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Students with Disability - School Behavior Programs

  • Date: 2012/03/22 (Rev. 2017/09/01)
  • Wendy Taormina-Weiss - Disabled World
  • Synopsis : School behavior programs that are well-designed are essential and must become a part of every single school in this nation.

Main Document

Inclusion in classrooms is an important way students with disabilities learn the skills they need to make friends, live, and work with others who do not experience disabilities.

Changes in Federal law, as well as the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), find students who experience forms of disabilities with the right to participate to the greatest extent appropriate in classes with students who do not experience disabilities. Inclusion in classrooms is an important way students with disabilities learn the skills they need to make friends, live, and work with others who do not experience disabilities.

Problem behaviors; however, present an immense threat to the successful inclusion of students with disabilities in classrooms. The U.S. Department of Education has reported that students who exhibit problem behaviors are among the least likely to receive education in average classrooms when compared to students who experience other forms of disabilities. In times past, the response to problem behaviors exhibited by students with disabilities has been one of punishment and exclusion. Some entire school districts pursued, 'zero-tolerance,' policies which punished students for any disruption whatsoever - no matter how small.

The results of greater than five-hundred studies; however, demonstrate that punishment is one of the least effective responses to problem behaviors. School-wide policies insisting on the punishment of students for negative behaviors while failing to reward positive ones actually increase aggression, truancy, vandalism, tardiness, and the rate of drop-outs. The same studies revealed that the best way to reduce problem behaviors involve the use of positive behavioral interventions, changes to the student's schedule or curriculum, and instruction in regards to social skills.

Research has also shown that positive behavioral interventions are more effective if they are used for all students; not only for students who experience forms of disabilities. Positive behavioral interventions should be applied on a school-wide basis and have some additional benefits:

  • The number of places where students with disabilities can successfully be included increases due to the adoption of school-wide codes of conduct
  • Students who have not been labeled as having a disability, yet display problem behaviors, learn the skills they need in order to reduce such behaviors
  • Students with disabilities have the opportunity to succeed in classrooms, but also in areas such as cafeterias, hallways, playgrounds, on school buses, and during after-school activities due to school-wide codes of conduct

A number of schools have tried school-wide behavior programs across America. The initial findings have been promising, even in relation to students who experience significant emotional disabilities. A school in New Hampshire; for example, has had a school-wide behavior program in place for a number of years that has worked so well that 80% of the students who experience significant emotional disabilities are included in the classroom with other students for the majority of the day.

Schools that are successful in using school-wide behavior programs usually have several things in common. These commonalities include:

  • Consistent rules of behavior for all students in the school
  • Behavioral interventions that are based upon current research
  • An additional plan in place for students with problem behaviors
  • Consistent and fair consequences for those who break the rules
  • Complete staff commitment, with everyone agreeing to work together
  • A program that works to prevent as well as respond to problem behaviors
  • Students who are taught self-control or social skills in the same manner they are taught academic skills

Problem Behaviors - Bullying

Bullying involves a person being picked on repeatedly by an individual or group of persons either physically or socially. Social status and appearance are two of the main reasons people are bullied. Bullies pick on others for a number of perceived, 'reasons.' From the bully's perspective, a person:

  • Does not fit in
  • Looks different
  • Acts differently
  • Has a form of disability
  • Is a different race than the bully
  • May be lesbian, gay, or transgendered
  • Is from a different religion than the bully

Some bullies choose to physically assault people; something that can involve anything from tripping the person to shoving them, punching or hitting them, or even sexually assaulting the person. Other bullies attempt to assert psychological control over a person, or choose to verbally insult them in order to feel as if they are somehow, 'in charge.' Some bullies pursue verbal bullying even after school is out through online social websites; something referred to as, 'cyber-bullying.'

Gender is irrelevant where bullies are concerned; both males and females are involved in bullying. While a bully might appear to be reserved, some may be aggressive or outgoing. Others might attempt to manipulate other people in ways that are deceptive and subtle. Common characteristics of bullies include:

  • Poor social skills
  • Poor social judgment
  • A focus on themselves
  • A desire to dominate others
  • Little or no feelings of empathy or caring for others

The majority of bullies believe they are superior to others and have the right to push other people around; the fact is - they are actually insecure. Bullies assault and treat others badly in order make themselves feel more powerful, as well as to make themselves feel as if they are more interesting than other people. Trauma is another factor involved in bullying; some bullies pursue their problem behaviors because they have been bullied in the past - perhaps by an adult family member, or another adult.

Some bullies experience forms of personality disorders; ones that do not allow the bully to understand social emotions such as empathy, guilt, remorse, or compassion. Bullies with these forms of personality disorders need assistance from mental health professionals like psychiatrists or psychologists, and will often deny the need for this type of health care.

Bully is violence, plain and simple. Bullying many times leads to even more violent behavior as the bully becomes an adult. It is estimated that one out of four elementary school bullies will find themselves with a criminal record by the time they reach the age of thirty. Some teenage bullies find themselves being rejected by their peers and losing friendships as they become adults. Bullies can also fail in school and find they do not have the career relationship success others in society enjoy.

Ending the Behavioral Free-Fall in America's Schools

In the United States of America, schools have experienced a long period of, 'free fall,' where the behaviors of students have been un-approached to the degree needed. The results have been less than desirable, to say the least, in many instances. Gangs openly recruit members in many of America's schools, for example. Bullying has become a major issue in too many of America's schools, leading to assaults and even the suicides of some students.

School behavior programs that are well-designed are essential, and must become a part of every single school in this nation. While the, 'zero-tolerance,' policies presented by schools is clearly failing, the constructive and positive approaches are demonstrating excellent results and need to be pursued. Inclusion of students with disabilities, as well as all students, in school behavioral programs must become a part of every school in America. The future of our nation demands it.

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