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Using Behavioral Therapy for Students with Disabilities: An Example

written by: Barbara • edited by: Sarah Malburg • updated: 7/12/2012

Students misbehave in the classroom using a mixture of behaviors that disrupt the learning process or marginalize the learning experience for themselves and other students. For Dexter, the rewards of misbehavior outweigh any desire to change the behavior. Read on to learn about behavioral therapy.

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    Dexter's Rewards for Off Task Behavior

    Dexter's IEP (Individualized Education Plan) provides extra academic support in Math, Reading and Behavior. The additional 300 minutes are translated into extra tutorial support in a pull out math and reading class along with a life skill's class to address his negative behavior in the classroom. Dexter is an 8th grade student with behavior that serves as an immediate function of providing positive rewards for him in both his math and reading classes. The benefits as Dexter describes them are immediate and gratifying. When he interrupts his math teacher in the middle of the classroom, a lot of students laugh and chant his name, "Dex, Dex, Dex," which makes him feel important and powerful, along with other benefits listed below:

    • Dexter enjoys the look on Mr. Anderson's face as he tries to bring the class back to the problem on the board without much success.
    • Dexter feels like he owns the class and he loves the attention he gets holding the class hostage to his disruptive antics.
    • His academic progress in math is declining exponentially to his acting out disruptions in the classroom.
    • What Dexter continues to learn with his behavior is that he is equal with his teachers and for any given moment in any class, he can take away his teacher's control and be in control of students who shower him with attention and respect.
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    Helping Dexter Modify his Behavior

    What Dexter has learned is similar to what many students learn when they act out in the classroom; "Act out and take control." He has learned that he can take control of student's attention in the classroom and reap the rewards experienced as accolades from his peers. By behaving irresponsibly, Dexter is able to avoid the academic process and his diagnosed deficiencies within that process.

    Behavioral Therapies for Dexter

    • In order to help Dexter modify his behavior, he must be provided with avenues to experience responsible behaviors that provide positive rewards and increased changes of academic growth and success.
    • As a role model in the classroom, Dexter can be an asset to his teachers and peers by being attentive and on task.
    • The new Dexter can be showered with praise for being responsible and smart with his new listing of A's and B's in all subject areas.
    • Modification of behavior must begin with understanding the behavior, showing the change in new behavior to the student and then helping students like Dexter redirect behavior in more constructive and engaging outlets in all of his classes.
    • Dexter can be provided with a praise chart that lists expected behaviors, and rewards him with stars or extrinsic rewards after each week or month of desired behavior.
    • Providing Dexter with leadership opportunities in pair/share collaborations or other group projects will enhance his leadership skills and allow him an avenue for positive behavior.

    There are a myriad of behavioral therapies that teachers can use to individualize the learning experience for students like Dexter and other students with disabilities who may have behavioral difficulties in a classroom. By providing behavioral therapies that are immediate with positive learning outcomes for students, the goal for continued behavioral success in the classroom can be a growth for both teacher and students.