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Thread: Behavior Mod/Reward Systems

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  1. #1
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    May 2012
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    Default Behavior Mod/Reward Systems

    Brice,

    Thanks for generously sharing your wisdom. As the Exec Dir of Attachment & Trauma Network, I get this question frequently from families of traumatized children. I struggled with this issue with my own daughter; it was a major component of our own due process case, but I have no good answers.

    What can/should a parent use to help convince the school that traditional reward-based (and punishment-based) behavior modification approaches won't work. Some of our children manipulate these systems. Some of them hold it together until they get home and then melt down. Some just remain dysregulated, never earning points, with their shame and misbehaviors growing.

    What research, evidence, information should parents be bringing to the schools to advocate that their child not be placed in a program that uses these strategies, but should be in a trauma-sensitive environment where emphasis is put on regulation and modifying the environment?

    In other words, often we know what works best at home, but we have no "studies" to bring to the table to get the school to hear why their approach is making the situation worse.

    Julie Beem
    Executive Director
    Attachment & Trauma Network, Inc.
    www.attachtrauma.org

  2. #2
    Join Date
    May 2012
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    Julie,

    Wow! You have asked questions that I’m sure many parents are quietly asking themselves.

    “What can/should a parent use to help convince the school that traditional reward-based (and punishment-based) behavior modification approaches won't work?”

    "In other words, often we know what works best at home, but we have no "studies" to bring to the table to get the school to hear why their approach is making the situation worse.”

    At the onset I must disclose that I am not a psychologist. I don’t play one at IEP meetings.

    I’m just an advocate whose job is to figure out how to work with school district IEP team members when those members either do not understand the nature and educational implicatons of a child’s disability - or – ignore information parents give them to help enlighten the unenlightened – or both.

    What I am certain of is that a traditional reward and punishment driven behavior modification program will not work for children with attachment and trauma disorders. This isn’t a casual observation.

    Still, the point of your question asks what can a parent do to convince a school district that the carrot and stick method developed long before the dark ages is harmful for children with attachment and trauma disorders?

    I don’t know Dr. Leslie Packer personally, but I have followed her work for many, many years. Dr. Packer is a behavioralist.

    She wrote an article named Pitfalls in School-Based Behavior Modification Plans, which she published on her website several years ago. Pitfall 9 seems to me to apply to part of your question about what might help convince the school that traditional reward-based (and punishment-based) behavior modification approaches won't work.

    Here’s what she wrote:

    Pitfall 9: Trying to change the child instead of changing the environment.

    Even if we agree that the child's behavior needs to change (for the child's benefit), that doesn't mean that we start by applying direct consequences to the child's behavior. Our first intervention should be to change the environment to reduce triggers to undesirable behavior, to provide more support and cueing, and to see if the child has the prerequisite skills to exhibit the desirable behavior. If not, our intervention should be to teach the skills while providing more support and cueing in the environment.

    The entire article is available at http://www.tourettesyndrome.net/wp-c...s/pitfalls.pdf

    I don’t use the term undesirable behaviors in the context of attachment disorders and trauma related behavior disorders because the term implies that the behaviors may be willful on the part of the child. I’m just not sure that is correct.

    Seems to me that behaviors of this sort may be more related to how affected children consciously or unconsciously interpret what is happening around them and what the consequences might be. So far, I have not seen one shred of evidence that the carrot and stick approach to behavior modification works with children with attachment and trauma disorders.

    Again, I am not a psychologist. Come to think of it, my grade in Psychology 101 wasn’t anything at all to brag about.

    We can play-like. For the sake of talking about it, lets assume Dr. Paker is right. Lets assume that the first intervention should be the three things she mentioned in Pitfall 9.


    1. change the environment to reduce the “undesirable” behavior,
    2. provide more support and cueing, and
    3. see if the child has the prerequisite skills to exhibit the “desirable” behavior.

    Should we change the conversation with the school district by changing the terms? Yes, if by changing the words more accurately describes what should be written into an IEP.

    Special education is a cause and effect critter.

    Because of the nature of attachment and trauma disorder we can argue that using a stick and carrot behavior modification program is wrong. We can also say that method is predictably unproductive. Why? Because turning an “undesirable behavior” into “desirable behavior” does not accommodate the underlying neurological conditions that cause the “behaviors.”

    I believe we can go much further in pursuading IEP team members that what is right and essential for our children is to stop thinking about the stick and carrot approach and bore down on remediating the causes and the resulting adverse effects of the child’s trauma or attachment disorder. And yes, some children have both of those disorders simultaneously.

    A parent must have strong advocacy skills to do that successfully .

    I believe part of the answer to your questions lie in parents strengthening their own advocacy skills. I’m not talking about showing up at the meeting with a list of regulations and a manila folder full of case law. I’m not talking about showing up with your war paint on. And I’m not talking about a fire-in-the-eyes mothers from the infernal region approach to advocacy.

    The doing of advocacy is an art that any parent can learn. Something to remember as you learn the art of advocacy is this:

    Having information is not the same as having knowledge.

    In the end, special education IEP advocacy is about improving the lives of children who need special education. In an IEP meeting, it isn’t about taking on the role of a psychologist or taking on the role of a lawyer – even if you are one.

    Whether we are trying to convince a school district that its carrot and stick behavior modification plan is counterproductive for children with attachment and trauma related disorders (or some other IEP issue) how we go about asking (advocating) for it will make a huge difference in the outcome.

    Why am I so sure this is true?

    As I disclosed earlier, I did not do well in psychology 101. Not well?

    I made a D, Okay?

    I’ve had two dogs.

    Otis lived with me fourteen years. He was the IEP hound of all IEP hounds. Ruby came to live with me after Otis went to his beloved meadow romping ground for the last time.

    Both had behavior problems. Otis’ behaviors were simply those of being a puppy and growing up. Ruby came to me after having suffered severe abuse and neglect. She was about 5 or 6 years old. She has guarded my little office in the woods of Vermont now for about 6 years.

    The manual I consulted for both is the same manual I consulted for learning how to deal with school district IEP teams: Prevent Dog Problems “Pure and Simple” by Mark Katz and Dru Katz, VDM.

    “. . . Dogs are not programmed with a computer chip on how to behave. They need to be taught.”

    Replace the word Dog for IEP team and you’ve got it.

    “No commands unless you can enforce them.”

    For us that means do not make empty threats. Some parents believe that if they threaten to file for a due process hearing the school will cave. Yeah? And I’m still looking for the tooth fairy.

    Due process hearings can be great enforcement tools. Any parent with a piece of paper and a pen can file one.

    To do it with clout, though, it takes wisdom and experience to know when and how to unleash the tiger.

    All in all, the very best place to get the behavior modification component in the IEP changed is in IEP meetings. Meeting is plural here for a good reason. You might not get what you want in one meeting. Do, though, try to get some of what you want at each meeting.

    With guidance and some help, any parent can learn the basic advocacy skills to do it.

    Thank you, Julie, for your interesting question. I hope I answered it. If not, let me know and I’ll try again.

    - bp

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