March 29, 2016

Let’s be real - the first time you realize you were taught NOTHING about behavior management in graduate school is a sad moment. Whether it is an individual student, a small group in the speech room, or an entire classroom, expectations for student behavior must be clearly defined and established early on. Thus, we will be writing a series on how to develop and incorporate positive behavior management supports in your practice.

First, you need to think of the function of negative behavior in general. Students communicate their needs with more than just words. If you think of it in its most basic form, a baby cries not because it’s naughty but because it’s hungry, or tired, or needs to be changed.

Students who misbehave during intervention are also expressing a need. Instead of taking away a sticker because a student is acting up, ask yourself WHY the behavior is happening. Some common causes include:

  • Lack of engagement
  • Seeking peer attention
  • Work avoidance
  • Lack of motivation
  • Physical factors (illness, hunger, fatigue)
  • Attention difficulties

Knowing the root of the behavior allows you to prevent it from escalating. A power struggle with a student will never end positively. Work is not completed and therefore there is no winner. So try to be proactive by identifying the root of the behavior. This will help to avoid it repeating in the future. In contrast, being reactive and relying on negative reinforcement tactics (“You won’t earn your sticker!” - “You’re not going to get to go to recess!” - “I’m going to call your mom!” - “You won’t get a Fun Friday time this week!”) inevitably lead to a “no win” situation.

Finally, not seeing students due to behavior is unacceptable. In my role as lead SLP in my school district, I have been asked if it is okay to terminate services for a student due to behavior (e.g. non-compliance, lack of motivation, lack of progress on goals). The answer to that is always no. The only reason you should terminate services is if the student does not demonstrate a need for your specially designed instruction any longer. Instead, bring your IEP team together and problem solve. Analyze what is currently going on and see what modifications you can make. Your team can ask questions such as:

  • Have different types of activities been used? (e.g. are you using the same worksheet format each time)
  • Have different student engagement techniques been employed? (e.g. have you tried cooperative learning, or working on skills within a preferred subject areas, or using competition to increase motivation)
  • Have service times been modified? (e.g. shortened over several sessions)
  • Have you tried a different setting? (e.g. in the classroom or with a different group)

Your students count on you. Communication is the gateway to academic achievement. It is how a student accesses and demonstrates learning in the classroom. As SLPs we are great at task analyzing skills, shifting between levels of support, and modifying instruction to meet a student’s communication level. If we apply these same talents to behavior management, you and your students will benefit.