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Handling kids with attention disorders.

The nation's special education teachers, faced with an ever-increasing number of children with severe behavior problems, have found that traditional methods of disciplining youngsters simply won't work with some of their charges.

Cheryl McNeil, a clinical psychologist at the University of Oklahoma Health Sciences Center, notes that many schools are being asked to handle severely mentally retarded or autistic children who previously might have been institutionalized. The main source of stress for special education teachers is a condition known as Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), which affects approximately five percent of children in the population.

"Because of the high activity level, an ADHD child may need five times as much supervision as a calm child. If [such youngsters) ignore teacher requests or aggressively refuse to accept the supervision, their behavior can become uncontrollable. At the root of most misbehaviors is one factor--a basic disrespect for authority. Disruptive children don't view the teacher as an authority figure. From day one, teachers can 'overpractice' using minding drills, just as they would overpractice having a child learn his or her name by writing it over and over. A lot of the other behaviors will fall into place if the teacher can get the child to follow instructions."

In addition to the use of consistent consequences for noncompliance, McNeil stresses the use of intangible or social rewards. "Tangible rewards such as stickers can lose their value over time. We recommend that teachers rely more on praise, touches, eye contact, smiles, and giving special privileges. Those are the kinds of rewards always available to a teacher. They don't cost anything and they don't lose their value over time. Tangibles such as prizes can be used occasionally as extra-special incentives.

"Children who are severely hyperactive must be treated in a different manner than other children. The system of rewarding [them] with happy faces or stars

often doesn't work, because the children misbehave at such a high rate that they may never earn the stars--and they're the ones who need them the most."

Moreover, standard discipline practices of putting a name on the board with a check mark for each misbehavior is not very effective for hyperactive children. "They commonly receive several checks before noon and lose recess on a regular basis, making them even more frustrated. Clearly, innovative discipline approaches are needed to address the severity of behavior problems that teachers now face."
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Publication:USA Today (Magazine)
Date:Aug 1, 1993
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