Reducing Disruptive Behaviors in Students with Serious Emotional Disturbance

Article excerpt

Abstract. A multicomponent intervention that included a precision request program, mystery motivators, token economy with response cost, and antecedent strategies (i.e., public posting of classroom rules and teacher movement) was employed to reduce disruptive classroom behavior in 3 school-aged students with social and emotional disorders. The study employed a multiple baseline design across individuals. The results suggested that the intervention was successful in reducing levels of disruptive behaviors for all students. Baseline data indicated that, on average, students were disruptive in 37% of observed intervals. This diminished to an average of 10% during the intervention phase. In the follow-up phase, disruptive intervals remained at an average of 10%.

Students with social and emotional disorders characteristically exhibit noncompliance to teacher requests along with numerous additional disruptive behaviors (DeMartini-Scully, Bray, & Kehle, 2000). Their lack of compliance to teacher requests often is the impetus for their disruptive classroom behaviors (Forehand, Gardner, & Roberts, 1978; Koch, 1982). Research (e.g., Parrish, Cataldo, Kolko, Neef, & Egel, 1986) has demonstrated that compliance and disruptive behaviors covary inversely. Interventions that succeed in improving compliance with adult directives usually lead to a reduction in disruptive behaviors. Thus, the design of an economical intervention that targets compliance with rules should simultaneously reduce a wide range of disruptive behaviors (Nelson, 1988; Parrish et al., 1986).

Teachers issue countless commands for compliance on a daily basis. Unfortunately, many mistakes are made both in the delivery of commands and in the provision of consequences. Teachers often inadvertently reinforce noncompliance, repeatedly reissue commands, and provide low levels of reinforcement for compliance (Strain, Lambert, Kerr, Stagg, & Lenkner, 1983). Training teachers and parents to issue commands and deliver consequences effectively has been shown to increase compliance rates. For example, instructing teachers to use "do" and "don't" commands increased compliance rates in children with severe behavior disorders (Montgomery & Ayllon, 1993; Neef, Shafer, Egel, Cataldo, & Parrish, 1983). In addition, training parents to give requests followed by a 5-second wait period increased compliance rates in their children (Roberts, McMahon, Forehand, & Humphreys, 1978).

Forehand and McMahon (1981) initially developed a command format that was modified (Neville & Jenson, 1984; Rhode, Jenson, & Reavis, 1993) to assist teachers in delivering effective commands and consequences. The modified program was termed "precision requests." As described in the DeMartini-Scully et al. (2000) investigation, the program teaches the student to respond to teacher requests for compliance by employing (a) do and don't commands, (b) positive reinforcement, and (c) reductive techniques. The precision request program involves an initial request for compliance. This first request is introduced with the word "please," or a synonym. If the child complies, she or he is reinforced. If the child does not comply, a second request is given, usually introduced with the phrase "you need to," or a similar instruction. The second request is given after approximately a 5-second interval of waiting, which was determined by Forehand et al. (1978) as the prerequisite amount of time necessary to promote compliance . If students comply, they are reinforced. If there is no compliance, a reductive technique is delivered, usually a form of time-out.

As outlined in DeMartini-Scully et al. (2000), the precision request program's effectiveness appears to be strengthened by delivering the request for compliance in a statement form with a firm but quiet tone of voice (O'Leary, Kaufman, Kass, & Drabman, 1970). Also, requests for compliance should be specific and delivered within approximately 3 feet from the student (Van Houten, Mackenzie-Keating, Sameoto, & Colavecchia, 1982) and only after establishing eye contact (Hamlet, Axelrod, & Kuerschner, 1984). …