Altering the Inappropriate Comments of a Student with Multiple Disabilities

By Schoen, Sharon Faith; Thomas, Rachel | Journal of Instructional Psychology, March 2006 | Go to article overview

Altering the Inappropriate Comments of a Student with Multiple Disabilities


Schoen, Sharon Faith, Thomas, Rachel, Journal of Instructional Psychology


This article offers an example of how teachers may successfully use a process for addressing problem behaviors in the classroom. The process includes (1) framing critical questions, (2) collecting relevant data, (3) taking well-researched actions, and (4) reflecting on the impact of these actions. Guided by these steps, the inappropriate comments of a 16-year-old male student were expediently reduced through intervention strategies drawn from various theoretical approaches.

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The dynamic nature of the classroom and the multiplicity of needs of the learners demand flexible pedagogical practice. In order to understand and improve the quality of interactions and instruction in classroom situations, teachers may benefit from a systematic way to address the needs and plan their actions (Johnson, 2003; Stringer, 2004). By entering a cyclical process of framing critical questions, collecting relevant data, taking well-researched actions, and reflecting on the impact of these actions, a deliberate and organized approach to classroom challenges will be embraced.

The challenge in this case is Michael, a 16-year-old male student who experiences multiple disabilities, including cerebral palsy, mental retardation, attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder, vision problems, and behavioral difficulties. For the latter, a package of interventions was designed to address Michael's inappropriate comments. Strategies were carefully selected from four theory families: social learning, humanistic, cognitive, and behavioral approaches. Over the course of 14 days, unwanted verbalizations decreased significantly. The infusion of a myriad of individualized interventions holds the potential for producing expedient and desired outcomes.

Planning the Process: Facing the Challenge

Inappropriate social behaviors will likely preclude acceptance and integration in natural settings. The challenging behaviors in this case involved sexist and ageist comments that offended others at the school site. Actions were taken to interrupt this pattern of behavior and improve the student's social interactions for functioning in current and future environments.

Phase 1: Framing Critical Questions

Michael is a 16-year-old student participating in a segregated special education program for vocational skill training in a public, urban school. Considering his age, primary focus was placed on job skills that would equip him for competitive employment in society. Inherent in this goal is the development of appropriate social interactions. To avoid bringing negative attention to himself through the verbal derisions leveled at women and elderly individuals, research questions readily emerged. How can suitable interactions be promoted? Can Michael learn to regulate his own behavior? Will Michael be able to differentiate between socially appropriate and inappropriate behaviors?

Phase 2: Collecting Relevant Data

Insightful sources of information included interviews with the classroom teacher and occupational therapist, observations of Michael, and a review of the related literature.

Interviews and observations. The classroom teacher identified the target behavior as an interference to successful attainment of the student's Individualized Education Plan (I.E.P.) goal focusing on vocational skill development. This kind of social validation of need justifies the efforts expended in planning and implementing an intervention package (i.e., four strategies representing four theoretical approaches). In addition, input from the occupational therapist further substantiated the pattern of inappropriate comments in the context of therapy sessions. A reportedly effective strategy employed by the occupational therapist was ignoring. When applied in the classroom and vocational settings, however, data gathered during continuous observation (i.e., Antecedent-Behavior-Consequence recording) demonstrated the ineffectiveness of this strategy in these more social contexts. …

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