The educational programs for children with an emotional disturbance need to include attention to providing emotional and behavioral support as well as helping them to master academics, develop social skills, and increase self-awareness, self-control, and self-esteem. A large body of research exists regarding methods of providing students with positive behavioral support (PBS) in the school environment, so that problem behaviors are minimized and positive, appropriate behaviors are fostered. (See the resource list at the end of this publication for more information on PBS.) It is also important to know that, within the school setting:
• For a child whose behavior impedes learning (including the learning of others), the team developing the child’s Individualized Education Program (IEP) needs to consider, if appropriate, strategies to address that behavior, including positive behavioral interventions, strategies, and supports.
• Students eligible for special education services under the category of emotional disturbance may have IEPs that include psychological or counseling services. These are important related services which are available under law and are to be provided by a qualified social worker, psychologist, guidance counselor, or other qualified personnel.
• Career education (both vocational and academic) is also a major part of secondary education and should be a part of the transition plan included in every adolescent’s IEP.
There is growing recognition that families, as well as their children, need support, respite care, intensive case management, and a collaborative, multi-agency approach to services. Many communities are working toward providing these wrap-around services. There are a growing number of agencies and organizations actively involved in establishing support services in the community.
Small group environments are commonly viewed as most beneficial and part of the least restrictive environment for the ED population. In our current setting there is a 3:1 staff to student ratio with a total of 12 students currently enrolled. Grade levels span from 3-6 and academic levels range from grades 1-6.
Students with emotional disturbances find the most success with a well structured, organized, and supportive environment where expectations, rules, and schedule are clearly defined. Below is an example of a behavior modification color/point system which we currently use with associated points accumulated on a D.B.R. or Daily Behavior Report. Student behavior is recorded on an hourly basis in four different areas, one being a classroom specific goal for the week. The allotted points are then accumulated and used in what is called a token economy system, or more commonly a 'classroom store.' Once a week students are able to bid and/or purchase items of their choice including small toys, computer time, video game time, classroom coupons, homework, and recess passes. At the end of the day or week, points and behavior are reviewed and discussed leading to each student moving up and down throughout the levels. As behavior improves or digresses privileges are given or taken away.
Although we do not use it in the classroom this year, some of our students are offered the opportunity to participate in animal therapy. Such therapy can include working, playing and interacting with animals ranging from domesticated pets such as rats, snakes, gerbils, etc. to bigger animals which are part of much more structured programs including equine therapy. Interacting with animals offers students the opportunity to express themselves and open up in ways that they might not necessarily open up otherwise. Support staff and mental health workers are then afforded windows of time to observe valuable behaviors including projections and emotional expression, internalized experiences, and other representations which can be used to further the progression of that particular student.
Developing and maintaining appropriate relationships is a challenge for most students with ED. This ranges from peers, to strangers, to adult support providers. As a way of developing those skills, a great program called Second Step can be used on a weekly basis. Second Step is a social skills and behavior management program that presents students with various social scenarios, discusses the options the children have in those scenarios and then teaches them specific step by step processes they can work through to make appropriate, safe and socially acceptable decisions. Role playing and classroom discussion are key components as a staff member facilitates the conversations.