Social Skills and Emotionally/Behaviorally Disordered Learners (page 2)
Perhaps the most obvious interpersonal interaction and social skills that discriminate learners identified as emotionally/behaviorally disordered from their nonidentified peers are "externalizing" problems, such as overactivity, aggression, and impulsivity. These learners are often referred to as "hard to manage" (Campbell & Ewing, 1990). Although overactivity and defiance among two- and three-year-old children may be age-appropriate signs of a developmental transition, higher levels of overactivity and failing to follow directions may be an indicator of more significant challenges and the potential to be identified as emotionally/behaviorally disordered (Campbell & Ewing, 1990; Campbell, Pierce, March, Ewing, & Szumowski, 1994). Observations in a clinical laboratory of family stress and overactivity and inattention of a three-year-old child were found to predict teacher ratings of hyperactivity and impulse control at age nine (Campbell & Ewing, 1990). Adults' reports of hard-to-manage behavior in preschool-age boys often reflect actual interaction patterns of activity, impulsivity, noncompliance, and aggression that are likely to lead to identification as emotionally/behaviorally disordered (Campbell et al., 1994).
Another perspective on the longitudinal stability of interaction styles thought to be problematic for school success is the "ill-tempered" temperament. Caspi. Bern, and Elder (1989), explored the "ill-tempered" temperament, which they described as the inability to delay gratification, control impulses, and modulate emotional expression. They found that ill-tempered boys and girls become both ill-tempered adults, and ill-tempered parents. In their study population, men identified as ill-tempered as boys were described as undercontrolled. irritable, and moody. These men experienced downward occupational mobility. erratic work lives, and were more likely to divorce. Ill-tempered girls became women who married men with lower occupational status, were more likely to divorce, and were described by their husbands and children as ill-tempered mothers.
Using a direct observation procedure, Wehby, Symons, and Shores (1995) found low overall rates of positive social interactions in the daily classroom ecology of aggressive learners, or those who exhibit aggression—behavior exhibited with the intent to dominate others. Although there were no significant differences in the rates of teacher instructions toward somewhat aggressive and highly aggressive learners, the highly aggressive learners received almost 3 times as many statements regarding the consequences of their behavior than did the somewhat aggressive learners. This may be because highly aggressive learners engaged in significantly higher rates of teacher-directed yelling, noncompliance, and other physiical behaviors than the less aggressive students. In peer interactions, highly aggressive learners engaged in negative verbal behavior and physical aggression approximately 10 times more often than did their low aggressive peers; they also received more threats from others. Rates of teacher praise toward highly aggressive students were found to be very low and accounted for only a small proportion of antecedents and consequences of the students' aggression.
The peers of boys identified with emotional/behavioral disorders characterized them as demonstrating significantly more aggression, disruption, and poor cooperation. Within their social networks, boys identified as emotionally/behaviorally disordered in third through sixth grades formed social affiliations with groups that were made up of both identified and nonidentified learners with emotional/behavioral disorders, but exhibited higher levels of peer-assessed aggression and disruption and lower levels of peer-assessed cooperation, leadership, and appropriate academic performance than did the members of other social groups in the same classes (Farmer & Hollowell, 1995).
In his review of the literature, Safran (1995) concluded that peers hold negative views of externalizing behavior problems among fellow students. Younger students can identity aggression as early as the first grade and social withdrawal is recognized soon thereafter.
Among learners identified as emotionally/behaviorally disordered who have Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, social interaction patterns have been described as having high rates of intrusive behaviors, problems in conversation and reciprocity, and poor emotional regulation. These learners may be in a catch-22 circumstance. Positive peer relations play a prominent role in the development of self-control of aggressive impulses, feelings of acceptance and belonging, value, self-esteem, and communication skills. Learners identified as emotionally/behaviorally disordered may, as a consequence of their own behavior, be challenged in having the positive peer relationships that in turn would help them learn to better manage their social behavior (Guevremont & Dumas, 1994).
Although aggression is perceived by teachers to be threatening, many indicate that the most difficult learners with whom they work are those who are passive-aggressive. Passive-aggressive students resist control by others to the extent that they simply cannot allow themselves to be cooperative (Fisher, Osterhaus, Clothier, & Edwards, 1994). Passive-aggressive learners are those who, when confronted by directions or indicators of appropriate behavior, simply do not respond cooperatively. One of the most difficult challenges related to these learners is that, even if cooperation is in their best interest, they will not be able to cooperate. Learners who are passive-aggressive tend to sabotage reward systems and negative contingencies. Natural consequences are among the most effective strategies for managing their behavior. Students who are passive-aggressive respond best to sincere, spontaneous encouragement of small steps, to choices, and to strong teacher-student relationships.
Young children who appear passive-aggressive are often referred to by the diagnosis of "oppositional/defiant disorder" (American Psychiatric Association, 1994). Some research efforts have been aimed at drawing a link between oppositional/defiant disorder and development of conduct disorders in adolescents (Knowlton, 1995). As with learners demonstrating passive-aggression, learners with oppositional/defiant behaviors respond to direction or indicators of behavior by refusal or response opposite to that requested; they have disruptive and short-lived peer relationships, are unwilling to assume responsibility for their personal behavior, and sabotage positive feedback to their behavior. As treatment, in addition to consistent and clear consequences, Knowlton (1994) suggests deferring control through the use of written schedules, relying on "the clock" or the class to be in control, and offering choices.
Although often reported to have deficits in social skills, young children identified as emotionally/behaviorally disordered, Brown and Bauer (1994) found, are at times engaged in social interactions to the extent that their teacher perceives them as disruptive. They suggest that the efforts of young children identified as emotionally/behaviorally disordered to connect socially with others often take precedence for them over their teacher's efforts to conduct an activity.
An important facet of social interaction is empathy. Schonert-Reichi (1993) compared empathy among young adult males who were identified as emotionally/behaviorally disordered and those who were not. She reported that teenage males identified as emotionally/behaviorally disordered demonstrated lower levels of empathy, had less frequent contact with friends, and poorer quality relationships than their nonidentified peers. The amount of empathy in individuals identified as emotionally/behaviorally disordered consistently predicted the quality of their relationships.
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