed to deal with students who face these challenges. This is when those essay writing services become useful. Students can order papers in subjects that they are struggling with. These papers are then written by professionals who will help the learner to understand what the requirements of the question are. Using the custom writing services could be the difference between learners suffering from EBD getting to complete their qualification and ending up in the streets with no education and work.

Having emotional and behavioral disorders should not mean that a learner should be condemned to a lack of education. There are some things that can be done by the learner themselves, the teachers, parents and government departments to ensure that such learners do get an education. If this is not handled with care, such learners end up living on the fringes of society, being involved in drugs and dying prematurely.

Photo Credit: Hans Splinter/Flickr

Tia Moreen is a writer and traveler, who is currently running a small business and works as a blog editor at EssayHub. Loves bookcrossing and cooking.


Source: Solutions To Help Educate Young People With EBD » Education Press

Longer, Faster, Harder: Tips for Addressing Challenging Behavior in the Classroom

Longer, Faster, Harder
By Jenna Sage

I recently began training to run a half marathon. When I first decided to compete in the race, I knew very little about what it took to become a runner. As a novice, I thought that if I ran longer, faster, and harder my body would fall in line and running would become easy. I very quickly learned that there is a science to training for a big race—that training requires that you be strategic, patient, planned, and purposeful. Longer, faster, harder will only hurt you.

Many teachers have the same philosophy for addressing challenging behavior in the classroom. If a student is not following teacher directions, refusing to remain on-task for extended periods of time, calling out and being disruptive, or using inappropriate language, we follow the myth that the consequence or punishment should be longer, faster, or harder. Unfortunately, this has the same effect on students as it has on my knees. It isn’t going to lead to long-term, meaningful change.

Training Tip #1: Longer Isn’t Always Better

The first myth that exists is the idea that if I just send the student to time-out for longer periods of time, this will deter future misbehavior. Or if I use the next-door teacher’s classroom as a consequence for longer periods of time, this will eliminate maladaptive behaviors. The truth is, time-out and time-away are ONLY effective if the student wants to be doing the task he or she has been asked to do. Most students would much rather sit in the back of the classroom for ten or fifteen minutes, even if it means they can’t interact with their peers, because it also means they can avoid tackling that challenging math worksheet or reading passage. And here is the harsh reality: if a student continues to engage in the challenging behavior, time-out is most definitely not working!

So, what do we do instead? The first important thing is to determine if the student is trying to avoid or escape doing the work. The next thing is to determine if it is a matter of being able to do the work and not wanting to do it, or whether the student is not able to do the work—Won’t Do versus Can’t Do. If you have a student who is able to do the work but just doesn’t seem to want to participate, then one helpful strategy may be chunking the work so that the student is able to work for a short period of time and then take a short break. Essentially, you are providing a way to avoid the task for only short, prescribed periods of time which you control. A student could have a break card procedure, with which he or she can request to take a break or certain number of breaks from a task. Consider this: when you are working for hours grading papers or creating a fabulous lesson plan and your neck begins to ache or your dog starts barking, don’t you take a short break? That is the socially acceptable way to say, “I’m struggling and I just need a moment, “ instead of jumping straight to using behavior to avoid the task: “I’m going to misbehave so I’m forced to take a break.”

Training Tip #2: Faster Only Makes You Fall Behind

The next myth has to do with responding to misbehavior faster and faster and then more and more. Again, it is important to determine why a student is engaging in challenging behavior. If you feel like a broken record or you go home and continue to say, “Sally, no,” or, “We don’t do that in this class,” then you may be dealing with a student who is motivated by attention. For some students, the negative attention they get from you during the day may be the only attention they get. And, believe it or not, they’ll work for negative attention even more than positive. Think about your body language, the level of your voice when you are correcting behavior as opposed to recognizing good behavior. The two typically look very different. If a student is starved for attention, the angry and animated you is worth calling out in class and calling you names. If you are responding over and over to a student, two things happen. You may be inadvertently encouraging the misbehavior, and you become so focused on everything wrong that you can sometimes forget to pay attention to what the student is doing well.

The easiest solution is to change the focus of your attention. When you focus on what the student is doing well, you will encourage those appropriate behaviors. It may not be easy at first, but start looking for those milliseconds when the student is engaging in the correct behavior. Utilize Pivot Praise—this is the practice of recognizing the students who are engaging in the correct behavior and ignoring the students who are not engaging in the expected behavior. This will encourage the students to make adjustments accordingly. For example, when the class returns from the gym, you might say, “I like the way Suzy is sitting. I like the way John is sitting.” You may even notice that when you focus on the good behavior and reward what is going well, you start to feel better and more positive.

Training Tip #3: Harder Won’t Get You to the Goal

The third myth is that the harder we push our students, the more likely they are to respond positively. We know from years of research that the students who are given the harshest punishments and longest removals from school are those who likely need to be in school the most. Students who exhibit challenging behavior are most often given punishments for more subjective behaviors (campus or class disruption, defiance, disrespect) as opposed to referrals for objective violations (dress code, technology use/possession, weapons). Remember the Can’t Do versus Won’t Do: If a student lacks the skills to do the work, pushing him or her harder will only create a higher level of anxiety and disengagement. You may need to remediate the skill first. Consider creating lesson plans that include active student engagement and activities that include all of the senses. Work toward differentiating your material to include individual student needs and interests. The old adage that idle hands do the devil’s work applies in the classroom setting. Your day should include consistent routines. Students should know what is expected of them from bell to bell. The in-activity and between-activity transitions should be planned so that there is no down time. Consider having a song, a saying, a rhythm that is repeated during each transition.

Winning the Race

Just like training for a marathon, you can’t be ready for the big race overnight. You have to take time to train, to know your limits, to break old habits. You can’t change behavior overnight, either. Instead of trying for longer, faster, harder… work on training yourself to identify why a student may be engaging in challenging behavior. What are they really asking for? Students engage in challenging behavior because they are communicating a need that they don’t have the skill yet to identify and address. Take time to focus on what you want to see. Water the roses and ignore the weeds. And gently encourage students to participate in class by including their favorite topics, items, and interests into your lessons. If you stick to a good classroom management training regimen, you’ll be collecting your trophies before you know it!

Photo Credit: Kashif Haque/Flickr

Dr. Jenna SageDr. Jenna Sage is currently working as a District Administrator for Special Education.  Her position provides opportunities to facilitate IEP meetings, act as a liaison between schools and families, and ensure compliance with district, state, and federal policies.  Dr. Sage’s experiences in education have included working as a paraprofessional, substitute teacher, classroom teacher, consultant, trainer and behavior resource teacher.  She is also a Board Certified Behavior Analyst.   Her passion is providing supports and resources to school staff to ensure student success through compassionate and meaningful education.  Dr. Sage can be reached at

12 Things To Remember When Working With Challenging Students

12 Things
Let’s face it. Some students are hard to work with for a litany of reasons. Maybe you are experiencing a challenging year in your classroom. Before you throw in the towel or give up hope, read this list of DOs and DON’Ts when encountering students who push you to the brink.

DO know your students crave your love and attention even though they may not know how to ask for it (you can still love and not let them” walk all over you“)
DO NOT get discouraged that you are not doing enough for them (sometimes progress is slow but there is still progress)
DO expect them to communicate with you (it just might mean you have to “listen” to their behavior instead of them using conventional means)
DO NOT take it personally when they display challenging behavior (remember…it is not about you)
DO have high expectations for their academic work and their behavior (they need someone to believe in them)
DO NOT “poke the bear” when there is no need to (no…I’m not saying students with challenging behavior are bears – it is only a expression)
DO allow them to explore things that they are interested in (special interests and hobbies can unlock creativity when used wisely)
DO NOT give up on them…ever (“When you have exhausted all possibilities, remember this – you haven’t.” ― Thomas Edison)
DO take an interest in who they are (invest some time in really getting to know their likes and dislikes)
DO NOT forget to offer multiple ways for them to show what they know or to communicate how they feel (can you say Universal Design for Learning?)
DO enjoy their happy and/or joyful moments (sometimes they are few and far between)
DO NOT forget to play lots of music in the classroom and have fun (we all need a little more fun ya know?)

I hope these 12 reminders have inspired you to keep going even if you feel lost and hopeless. In addition to the above suggestions, I would recommend finding someone to talk to that you trust. We all need to share our frustrations in a safe place and be encouraged in our teaching practice.

Thanks for your time and attention.

Photo Credit: Rusty Clark

What are some helpful strategies that have been effective for you when working with challenging students? Tell us about them in the comments section below!

How Do You Support People with Difficult or Challenging Behavior?

Morning Sun

By David Pitonyak

A version of this article was originally published on David’s website: Imagine – Finding New Stories For People Who Experience Disabilities as 10 Things You Can Do To Support A Person With Difficult Behaviors

Supporting a person with difficult behaviors begins when we make a commitment to know the person. Sadly, it is often the case that the people who develop an intervention to stop someone from engaging in difficult behaviors do not know the individual in any meaningful sense. Instead, they see the person as a someone (or something) that needs to be fixed, or modified. But attacking a person’s behavior is usually ineffective and always disrespectful. Think about someone you know who engages in difficult behaviors. Ask yourself, “What kind of life is this person living?” Consider how you would feel if you lived the person’s life. How would you behave?

What follows are 10 things you can do to support a person whose behavior is troubling you. It is not a list of “quick fix” strategies for stopping unwanted behavior. It is a list of ideas for uncovering the real things that a person might need so that you can be more supportive.

1. Get to know the person.

The first step in supporting a person with difficult behaviors almost seems too obvious The first step in supporting to state: get to know the person! It is too often the case that people who develop interventions to eliminate unwanted behavior do not know the person in any meaningful sense. They know the person as the sum total of his or her labels, but know little about the person as a “whole” human being.

Make a point of spending time with the person in places that he or she enjoys, during times of the day that he or she chooses. It should be a comfortable place where both of you can feel safe and relaxed (e.g., a quiet room, a nice restaurant, a walking trail in a nearby park).

At a time that feels right (you will have to trust your intuition on this one), tell the person about your concerns and ask for permission to help (it’s rude not to). If the person has no formal means of communication, ask anyway. Sometimes people understand what is being said, but they have a difficult time letting others know that they understand. The important point, always, is to ask the person for permission to stick your nose into their business, even at the risk of seeming silly in front of people who think the person cannot understand up from down (they’re usually wrong).

2. Remember that all behavior is meaning-full.

Difficult behaviors are “messages” which can tell us important things about a person and the quality of her life. In the most basic terms: difficult
behaviors result from unmet needs. The very presence of a difficult behavior can be a signal that something important that the person needs is missing. Here are some examples of the kinds of the kinds of messages a person may be conveying with his or her behavior:

“I’m lonely.”

Michael’s older brother was invited over to a friend’s house for a sleep over. Michael is never invited to the homes of children because he goes to
a “special” school 35 miles from his neighborhood. Michael has no friends to play with.

“I’m bored.”

Roberta’s sister is a doctor at the local hospital. She has her own house and is her parent’s pride and joy. Roberta works all day at a sheltered workshop where she packages plastic forks and knives. She lives at home and is tired of packaging. She wants to get a real job. Roberta’s case manager says she day dreams too much.

“I have no power.”

John likes to sit down on the sidewalk when the bus arrives to take him to school. His mother becomes very angry and tells him that there will be
no dessert when he gets home. John laughs when the bus driver threatens him with time out.

“I don’t feel safe.”

Conrad uses a wheelchair and is not able to defend himself adequately from attacks by another man. Conrad worries that he will be hurt and often
cries when left alone. Staff think he has a psychiatric illness.

“You don’t value me.”

Gloria has a “severe reputation.” People from all over the state have heard stories about her terrible tantrums. No one knows that she is a
very caring person who worries about environmental issues. The only part of Gloria people pay attention to is her problem behaviors.

“I don’t know how to tell you what I need.”

June does not know how to use words or sign to let other people know what she was thinking. She lives in an institution where she learned that the best way to get people’s attention was to bite your arms. It hurts, but it is the only thing that “works.”

“My ears hurt.”

Walter hits his ears with his fists. His job coach wants it to stop and wrote a behavior plan for “not hitting.” Weeks later, at a
scheduled doctor’s appointment, it was learned that Walter had a low-grade ear infection. Anti-biotics cleared up the infection and Walter has
stopped hitting his ears.

“My body does not move like I want it to.”

Aron wanted to order a hamburger at a the restaurant, but his mouth kept saying, “I want pizza.” When the waiter brought him pizza, he became so upset he knocked it on the floor. Later, at home, he typed to his mom, “I wanted a hamburger but I couldn’t stop saying, ‘I want pizza.’ Aron experiences differences from other people in the way his body moves (see Anne Donnellan and Martha Leary’s book, Movement Differences and Diversity in Autism/Mental Retardation: Appreciating and Accommodating Persons with Communication and Behavior Challenges for additional information (ordering information on the last page).

Obviously there are many needs that a person may be conveying with her behaviors. A single behavior can “mean” many things. The important point is that difficult behaviors do not occur without reason. All behavior, even if it is self-destructive, is “meaning-full.”

Ask the person (and/or the person’s supporters) what he or she needs to be happy. Find out who he or she counts on in a pinch. How often does he or she see loved ones and friends? What are his or her favorite activities? Where does he or she like to go? Ask the person what leads to unhappiness. Who are the people who the person does not like? How often does he or she see them? What are the person’s least favorite activities? Since many people are experiencing physical and/or psychiatric distress, it’s also important to know something about the person’s physical and emotional health. Does the person have a way to let others know what he or she needs and feels? Is the person experiencing physiological or psychological distress? What kinds of medications is he or she taking? Do they help?

Finally, if you’re stumped, ask, “Are there times when the person exhibits this behavior frequently?” and “Are there times when person exhibits this behavior infrequently or not at all?” Answering these two questions can tell you a great deal about the meaning of the person’s behavior. With time, you should be able to see a discernible pattern.

For example, you might find that the person engages in the difficult behavior in the morning hours, but rarely in the afternoon. Ask, “What happens in the morning that might cause the person to behave this way?” or, conversely, “What is happening in the afternoon that causes the
person not to behave this way?” (Hint: it often has something to do with the things a person is being asked to do, and/or who is asking the person to do it).

3. Help the person to develop a support plan.

People who exhibit difficult behaviors are usually subjected to a behavior plan at some point in their lives. It is rare that they are asked if they want a plan, let alone invited to the meetings where one is developed. Instead, a plan is developed by strangers (e.g., the agency behaviorist who has spent less than two hours “observing” the person).

Think about how difficult it would be to stop a behavior that a stranger thinks you should stop. It can be difficult enough to stop behaviors we choose to stop (e.g, smoking, excessive eating)! Instead of a behavior plan to “fix” the person, help the person and the person’s supporters to develop a support plan that reflects a real and authentic life.

John and Connie Lyle O’Brien suggest the following questions for building a support plan. Note how different these questions are from those we typically ask, such as “How can we reduce this person’s problem behaviors?” or “How can we manage this behavior?”

1. How can we help the person to achieve health and well-being?
2. How can we help the person to maintain his or her relationships and make new ones?
3. How can we help the person to increase his or her presence and participation in everyday community life?
4. How can we help the person to have more choices in life?
5. How can we help the person to learn skills that enhance his or her participation in community life?
6. How can we help the person to make a contribution to others?

The team can ask, “Is our vision for the person similar to the vision we hold for ourselves and each other? When we think about what the person needs, do we focus on “fixing” deficits or do we think about supporting the person in achieving a real life?”

4. Develop a support plan for the person’s supporters

Just as it is simplistic to treat a person’s behavior without understanding something about the life the person lives, it is simplistic to develop a support plan without considering the needs of the person’s supporters.

Many of our school and human service delivery systems are based on the idea that a few people with greater knowledge and power should bestow care and skills to a larger number of people with lesser knowledge and power. “Success” is based on compliance or obedience. A person who engages in difficult behaviors presents a real threat to a care-giver or teacher whose competence is being judged by this “compliance/ obedience” yardstick. The caregiver often expends great energy trying to suppress the person’s behavior in order to maintain “competence” (in many of our workplaces it is acceptable to share knowledge but not to share power).

Punishment or the fear of punishment (coercion) may be the primary means of “motivating” staff. Many approach each day with a mixture of fear and dread. If they make a mistake, they could be “written up,” demoted or fired. If they try something new, it may violate a policy or procedure. The unspoken message is “do as you are told” or suffer the consequences. Many of our human services environments are “toxic” with fear.

It is in this context that human services workers are “told” to be supportive. Workers are trained in positive approaches when the underlying organizational message is “maintain obedience.” Under the deadening weight of these systems, even the kindest and most respectful of caregivers may begin to exhibit their own difficult behaviors. They become excessively controlling and resistant to change. They begin to believe that individuals are worthy of their labels and “beyond hope.” They may even resort to forms of punishment procedures that the average citizen would find repulsive and unacceptable.

Take time with your colleagues to develop support plans for each other. For example, what can you do to increase each other’s level of safety and comfort when someone is behaving dangerously? What can you do to have more fun at work? How can you have more control over your schedule and input into decisions? How can managers better support you?

A fundamental question is, “If you stopped responding to the person’s difficult behavior the way you do now, who would you be?”

5. Don’t assume anything.

It is easy to make the mistake of underestimating a person’s potential because of her labels or because she has failed to acquire certain skills. This is a tragic mistake.

I have worked in the field for 15 years and am less confident in my ability to predict how much a person understands with every passing day. Recent developments make clear the folly of making predictions about a person’s potential on the basis of diagnostic labels or past performance. Hundreds of thousands of people deemed “unfit” for society have left our institutions and now live in community. One hundred and twenty thousand people who were assessed “unemployable” because of the severity of their disability now work and pay taxes thanks to supported employment services.

The very definition of mental retardation itself has changed in recent years. The American Association for Mental Retardation (AAMR) has recently overhauled the definition. Gone are pessimistic predictions that saw little hope for the “severely retarded” and “profoundly retarded.” The new definition eliminates such terms altogether and emphasizes the importance of our supports. In short, an individual’s potential depends largely upon the adequacy of his/her supports rather than some inherent flaw or “defect.”

Always remember that people are people first. Labels tell us nothing (in any real sense) about how we can be supportive. We need not forget the person’s problem behaviors, but we must understand that people have gifts and capacities that eclipse our labels (or, as Herb Lovett has said, our “clinical accusations.”) Always remember to speak directly to the person and explain things as clearly as you can, even if the person’s labels suggest that he cannot understand (at the very least the person will understand the tone of your voice). Never speak about the person as if he were not in the room.

6. Relationships make all the difference.

Loneliness is the most significant disability of our time.

Many people with disabilities, young and old, live lives of extraordinary isolation. Some depend entirely upon their families for support. A brother or sister or mom or dad are the only source of company. Friends are often absent altogether.

All too often, the only relationships people have are with paid staff. Although staff can offer a great deal, they change jobs frequently or take on new responsibilities. The resulting instability can be devastating to someone who is fundamentally alone.

Remember that there are many people in the community who will benefit from knowing the person. Chances are the person has already made someone’s life fuller. Be confident that she or he will make someone’s life richer again and again.

Learn more about personal futures planning and other person-centered approaches to planning.

7. Help the person to develop a positive identity.

John Bradshaw writes, ” Our identity is the difference about us that makes a difference.”

Many people with disabilities develop identities as “problem people.” They are segregated into “special” programs where they are treated as people who have little to offer. Soon their “treatment” becomes a kind of cage to protect them from themselves and others. The real danger is that if enough people begin to think of the person as a “problem,” she will begin to believe it too.

We all need to be needed.

Help the person to find a way to make a contribution. Start when the person is young if you can. Giving is a lifelong endeavor. Things as simple as helping with household chores or helping out at church can teach the person that she can make a contribution.

Pour over the newspaper and find the “Volunteers Needed” section. Talk to the person about joining an organization with you or with a friend (e.g., Habitat for Humanity, a local food shelter, an environmental group).

Help the person to learn how to support friends (e.g., an invitation to a sleep over, birthday cards, learning to ask “How are you doing?” or “What’s new?”).

Remember that it is important to overcome the belief that the person has nothing to share. It takes time and determination to help the person and others to see strength and the capacity to give when deficits were all that anyone ever saw before.

8. Instead of ultimatums, give choices.

Choice is a powerful alternative to punishment. If the person’s behavior challenges you, help him to find more desirable ways to express the needs underlying the behaviors. Instead of ultimatums, give choices (e.g., “Bill, I know you’re upset. What would help? Would you like to go for a walk? or take a ride? You need a chance to calm down.”

Allow the person to make decisions throughout the day. If he has trouble making choices, find a way to help. Make sure there are at least three desirable outcomes to choose from. As Norman Kunc has said 1 option = tyranny; 2 options = a dilemma; 3 or more options = a real choice.

Don’t assume that helping the person to have more choices means letting him do whatever he wishes. Limit-setting is an important and fair part of any relationship. The real question is who is setting the limits and why. If limits are imposed upon the person without their input, and if the limits are part and parcel of a life in which the person is powerless, even your best advice may even be interpreted as one more statement of “do it my way or else.” You can expect a general disregard for your advice if the person on the receiving end of the advice is “out of power.”

Make a sustained commitment to the person and to “fairness” in the relationship. If the person has been on the outside of power
for too long, you may need to bend more often than not for awhile. The goal is to teach the person that giving is a two-way street.

9. Help the person to have more fun.

Fun is a powerful antidote to problem behaviors.

People with significant disabilities often live in ghettos of reward. Indeed, it is often this poverty of reward, not a lack of skills, that keeps people separate from other community members. Many must endure reward schedules for good behavior. The very few things that they enjoy are used
contingently to reinforce compliance (talk about spoiling a good thing!).

Count the number of things the person enjoys, the number of places she likes to go. Compare this to the number of things other people enjoy, the number of places other people go. Ask yourself, “Is the person having fun? Is she experiencing enough joy? Is this an interesting life with things to look forward to?”

Help the person to add to her list of interesting (and really fun) things to do. Spend time in regular community places where people hang out. If you feel compelled to take data on something, take data on the amount of fun you find. Make fun a goal.

10. Establish a good working relationship with the person’s primary health care physician.

Mark Durand has said, “People tend to get immature when they don’t feel well.” How often have you experienced a general decline in your mood or your ability to empathize with the needs of others when you don’t feel well? When we are sick, we are not ourselves. Many people who exhibit difficult behaviors do so because they don’t feel well. The sudden appearance of behavior problems may be a signal that the person does not feel well. Illnesses as common as a cold or ear ache can result in behaviors as inconsequential as grumpiness or as serious as head banging.

It is important to establish a working relationship with a good primary health care physician. Although this is easier said than done, the person will, especially if he has difficulty communicating, need a doctor who can help him to stay healthy and well.

Remember that physicians, like many other people who grew up in our “separate” society do not always understand (and may even fear) a person with substantial disabilities.

Don’t be afraid of telling the person’s doctor that you don’t understand a recommendation or
finding. It is important to get a clear and straightforward answer to all of your questions.

Remember too that it is important to go beyond a concept of health as the absence of a disease or illness. “Feeling well” and “being healthy” involves everything from a balanced diet to a good night’s sleep. Help the person to achieve a state of “wellness.”

Anne and Martha’s book Movement Differences and Diversity in Autism/Mental Retardation: Appreciating and Accommodating Persons with Communication and Behavior can be ordered here or here.

David Pitonyak is a nationally recognized expert and popular speaker on the subject of Positive Behavior Support, supporting people with difficult behaviors, and supporting the needs of a person’s friends, family, and caregivers. For more information on how to work with David, visit his website: Imagine

Photo Credit:  Patrick Hoesly

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