The other day I read an interesting article “What If Everything You Knew About Disciplining Kids Was Wrong?” and it really spoke to me.
As a classroom teacher and father to a 17-year-old boy with special needs and profound autism, the topic of discipline and behavior comes up all the time. Both at home and at school. While I can usually figure out the reasons behind a behavior for typically developing students I teach, I struggle much more with understanding atypical behaviors from students and my son.
As teachers we are quick to punish, often through disapproval and other means, a child’s behaviors. Frankly, for the majority of children it works. We can continue to move on with the work of the day and provide a framework for what is considered appropriate and inappropriate behavior in a classroom. For the typical students who generally get along with a classroom’s expectations, this works very well.
For a student who struggles with routines, does not process rules well or is “seeking” some other type of input such as sensory or attention, it does not work very well. They are the outliers in the group. Often additional, more severe punishment is given in an attempt to correct or solve the behavior. However, for these types of students, some who may have special needs, it is not always effective. As the author of the article points out “After all, what good does it do to punish a child who literally hasn’t yet acquired the brain functions required to control his behavior?”
The article quotes Dr. Ross Greene and back in the summer of 2009, I interviewed Dr. Ross Greene for a podcast I used to do on autism (I no longer keep it active) He said something that really stood out to me: “all children want to do well.” This is significant as there is often a common belief that not all children want to do well. However, if we take what Dr. Greene says to heart and see it as a truth in our interactions with students, then suddenly our frame of reference changes. We can no longer see a child’s behavior as a choice on their part. Rather, we must look for the reason behind the behavior and then work to resolve that behavior.
It is often not easy and as a parent and teacher, sometimes I feel like giving up and going back to the “choice to misbehave” theory. At those moments I take a break, recharge and keep on learning. The more often we look for a deeper meaning, the more experience we gain and the better educators we become.
What Does This Mean For Students With Special Needs in California?
We must continue to advocate for our students who fall outside the typical set of behaviors we see at school. We must understand why they are acting and reacting the way they do. To avoid punishment as a default response and to seek accommodations and other services that help a child succeed at their best.
The result of these efforts are students and families being part of the education system and enjoying it to their full advantage.