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A strategy to reduce the challenging behaviors of children with emotional and behavioral disorders.

Abstract

Research suggests that problem behaviors displayed by children with emotional and behavioral disorders (EBD) are often reinforced and maintained by typical caregiver or teacher responses to such behavior. The primary purpose of this study was to assess the effects of an antecedent manipulation strategy on the severe challenging behaviors exhibited by children EBD. The results indicate that the strategy had a positive effect on the rates of severe challenging behaviors and time on-task exhibited by children with EBD. The results and implications are discussed.

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The severe challenging behaviors exhibited by children with emotional and behavioral disorders (EBD) pose a unique challenge to the educational community (Nelson, 1996). Research has demonstrated that the social, academic, and vocational outcomes of students with EBD who exit school programs are bleak (Edgar & Levine, 1987; Neel et al., 1988; Wagner, 1992; Wagner & Shaver, 1989). School dropout rates among these students range from 50% to 60%. Few youth enter any type of postsecondary educational training, and many are arrested at least once in the two years following their exit from school (Wagner, 1992). Within this context, it is vitally important to develop new direct intervention approaches that can prevent the severe challenging behavior patterns exhibited by children with EBD.

The starting point for the present study was research on the reciprocal or interpersonal effects of child-adult behaviors conducted in developmental psychology. Reciprocal adult-child interactions occur when an individual's behavior serves as antecedents to subsequent behaviors. In the case of developmental psychology, evidence suggests that even global traits such as temperament systematically influence child-adult behaviors (Thomas, Chess, & Birch, 1968). Similarly, more discreet child behaviors such as crying (Murray, 1979), smiling (Bates, 1976), activity level (Stevens-Long, 1973), aggression (Faggot, 1984), and speech (Bohannon & Marquis, 1977) have an effect on adult behaviors, and vice versa.

Patterson (1982) developed a theoretical framework (i.e., coercion theory) and provided supporting evidence for the interpersonal nature child-parent interactions within families of children who exhibit antisocial behaviors. Patterson reported that the immediate effects of parents' attempts to stop (i.e., threats and scolding) the problem behaviors of their children not only made the situation worse (in terms of persistence and escalation) due to the interpersonal effects of child-adult interactions, but also played a key role in establishing ongoing coercive family interactions. Closer to the present study, Shores and his colleagues (e.g., Shores et al., 1993) have demonstrated that the aggressive behaviors of children with EBD have a negative interpersonal effect on the extent to which teachers interact with children. Similarly, teachers' use of positive statements has a positive interpersonal effect on the rates of disruptive behaviors exhibited by children with EBD.

Nelson and Roberts (2000) extended the work of Shores and his colleagues by studying the ongoing intra- (i.e., an individual's behaviors serve as antecedents for subsequent ones) and interpersonal sequence of child-teacher interactions around classroom problems in general education classrooms. They reported that the ongoing interaction behaviors of children and teachers around such problems remained relatively constant over time and appeared to be uninfluenced by contextual factors (e.g., content area, time of day, and teacher proximity). These findings suggest that there appear to be strong intra- and interpersonal effects associated with child-teacher interactions around classroom problems.

Based on this research, Nelson and his colleagues (1996; 1998) hypothesized that teachers' responses (e.g., turning of cards, checks after names, repeated warnings and reprimands) to the minor problems of children with EBD may actually result in intra- and interpersonal reciprocal behavioral sequences in which individuals' responses (child and teacher) become more intense and chronic. If this is the case, the minor classroom problems of children with EBD may not only serve as antecedents for teachers' responses (e.g., reprimand), but also serve as antecedents for subsequent severe challenging behaviors (See Figure 1). See issue's website <http://rapidintellect.com/AEQweb/sum02.htm>

Thus, the primary purpose of this study was to assess the effects of an antecedent manipulation strategy (i.e., Think Time Strategy[TM]) on severe challenging behaviors exhibited by children with EBD. This strategy has been found to be an empirically validated method for reducing disruptive behaviors in general education classrooms (Nelson, Martella, & Galand, 1998).

Method

Eighteen students (15 boys and 3 girls) enrolled in two self-contained special education classrooms for children with EBD (Classrooms A and B) in an urban public elementary school in the southwest participated in the study. Each of the classrooms was staffed with a certified special education teacher and two paraprofessionals. All of the students were classified as EBD according to the state of Arizona and federal guidelines. Six students (all boys) were served in Classroom A (primary elementary grades) and 12 (9 boys and 3 girls) in Classroom B (intermediate elementary grades). Nine of the students were Caucasian, 6 were Hispanic, and 3 were African American.

During baseline, the classroom management procedures employed by the teachers incorporated a modified Boys Town Level System (Connolly et al., 1995) to reinforce students for appropriate behaviors and provide a response cost for inappropriate behavior. Three primary strategies were used by the teachers and paraprofessionals in response to the problem behaviors. First, for minor classroom problems (i.e., talking out of turn, non-compliance, out of seat behavior, etc.), teachers or paraprofessionals withdrew a predetermined number of earned points. Second, a two-minute nonexclusionary time-out was instituted for more severe forms of challenging behaviors (i.e., repeated non-compliance, aggression toward peers or staff, profane language). Finally, in the case of severely disruptive or unsafe behaviors (e.g., verbal and physical aggression), teachers and paraprofessionals called in secondary staff to remove the student to a supervised self-contained intervention room. During intervention, all conditions remained the same as baseline with the exception of the antecedent manipulation strategy.

The specific steps for the antecedent manipulation strategy for minor classroom problems paralleled those used by previous researchers (Nelson, 1996; Nelson et al., 1998). The first step was for educators to catch problem behavior early. In the case of minor problems (e.g., off-task), students were reinforced by educators if students complied with a request or prompt to adjust their behavior. Educators also did not use threats, ultimatums (e.g., stop ... or ...) or warnings (e.g., I need you to stop ...). If students did not comply, educators directed the student to a designated desk for Think Time. In the case of more serious problem behaviors (e.g., profanity), educators simply directed students to a designated desk for Think Time. The communication by educators in both cases was limited, unemotional, and matter-of-fact. The desk was located in an area that was free from distractions and limited the ability of the student to engage educators or other students.

The second step was the Think Time/debriefing process. The debriefing was conducted after allowing students a few minutes to "think about" their behavior and to gain "self-control". The time period was behavior-dependent (not time-dependent). Educators initially asked students to describe their behaviors objectively prior to providing them the debriefing form to complete independently. If students were responsive (indicating they were in control and ready to resume their studies) to the opening question regarding their behavior, students were asked to complete the debriefing form (described below). If not, educators responded by saying, "I'll be back to you" and returned to their regular duties until another appropriate break arrived (and the student was sitting in a calm manner). Throughout this process the educators did not cajole the student. The debriefing form included the following questions in sequential order: (a) What was the inappropriate behavior?; (b) What do you need to do differently when you go back to work (replacement behavior); and (c) Will you be able to do it (the replacement behavior)? A pictorial debriefing form was used with younger students. The last step was to check the debriefing responses. After students completed the behavioral debriefing form, educators checked it for accuracy. If correct, students were directed to go back to their original classroom. If incorrect, the student remained in Think Time. Teachers responded by saying, "I'll be back to you," and returned to their regular duties until another appropriate break arrived (and the student was sitting in a calm manner), and then completed the process.

Intercoder agreement for the severe challenging behaviors and time on-task measures was determined for approximately 33% of the sessions across conditions. Mean intercoder agreement was 94% (Range = 85 to 100%) for the severe challenging behaviors observed by classroom teachers. Mean interobserver agreement was 95% (Range = 59% to 100%) for duration of time observed on-task.

Results

Inspection of Figure 2 shows that the antecedent manipulation strategy for minor classroom problems appeared to have an effect on the number of behavioral problems exhibited by children with EBD across both classrooms. The mean daily number of exhibited by students in Classrooms A decreased following the implementation of the antecedent manipulation strategy whereas they remained relatively constant in Classroom B during the baseline condition. Similar reductions in the number of severe challenging behaviors were obtained in Classroom B following the implementation of the strategy. On average, the number of severe challenging behaviors in Classroom A and B decreased from an average of 5 to .82 and 4.44 to .83, respectively.

The majority of the severe challenging behaviors exhibited by children were aggressive in nature. In the case of these behaviors, the mean weekly number of aggressive behaviors exhibited by students in Classrooms A and B decreased from an average of 4.44 to .83 and 1.69 to .61, respectively. Additionally, the antecedent manipulation strategy appeared to reduce the variability in the number of severe challenging behaviors exhibited by students with EBD. See issue's website <http://rapidintellect.com/AEQweb/sum02.htm>

The mean weekly percent of time on-task per classroom exhibited by students in Classroom A increased following the implementation of the antecedent manipulation strategy; whereas, it remained relatively stable in Classroom B during the baseline condition. Similar positive effects were obtained in Classroom B following the implementation of the strategy. On average the time on-task in Classrooms A and B increased from an average of 33% to 62% and 54% to 63%, respectively. Additionally, variability in the mean time on-task remained relatively constant across the baseline and intervention conditions.

Discussion

The severe challenging behaviors exhibited by children with EBD imperil their academic, social, and vocational survival (Kazdin, 1987). The primary purpose of this study was to assess the effects of an antecedent manipulation strategy for minor classroom problems on the severe challenging behaviors exhibited by children with EBD.

There are several findings we would like to highlight. First, on average, the strategy appeared to result in substantial decreases in the number of severe challenging behaviors exhibited by children with EBD. If the average treatment effects were extrapolated over the course of the school year, the group of children with EBD participating in the present study would have exhibited over 1200 fewer severe challenging behaviors. Further, individual children would have exhibited approximately 20 severe challenging behaviors over the course of the school year as compared to just over 90 prior to implementation. Second, the variability in the number of severe challenging behaviors exhibited by children decreased following the implementation of the strategy. This finding suggests that the day-to-day classroom environment was less volatile following the implementation of the strategy. Third, the consistent increases in time on-task in both classrooms suggest that reductions in the severe challenging behaviors were not a function of the intervention itself. Finally, the teachers and paraprofessionals participating in the present study only received one hour of training. Informal treatment fidelity checks conducted three times throughout the study by the researchers indicated that all of these professionals implemented the antecedent manipulation strategy as prescribed. This suggests that one of the most powerful features of the strategy is the ease to which it can be implemented, replicated, and sustained.

This study was limited in several ways. First, the present study included only two self-contained special education classrooms in one geographic location; therefore, it is not clear whether the antecedent manipulation strategy would be as effective in other settings. Second, because formal data on treatment fidelity were not collected, it is not entirely clear whether the changes in the social behaviors of children with EBD were directly related to the implementation of the strategy. Finally, changes from baseline to intervention were made for pragmatic reasons rather than the establishment of stability in the data prior to the implementation of the strategy.

Several implications warrant discussion. First, a large number of severe challenging behaviors exhibited by children with EBD may be averted with the application of a universal strategy. Second, the relatively positive increase in the time on-task of children with EBD achieved with the antecedent manipulation strategy suggests that teachers may be able to avoid the negative influence that challenging behaviors have on teaching. Finally, professionals working with children with EBD must focus on developing behavior management approaches that both prevent the occurrence of minor problems and ensure that such problems do not serve as antecedents to more severe behaviors.

References

Bates, J. E. (1976). Effects of children's nonverbal behavior upon adults. Child Development, 47, 1079-1088.

Bohannon, J. N., & Marquis, A. L. (1977). Children's control of adult speech. Child Development, 48, 1002-1008.

Connolly, T., Dowd, T., Cristie, A., Nelson, C., & Tobias, L. (1995). The well-managed classroom. Omaha, NB: Boys Town.

Edgar, E., & Levine, P. (1987). Special education students in transition: Washington state data 1976-1986. Seattle: University of Washington, Experimental Education Unit.

Faggot, B. I. (1984). The consequences of problem behavior in toddler children. Journal of Abnormal Child Psychology, 12, 385-396.

Kazdin, A. (1987). Treatment of antisocial behaviors in children: Current status and future directions. Psychological Bulletin, 102, 187-203.

Martella, R. C., Nelson, J. R., & Marchand-Martella N. E. (1999). Research methods: Learning to become a critical research consumer. Boston, MA: Allyn and Bacon.

Murray, A. D. (1979). Infant crying as an elicitor of parental behavior: An examination of two models. Psychological Bulletin, 86, 191-215.

Neel, R., Meadow, N., Levine, P., & Edgar, E. (1988). What happens after special education: A statewide follow-up study of secondary students who have EBD. Journal of Emotional and Behavioral Disorders, 13,209-216.

Nelson, J. R. (1996). Designing schools to meet the needs of students who exhibit disruptive behavior. Journal of Emotional and Behavioral Disorders, 4, 147-161.

Nelson, J. R., Martella, R., & Galand, B. (1998). The effects of teaching school expectations and establishing consistent consequences on formal office disciplinary actions. Journal of Emotional and Behavioral Disorders, 6, 153-161.

Nelson, J. R., & Roberts, M. L. (2000). Ongoing reciprocal teacher-student interactions involving disruptive behaviors in general education classrooms. Journal of Emotional and Behavioral Disorders, 8, 27-37.

Patterson, G. (1982). Performance models for antisocial boys. American Psychologist, 41,432-444.

Shores, R. E., Gunter, P. L., Denny, S. L., & Jack, S. L. (1993). Classroom management strategies: Are they ecological contexts for coercion? Behavioral Disorders, 17, 178-190.

Stevens-Long, J. (1973). The effect of behavioral context on some aspects of adult disciplinary practice and affect. Child Development, 44, 476-484.

Thomas, A., Chess, S., & Birch, H. G. (1968). Temperament and behavior disorders in children. New York: New York University Press.

Wagner, M. (1992). What happens next? Trends in postschool outcomes of youth with disabilities. The Second Comprehensive Report from the National Longitudinal Transition Study of Special Education Students. (ERIC Document Reproduction Service No. ED 356 603)

Wagner, M., & Shaver, D. (1989). Educational programs and achievements of secondary special education students: Findings from the National Longitudinal Transition Study. Menlo Park, CA: SRI International.

Benner, M. Ed., is Doctoral Student in Special Education. Nelson, Ph.D., is an Associate Research Professor and Teachers College Institute Scholar in Special Education. Smith, Ph D., is a School Psychologist for Lincoln Public Schools. Roberts is an Associate Professor in School of Psychology. Note: Preparation of this manuscript was supported in part by grants (#H023N70048 and #R305F6011) from the U.S. Department of Education. Opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect the position of the U.S. Department of Education, and no endorsement should be inferred. Request for copies of this manuscript should be addressed to Gregory J. Benner, M. Ed., University of Nebraska, Center for At-Risk Children's Services, 202 Barkley Center, Lincoln, NE 68583-0738.
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Author:Roberts, Maura L.
Publication:Academic Exchange Quarterly
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Jun 22, 2002
Words:2698
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