Behavioral Concerns within Inclusive Classrooms
Article by Amy McCart, M.S. Ed. and Ann Turnbull, Ed.D.
Teachers are often faced with great rewards and challenges when supporting children in inclusive classrooms, particularly when problem behavior may arise. It can be very difficult to be responsive to the needs of all students when one particular student is having behavioral challenges. There are effective strategies that can support teachers and their students who exhibit challenging behavior. Understanding how to respond to behavioral concerns and being responsive to each child begins with an understanding of problem behavior and how you can prevent it from occurring.
Responses to Problem Behavior
How should teachers respond when children with problem behavior are included in the classroom? The most effective tool teachers have to handle problem behavior is to prevent it from occurring in the first place. Teachers should respond by understanding why a child might be engaging in problem behavior, and then establishing strategies that prevent that behavior from occurring. Problem behavior often occurs in children who are trying to communicate a need. This is often related to:
- A desire to escape from or avoid something (such as school work)
- A desire to obtain something (such as attention from the teacher or peers)
- Or for some internal reason within the child (such as constant moving in the chair because the child has ADHD)
When teachers understand why a child might be having problem behavior, they are better able to respond effectively to that child. For example, if you know that a child is continually getting out of her seat and disrupting class to get teacher attention, you can develop ways of providing that child with attention for desired behavior rather than disruptive behavior. So in this case, you may praise this child every so often for staying in her chair. She obtains your attention (which is what she is communicating that she wants) for engaging in desired behavior rather than problem behavior.
Effective Strategies in the Classroom
Some strategies teachers may want to consider include:
- Teaching children new skills such as how to play friendly at recess instead of hitting others
- Adding extra prompts and reinforcement prior to problem behavior (Example: If a child always has problem behavior during transition, then add additional prompting and reinforcement during that time.)
- Interspersing easy tasks with hard tasks if you know that problem behavior is likely to occur with more challenging academic tasks
- Establishing a predictable schedule including well-planned transition times
- Encouraging self-management of behavior such as teaching children about the desired behavior in the classroom and having them monitor their own success
These are just a few strategies teachers can consider when establishing positive proactive strategies in their classrooms. Anytime teachers are working with individual children who have problem behavior, they will want to establish individual supports, as well as group supports and school-wide supports for all children, as suggested within the school-wide positive behavior support framework. (See A Positive Approach to Problem Behavior for more details on Positive Behavior Support.)
Many young children with and without disabilities hit, bite, or kick other children with whom they are playing. It is important to be responsive to the concerns of parents and try to prevent children from harming one another.
How do educators address parental concerns when children with disabilities are included in the classroom, particularly if that child hits or hurts other children? It is important to point out that all children have a right to a quality education. In fact, understanding the legal rights of the children with disabilities in your classroom provides you with information to educate others who may be less willing to support inclusive classroom practices. The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), a federal law initiated in 1975, states that "Each state must establish procedures that, to the maximum extent appropriate, children with disabilities...are educated with children who are not disabled..." IDEA further states that "in the case of a child whose behavior impedes his or her learning or that of others, consider, when appropriate, strategies including positive behavioral intervention strategies and supports to address that behavior."
Having effective positive behavior support practices in place can avert dangerous circumstances from arising. Parents of children with and without disabilities do not want their child to be injured while at school or childcare. We encourage you to be diligent in your efforts to support all children with knowledge of their rights and be certain you have established systems to prevent and respond to potentially injurious behavior on the part of any child.
When Others Stare
One worry that you may have about inclusive classrooms is how you will respond if other children make fun of a child with a disability whose behavior is particularly problematic. You likely have heard children make hurtful comments to one another. You should respond to this behavior as you would anytime children make fun of one another. Some things that you might do include:
- teaching children ways to be friendly to one another
- encouraging children to make positive comments about one another
- praising students who are friendly
Teaching children to be friendly to others starts very early in life and continues into adulthood. When children are with their peers who have disabilities on a consistent basis, being part of a respectful and inclusive community is the norm.
Valued Resources for Educators
Overview of Positive Behavior Support
- Carr, E.G., Dunlap, G., Horner, H.R., Koegel, R.L., Turnbull, A.P., Sailor, W., Anderson, J., Albin, R.W., Koegel, L.K., & Fox, L. (2002). Positive behavior support: Evolution of an applied science. Journal of Positive Behavioral Interventions, 20(4), 4-16.
- Horner, R.H., Sugai, G., Todd, A.W., & Lewis-Palmer, T. (1999-2000). Elements of behavior support plans: A technical brief. Exceptionality, 8(2), 205-215.
- O'Neill, R.E., Horner, R.H., Albin, R.W., Sprague, J.R., Storey, K., & Newton, J.S. (1997). Functional Assessment for Problem Behavior: A Practical Handbook, (2nd Edition). Pacific Grove, CA: Brooks/Cole Publishing.
- The Whole Child
This website offers additional information about how teachers can work with students with exceptionalities. It is a good resource with specific strategies for parents and teachers.
- Positive Behavior Interventions & Supports
This is the website of a Technical Assistance Center on positive behavioral interventions and supports funded by the U.S. Department of Education. The website has very helpful information on all three components of schoolwide Positive Behavior Support.
- Center for Effective Collaboration and Practice
Sponsored by the Center for Effective Collaboration and Practice, this website has comprehensive information on all aspects of mental health.
About the Authors
Amy McCart is the Project Coordinator for a federally funded project through the U.S. Department of Education to support urban schools to implement schoolwide positive behavior support. Additionally, Ms. McCart has written instructional online modules in the area of positive behavior support for teacher use (http://www.elearndesign.org). Ms. McCart has over 15 years experience working with individuals with disabilities and problem behavior and is currently completing her Ph.D. in the Department of Special Education at The University of Kansas. Ms. McCart is the mother of three young children.
Ann Turnbull is the Co-Director of the Beach Center on Disability (http://www.beachcenter.org/) and a Professor in the Department of Special Education at the University of Kansas. Dr. Turnbull has conducted widespread research in the areas of family quality of life and positive behavior support. Additionally, Dr. Turnbull has gained insight, knowledge and strength from her three children, one of whom is an adult son who has cognitive and emotional disabilities.