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Emotional Disturbance (page 3)

By — Pearson Allyn Bacon Prentice Hall
Updated on Jul 20, 2010

Preparing the Class

Prepare your class for students with emotional disabilities. Set up models for tolerance and acceptance. Provide opportunities for students with emotional disabilities to assume class responsibilities, such as distributing papers. Give examples of ways general education peers can help students with emotional disabilities, such as how to ignore inappropriate behaviors. Some students may be able to serve as peer tutors or assistants to help support and reinforce appropriate behaviors from students with emotional disabilities. However, select peers carefully; not all peers would be good choices. Remember that sometimes emotionally disturbed students will do better working alone even when the rest of the class is working in small groups. Chapter 8 provides additional information on using classroom peers.

Teaching Adaptations

Illustrate the rules with clear examples and specify rewards for following rules as well as consequences when rules are disobeyed. Be consistent when enforcing rules, but make sure the overall classroom atmosphere is positive, not punitive. Provide models of acceptable behaviors to avoid confusion or misinterpretation on the part of students:

“Here’s one thing you can say if you think another student is sitting too close to you. . . .”

“Here is something you should not say. . . .”

Maintain a positive relationship with students with emotional disabilities by responding to them as human beings, rather than responding simply to their overt behavior, which often may be unpleasant. Use positive comments frequently to reinforce good behavior when you see it. Say things like the following:

  • “Jeff, I appreciate the way you tried hard in class today. I know that math is not your favorite subject.”
  • “Leslie, I am glad that you volunteered an answer in class today. Thank you for doing that.”

Positive comments can be varied so they are suitable for either elementary-, middle-, or secondary-level students.

Before reprimanding negative social behavior, say, “Stop and think about what you just did. What should you have done? Now, try to do it more appropriately.”

Be tolerant, and use judgment in allocating times for enforcing compliance, times for cooling off, and times for allowing divergent responding. For example, one fifth-grade teacher, Mrs. Bahs, allowed a student with emotional disabilities to remain at his desk even though she had asked all students to move to the floor in the front of the room to view a new class iguana. In this way, she was able to prevent a confrontation, and allow the student to participate in his own way.

Some students may have specific fears and anxieties, such as the dark, water, or getting dirty. Be aware of those fears by communicating with special education teachers, parents, and the students themselves. If class activities seem to bring out those fears in some students, have alternative activities available that they can work on independently.

Many students in your classes, especially students with emotional disturbance, can benefit from general social skills instruction. For example, review more acceptable ways of asking and answering questions and more suitable ways of resolving conflicts at appropriate times.

Teach students to monitor their own behavior and to make positive attributions. Teach students how to attribute their successes to positive strategies and effort on their part, rather than to luck or other external forces. Teach them likewise to attribute their failures to things under their control, like their own behavior, and not to external factors, such as, “The teacher hates me.” Model effective positive attributions by saying, for example: “I used the ‘stop and think’ strategy before acting, so I stayed out of trouble!” (see Polsgrove & Smith, 2004).

Use behavioral contracts with students with emotional disabilities. Behavioral contracts are individually negotiated contracts between the teacher and student.

Other Adaptations

Consider additional classroom adaptations, including the following:

  • Adapt the physical environment by considering seating arrangements and by keeping potentially harmful objects or substances away from easy access. Consider the degree of proximity to teachers, aides, and students with whom the target student interacts negatively.
  • Adapt materials, when needed, using the suggestions listed for students with learning disabilities and mental retardation. Devise self-monitoring checklists that students can use to check off activities as they complete them. Break assignments into short segments to avoid overwhelming students.
  • Adapt instruction, using the teacher effectiveness variables and teacher presentation variables to ensure that content is covered adequately. Teach the classroom social skills necessary for success.
  • Help students focus by teaching clearly and enthusiastically, providing additional review, and teaching self-monitoring for attention.
  • Adapt evaluation by providing distraction-free environments for exams, providing extended time allocations during testing periods, and ensuring that students have the skills to take tests efficiently (Scruggs & Marsing, 1988; Shriner & Wehby, 2004).
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