Addressing the Educational Needs of Children with Challenging Behaviors

In general, children that are labeled with emotional and behavioral disorders have poor educational outcomes.  Students with behavior disorders receive some of the lowest academic grades of any disability group. Lack of reading progress poses significant problems as compared to children with specific learning disabilities by the end of elementary school. The lack of progress in reading may contribute to many children with ED labels leaving school without graduating. Journal of Council for Children with Behavior Disorders, Vol. 33, No. 2 (Feb. 2008). There are also a host of other negative educational outcomes that are attached to children labeled with behavior disorders. If a child cannot learn because his behavior is interfering with his learning and/or the learning of other students, then it is predictable this child will continue to lag behind the academic achievement of other students. A child with ADHD, autism, and bipolar disorder, for example, may exhibit behavior disorders that substantially interfere with his learning.   Each child is unique, however, and we should not broadly categorize all children with ADHD, autism, or bipolar disorder as having significant behavior disorders that adversely affect their educational performance. Some children with various emotional or other psychiatric disorders do not manifest the degree of challenging behaviors as other children with similar or the same disorders. It is a matter of degree.  So how do  school systems determine whether your child has a behavior disorder that requires special education and related services?

School system use multiple assessments and tests to determine whether a child is exhibiting an emotional disorder that may justify eligibility under the IDEA. But many children do not necessarily need to become eligible for special educational under the IDEA to receive interventions, supports, services, and strategies to address a child’s challenging behaviors. Some children with ADHD, autism or bipolar disorder, for instance, manifest challenging behaviors.  The school system may be serving these children under another IDEA eligibility category such as Other Health Impaired, Autism Spectrum, or Intellectual Disability. the point is a child does not need to be categorized as emotionally behavior disordered to receive special education services for that disability. If the child’s behavior is interfering with his education and/or the education of other students, the school system should consider conducting a functional behavioral assessment (FBA) in order to develop and implement a behavior intervention plan (BIP).   At the very least, the IEP team should develop appropriate behavioral goals and objectives to address the child’s challenging behaviors.

There is considerable peer review research on the educational topics of functional behavioral assessments and behavior intervention plans. No one behavior plan fits all children.  A boilerplate behavior plan will not be individually tailored to address the unique behavioral needs of every child with challenging behaviors. This is why it is critical for an IEP team to address the antecedents and consequences of the child’s behaviors as well as the function of the child’s behaviors. This is usually completed through a FBA.  Too often, however, school systems do not perform appropriate FBAs which leads to behavioral  plans that are much more likely to reduce or eliminate challenging behaviors.

I will discuss in future posts what constitutes is an appropriate FBA and BIP. For now, parents should be aware that assessment of a child’s behavior is just one step in the process of reducing or eliminating challenging behaviors. Behavior modification is both a science and art.  Sometimes it may take weeks, months or perhaps a year or longer to see measurable progress in a child’s behavior once a school system properly administers a FBA and develops and implements a BIP.  In other words, patience is a virtue when a parents are faced with the prospect that their child is not progressing educationally because of significant challenging behaviors.  More on this subject in future posts. . . .