Saturday, November 10, 2012


Knowing what is the best educational environment for students whose behavior is extremely aversive to others is not simple. It demands thinking about what is best not just for the student whose conduct is unacceptable but for other students as well.

When I observed Albert just before Christmas in the resource room where he was taught one-on-one, he was noncompliant with reasonable requests (e.g., "Sit in your chair"), and verbally and physically aggressive toward his full-time aid[e], his teacher, and his classmates on the playground. He had frequent tantrums, vomited and ate his vomitus, blew his nose and wiped the mucous on others. Albert had not started his academic life isolated in the resource room. When his parents registered him at school, they requested that Albert be fully included in the general education classroom. And even though the psychological folder from a school in another state delineated Albert's difficult behaviors, the strong medications he took every day, and his institutionalization for three months the previous year, the school agreed to the parents' request. They placed him in a second grade class. Albert was a rising third grader, but was so small that parents and school administrators decided that he would do better in the second grade.

I was consulting in this school, and as part of this process I interviewed the teachers who were responsible for Albert's education. Mrs. Tinsley, the second grade teacher, had volunteered to have Albert as part of her class. She had special education training, had fully included other children with disabilities successfully in her class, and was looking forward to Albert's coming. Her second grade class consisted of "mostly well-behaved achieving students." Albert was coming to the Dream Team—to experienced teachers who wanted him and to classmates who would be good role mod¬els for him. But Albert had not read the textbooks. He continued the unpleasant behaviors mentioned in the psychological folder; wiping mucous on others when his will was thwarted, screaming constantly, vomiting (once into the printer because he didn't wish to stop using the computer), pulling and grabbing the other children's clothes, biting adults for no apparent reason other than that they were there. At first, according to Mrs. Tinsley, the other students wanted to help him. They became "big brother" or "big sister" to him. Most of the interactions his classmates initiated with him con¬sisted of trying to cue him to comply with teacher requests, and praising him on the rare occasions when he did—just what we would have taught them to do as peer confederates.

Although a few students encouraged him to misbehave, most wanted to help him. After a while, according to Mrs. Tinsley, the students were afraid and confused by Albert's behavior. School personnel could not find strong enough rewards (or effective response cost procedures) to moderate Albert's behavior. He continued to vomit and eat it, to yell and scream. Even though all the teachers involved with Albert tried to cue him about appropriate and inappropriate comments, he still initiated conversations with classmates by asking them if they loved him or if they would marry him. He continued to pull and to grab the other children's clothing and tried to urinate on the boys when he went to the bathroom.

Albert was gradually isolated more and more in the resource room with his full-time aide. Since most of the resource students were taught in the general education classroom, Albert and his aid had the room to themselves much of the day. Even then, life was difficult, and many of the aberrant behaviors remained; the tantrums, the bit¬ing, the vomiting, and wiping his mucous on others. He added pinching to his reper¬toire of tortures. Albert became a despotic dictator who engaged in any and all of the aggressive behaviors mentioned if he did not get his way. The aide and teacher main¬tained a program of strict rules with sanctions for not complying and rewards for obey¬ing. Gradually, the aid and teacher began to see moderate improvements in Albert's behavior. Although most of his problem behaviors did not totally disappear, Albert did establish a relationship with both the aid[e] and the resource teacher and began to improve academically and behaviorally. Even then, he tested them periodically. The resource teacher remarked, "Just when I feel like I have a handle on this little boy, he proves me wrong."

1. How would you describe the environment that is least restrictive for a child like Albert?

This is a tough one. I agree that Albert should be included as much as possible. Albert should be removed from the classroom to neutral territory when he engages in problematic behaviors. However, if the function of the behavior is to be removed from the classroom, then other arrangements and options should be discussed. A lot of things about Albert remind me of peter. I cannot help but remember how difficult having Peter in the class was for his classmates. A least restrictive environment (LRE) for Albert is not going to be a fully inclusive setting, because Albert’s classmates deserve a LRE as well. After all, FAPE is a free appropriate public education. A fully inclusive classroom is not appropriate for Albert.

2. When should a student's classmates' welfare be weighed in choosing an educa¬tional placement?

Always, the goal of LRE is to provide a LRE for all of the students. If a student misbehaves in a classroom, the results of such behavior are counterproductive for all students in the classroom. Learning is interrupted, and the students with inattention and distraction difficulties may not be able to get back on task because of these disruptions in their routines. Furthermore, as educators, we are required to provide a safe environment for all students. If a student is a danger to others, it is our responsibility to protect the other students.

3. If you were Albert's teacher, what strategies for reducing his noxious behaviors would you try?

Albert could benefit from frequent breaks. I would begin with social stories to help Albert understand how he is supposed to behave. I would teach Albert the rules and model appropriate behaviors for each environment so he understands how to behave. I would try proximity control and positive/negative reinforcement to try to curb problem behaviors. Attempting to discover the function of Albert’s behavior in order to discover what interventions could be implemented to stop unwanted behaviors would be helpful. I would continue the reward system and discover what interests Albert has. This could help me to design lessons that include his interests, and to provide me with reinforcement for behavior interventions by allowing free time to work on interests for desired behavior. I would be sure to pick out the most problematic behavior first and teach a more appropriate replacement behavior for that one behavior. I would not try to work on more than one problem behavior at a time. Anytime a behavior intervention is successful, I would communicate with Albert’s other teachers and parents about the intervention used so I could ensure consistency in each setting. This could help Albert generalize behaviors in multiple settings.

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