Professionals do not always agree on the elements that define behavioral disorders. What is "good" behavior? One teacher may enjoy the "all boy" behavior of a child who disrupts the class with funny stories of his gang's shenanigans and who is feisty, sassy, and proud of his delinquency. Another teacher may wish all the students in the class could be as quiet as the "shy girl" who daydreams, has no friends, puts herself down, is unhappy, and talks about death. Both children are probably behav-iorally disordered.
To be considered behaviorally disordered, behavior should meet three criteria: severity, chronicity, and adverse effect on learning. However, each of these terms is relative. Another way to define behavioral disorders is to look at the polarities described above: aggressive/acting out/externalizing behaviors versus withdrawn/internalizing behaviors. However, these simple polarities leave out many other disordered behaviors. Four clusters that are typically used to classify atypical behaviors are socialized aggression (e.g., gang membership); conduct disorders (e.g., fighting, temper); immaturity (e.g., short attention, clumsiness); and personality disorders (e.g., avoidant, dependent). Another way to classify atypical behaviors that are relevant to the education of children with behavior disorders is to look at learning—attention, response, order, exploration, social interaction, and mastery. This classification links behaviors to curriculum goals.
Autism and other pervasive developmental disorders of childhood are classified as psychotic disorders by psychiatry. They are considered behavior disorders for educational purposes. Autism is a progressive loss of contact with and interest in the outside world. Children with autism prefer aloneness, insist on sameness, like elaborate routines, and may have some "savant" ability that seems remarkable in light of the apparent retardation of learning in other areas.
A majority of children have occasional episodes of disordered behavior. Assessment of behavior disorders to qualify for special educational services requires marked differences from the behavior of other children and continuation of the severe and typical behavior for a long period of time.
Controversy surrounds the issue of enrolling children with severe behavior disorders in regular education classes. Public Law 94-142 guarantees them the least restrictive environment appropriate for their education. No mention is made of the appropriateness of their enrollment in a class to other children's education or to the teacher's ability to teach. The school system must "show cause" if a child with disordered behavior is moved to a more restrictive setting from a regular classroom.
When a student with a behavior disorder or autism is enrolled in an inclusive education program, the school administration, special education staff, regular teacher, parent(s), and other significant personnel must meet to develop an appropriate IEP (individualized education program) for the student's school progress. Usually some provision is made for pull-out time for supportive psychological counseling services.
Teachers who have children with behavioral disorders or autism in their classrooms need to observe two rules of behavior: (1) empathize, (2) do not condone or reinforce disturbed behaviors. Both types of conduct are very difficult to effect on a consistent basis. They require extreme patience.
Empathy is the ability to project one's own consciousness into another person's being. It is understanding the other's needs, frustrations, stresses, joys, and other social, emotional, and cognitive reasons for behavior. Since nobody can really experience the totality of another person's being, perfect empathy is impossible. A good teacher, however, continually tries to understand the whys and wherefores of the actions of a child with disturbed behaviors.
Understanding why a child misbehaves often leads teachers and other adults to condone, excuse, or pardon disturbed behavior. This is unacceptable. Sympathetic understanding should not lead to tolerance of wrongful acts. All disruptive behavior should be stopped. The child should be helped to learn a different, more acceptable behavior without being ridiculed or condemned. Condemnation leads to resentment. Suggestions of better ways can lead to change. All efforts to alter behavior toward an acceptable standard should be reinforced. If other children observe disturbed behaviors being corrected, they are apt to model the correct behavior. On the other hand, if other children observe disruptive behavior being accepted, they are apt to imitate the misbehavior.
Teachers can often avoid extreme acts of aggression or withdrawal by watching children with behavior disorders or autism very carefully. When and if they see signs of anger, frustration, fear, guilt, or anxiety, teachers can alter their lesson plans. They can provide some form of relief for the child or children who are disturbed. Distractions, rest periods, and other forms of "time-out" can alleviate emotional upheavals.
Teachers of children with behavior disorders or autism can teach self-management skills to both abled and disabled students. Self-monitoring and other self-control procedures not only help regulate the behaviors that occur in the classroom, but they also help each student feel better about the ability to be in control of his or her own life. Self-control and self-esteem go hand in hand and enhance each other.
The first selection in this unit defines and discusses children with autism. The unusual behaviors are described along with some possible explanations for them. The second unit article addresses the problem of students with work inhibition who could learn but do not have any interest in educational performance. Their withdrawal and passivity are put in perspective with suggestions for what teachers can do to alter the behaviors. The next selection discusses the placement of children with behavior disorders or autism in regular education classrooms. Who is severely disturbed? What special services are required? Where should they be provided? When? How should "severe" behavior disorder be assessed? The fourth article discusses discipline from a cultural perspective. Behaviors deemed appropriate or inappropriate vary by culture. Assessment procedures and teaching methods should be sensitive to differences in behavioral patterns in culturally diverse groups.
Looking Ahead: Challenge Questions
What is autism? How can one work with an autistic student?
Why do some students have school work inhibition? How can a teacher empower an inhibited child?
Can public schools fulfill their obligation to serve behav-iorally disordered students and also provide appropriate education to nontroubled students simultaneously? Defend your answer.
How can teachers show sensitive discipline for culturally diverse students with behavioral disorders?