There was a time when two to three days of the week I’d receive a phone call from the school demanding I come pick up my son for behavior they could not control. As a single parent working full time, you can imagine how well this went over. Aside from job concerns, I also began to suspect that my very intelligent child learned that if he “kicked it up a notch” he got to go home with and spend the day with Mom. What may have started as behavior he couldn’t help soon fused into a nice culmination of sensory and social issues with a dash of escapism.
Some of the behavior described to me included loud, disrupting noises in the classroom and quickly elevated to collapsing on the hallway floor refusing to move, screaming, and literally bouncing off the walls. This resulted in multiple visits to the Principal’s office, being passed off between free teachers, and ultimately a phone call to Mom with the desperate plea that he couldn’t be “reeled in”.
Eventually I called another IEP meeting to see what we could do differently. After all, the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results, right? Upon a detailed description of these days where Pandora’s Box was repeatedly opened, I discovered two things:
1) If Justin appropriately asked for a sensory break or self-corrected, they let him go to the Math lab, which was his favorite small group activity.
2) If Justin spun out of control and the staff went through the usual list of attempts to calm him, they would let him go to the Math lab, which was his favorite small group activity.
That’s right, there was no delineation between reward and consequence. They were one in the same.
(to illustrate that I’m also learning along the way, I have been known to demonstrate the same behavior with video games in lieu of Math lab… see the picture?)
The solution: a result of two hours of brainstorming
Rewards are for appropriate behavior, or for the ability to recognize and ask for help if he can’t self-correct.
When a red flag is established, in his case it was blurting out noises in the classroom, he had one opportunity to reel himself in or ask for assistance. If he did not, he received a warning, and then was to be taken calmly to a previously established consequence. No parading up and down the halls screaming, no being passed off from teacher to teacher, no pleading or bargaining… straight to the consequence. Do not pass go, do not collect $200.
I found that this eliminated the excess drama and need to get attention from all our reactions. Learning that he no longer got to go home for behavior issues quickly stripped away the formerly blended lines between what he could help and what he could not.
It’s a learning experience for all of us: parents, teachers, and school administration. It’s worth it to take the time to get on the same page with all players and accept that each solution may be perpetually evolving.