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Case Study
Helping Students with Behavioral Problems

Jay Raven is a 7-year-old second grade student at Eagle Elementary School who has repeatedly demonstrated acting out behaviors both in and outside of the classroom. His teacher, Mrs. Bird, describes Jay's behavior as "very disruptive" to her class. In addition, she has grown increasingly concerned because Jay's behavior has become more aggressive. According to Mrs. Bird, Jay has difficulty getting along with other students in his class and often fails to follow her directions. In particular, Jay frequently grabs, hits, or yells at other students to either get their attention or to get something that he wants. On occasion Jay has been very aggressive towards other students and has reportedly punched or kicked his classmates for no apparent reason. These behaviors have resulted in rejection and general isolation from the other children. Regarding his academic skills, Mrs. Bird reported that Jay is a "good" student, however, she added that he often blurts out answers in class and is demanding of attention. When Jay's teacher redirects his behavior he often refuses to cooperate, which subsequently leads to extended periods of off-task behavior. Thus, despite having the skills to perform academic tasks, Jay is frequently unable to complete assignments.

In order to gain a better understanding of Jay's behavior you decide that a collaborative approach to problem solving would be best. In doing so, you decide that a meeting with Jay's teacher and his parents is necessary.

In scheduling this meeting what stage of the process of implementation are you engaging in? In addition to collecting information from Jay's teacher and his parents what other important purposes could be accomplished at this meeting?

During the meeting the following information is revealed. In particular, Jay's teacher reported the following pieces of information:

  • Concerns for Jay's behavior are increasing. The behavior has gotten worse during the year.
  • Jay needs assistance in controlling his anger and getting along with other students.
  • She does not understand what causes his outbursts although she suspects that he does this to avoid work.
  • Mrs. Bird indicated that she is often "on-edge" around Jay because she fears that he could "go-off" any minute.
  • When Jay misbehaves she becomes angry and usually responds with punitive actions such as referring him to the office.
  • During the times when he receives direct instruction from the teacher he experiences few behavioral difficulties. Most of his difficulties occur when he is expected to work within a cooperative one-table structure or independently.

Jay's parents added to the picture by providing their perspective of their son's difficulties:

  • The Ravens agreed with Mrs. Bird that Jay sometimes had difficulty getting along with other children and that he occasionally throws temper tantrums when he does not get his way.
  • Jay exhibits no aggressive behavior at home.
  • Jay has one brother and the home is described as "quiet".
  • The Ravens live on a small farm in a remote area. This isolation has resulted in few opportunities for Jay to interact with peers after school.
  • Jay's brother has had similar difficulties and was recently placed in a program for students with academic and behavior problems.
  • Jay spends time with his brother in the afternoons and they have reportedly skipped school together on several occasions.

Following the meeting all parties agree that more information is needed about Jay's behavior. As a result, the school psychologist is asked to conduct a functional assessment so that a comprehensive intervention plan might be developed. The results of the assessment are shared below:

  • Aggressive Behavior (hitting, taking materials from other students, and kicking) occurs, on average, 6 times per day.
  • Behavior is not exclusive to any one environment. It has been consistently observed in the classroom, on the playground, and during lunch.
  • Behavior most often occurs when supervision is minimal. The teacher is not in close proximity and when students are expected to work independently. However, on several occasions behavior has been demonstrated directly in front of teacher.
  • Behavior does not appear to be triggered by aversive stimuli.
  • Interview revealed that Jay is unable to effectively communicate when he is upset or requests to peers.
  • Responses to the behavior: Peers tattle and avoid future play. Teacher warns or explains why the behavior is inappropriate.
  • Jay revealed several inappropriate social behavioral responses when hypothetical situations were presented for him to solve. His responses suggest a skill deficit.
  • Function of Behavior: To gain access to preferred activities or items.

Debriefing the Case Study

There is a section of this website entitled "Models and Classroom Instruction". There we provide a problem-solving format to assist schools and families in developing intervention plans for students experiencing behavioral difficulties. In this section we use that format to develop some of the key questions that might need to be answered in order to develop an intervention plan for Jay. As opposed to prescribing one possible solution, the questions below should help you to develop a plan that incorporates strategies of positive behavioral support and possibly the use of social skills interventions.

Step 1: Developing Collaborative Structures: Vision Sharing and Goal Setting

1. Who are the key individuals that would be needed to develop a comprehensive intervention plan for Jay?

2. Do these individuals have a shared understanding of the critical behavioral problems that Jay exhibits?

3. In specific terms, what are the behavioral problems?

4. As opposed to exhibiting these difficulties, what positive behaviors would the team like to see Jay exhibit instead?

Step 2: Conduct a Functional Assessment:

1. The results of the functional assessment have already been presented. Based upon those results do you have an understanding of the purpose of Jay's behavior?

2. Do the results indicate how frequently the behavior occurs?

3. Do you know when and where the behavior occurs?

4. What types of events often occur before Jay exhibits this behavior? After?

5. How can this information be used to develop an intervention plan?

6. What other questions would you like answered?

Step 3 & 4: Develop and Implement a Comprehensive Intervention Plan

1. What are the prosocial behaviors that Jay should exhibit? These target behaviors should replace "aggressive behavior". How frequently should these behaviors be exhibited? Is it reasonable to expect that "aggressive behavior" will disappear overnight?

2. Are the prosocial behaviors that you identified functionally relevant? That is, if Jay begins to display these behaviors will he continue to receive attention and gain access to preferred activities?

3. Are the prosocial behaviors socially relevant? That is, do the important people in Jay's life believe that these new behaviors are critical for a productive and healthy lifestyle?

4. How and when will these prosocial behaviors be taught to Jay? Who will teach these behaviors?

5. How frequently will these behaviors be reinforced? Which reinforcers will be used?

6. In what ways will Jay's family be involved in implementing the plan? How will daily communications occur? Will skills taught at school be reinforced at home?

7. In what ways can the school day be modified so as to prevent the occurrence of aggressive behavior? Are there any academic activities or instructional procedures that can be modified?

8. Can Jay's peers be enlisted to assist Jay in exhibiting appropriate prosocial behavior?

9. What are some ways to insure that once Jay learns the new behavior that he will exhibit these behaviors in many different circumstances or settings?

Step 5: Monitor and Evaluate the Plan

1. How does the team intend to determine if the intervention is working?

2. What data will be used to determine whether prosocial behavior is increasing? Aggressive behavior decreasing?

3. How frequently will the team review the data to determine the effectiveness of the intervention?

4. How will information regarding Jay's behavior at home be collected?

5. Will follow-up support be provided to Jay's teacher and his parents to ensure that the intervention gets off to a good start? How will the team go about making modifications to the plan if such modifications are necessary?

6. How will the team know when Jay has reached the goal set forth in the intervention plan?

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