I decided to participate in the ASD Summer Institute this year even though I am no longer working with students with autism because the topic of the conference sounded like it would still be very applicable to my work with EBD students and overall the information proved to be very relevant to my work.
On day 2 Kari Dunn Buron spoke again. She started the morning off by answering questions that people had written the previous day one of which discussed the apparent lack of diversity in the Marshmallow Test. It seems she had also spent the night conducting some further exploration into this study. Other questions people had asked had to do with behavior and discipline…alternatives to suspension…I think her talk had left some wondering what she really meant when she said we need to change how we think about behavior. People really want CONSEQUENCES. In our minds we often think that if there is some sort of consequence, some sort of punitive consequence then a change will occur in behavior. And behavioral science tells us that consequence changes behavior but I think what Dunn Buron is really trying to bring people around to seeing is what she said at one point early in the lecture: “Control does not teach the skills to function” and we use control through consequences. It may feel better to control but the end result does not put a child on the path to being able to function in the world it just may shut down a behavior for a period of time. Without building the skills those behaviors or similar behaviors will show up again.
Some take aways from Dunn Buron’s talk:
When a child is in crisis, demonstrating extreme behaviors:
- Relax yourself
- Model slow deep breathing
- Reduce eye contact
- Use supportive language: “I know”
- Demonstrate compassion regardless of what happened
When we as adults give ourselves a break we use reinforcing activities to help us calm. I always have this fear of putting reinforcing things in the calming area or letting student do reinforcing activities to calm like taking a walk because I worry they will not rejoin the lesson. I strongly feel that I need to rethink this and place more trust in the students. I also think that if I teach rejoining the lesson and teach “take a break” with the expectation that it is not an endless break I will not have to worry so much about a student checking out completely in the break area. As much as I have not wanted to use taking a break as a punitive strategy it often was used that way in my classroom. This needs to change. I am grateful for the breaks I give myself and what makes them work so well is that I am able to do what calms me during them. Why am I denying this to my students?
So, Kari Dunn Buron wrote the 5 Point Scale and she shared some ideas around using the scale with students. One way was around language. She pointed out that just by saying swearing was bad or telling a student to use kind words we are not really teaching why and how language affects others. Here is the scale she presented to us on language:
5 Threatening words-makes people want to hit, very nasty language, aggressive, “I’m going to kill you” 4 Angry words-cussing 3 Hurtful words- make people upset “ugly”. 2 Fine words- “hi”, “hello”. 1 Sweet words- make people feel better about themselves “You are cool”
She also discussed relationship skills and told the story of going to visit a past student of hers with ASD, Kevin, who is now living in a group home. Kevin had been nonverbal and often his face looked like he was angry. She said that on one of the days she had gone to visit him a college student was coming to spend time with him and his roommate, Aaron. Aaron had Down’s Syndrome. When the college student arrived Aaron bounded to the door, met the student with positive energy and lots to say. When the college student went over to Kevin to say hello, Kevin grunted at him. Dunn Buron then asked us, with no experience of special education, who is the student going to spend the afternoon with? Clearly Aaron appears to be willing and friendly. She said it was in that moment that she thought, I never taught Kevin to smile. By not teaching him some basic social skills she had not helped to improve his quality of life. Then she said that she looked around and did not see that he had to sort colors or sort shapes in the group home but that was what she had spent extensive amounts of time teaching Kevin. This rang SO true for me. The most important skills we can teach are social and emotional. Like Dunn Buron said, we can provide adaptations for you if you can’t read or do math in adulthood but if you can not relate socially and emotionally to the world around you, those are the people we place in locked facilities to control them.