4 strategies for promoting positive student behavior

Students with special needs may have a harder time transitioning back to school buildings compared to their peers. Here's what BCBAs can do to support students and staff.

Students with significant disabilities who are unable to benefit from virtual learning are receiving in-person instruction and services from educators and related service providers at the Exceptional Learners Collaborative in Vernon Hills, Ill.

Board Certified Behavior Analysts play a large role in keeping everyone safe and focused on learning despite all the changes.

“We tailor supports to students’ individual needs and level of functioning,” says Molly Monk, a BCBA at the collaborative, which serves four school districts. “The staff are wearing masks, scrubs, gloves, and shields.”

Encourage your BCBAs to help students and staff using these strategies as schools return to in-person learning:

  1. Simulate transitions. Help students who may struggle with moving from one classroom to another throughout the day while following health and safety precautions practice safe interactions with peers and staff before the return to school, Monk says. Do trial runs where a student can move from room to room, practicing keeping his hands to himself and staying socially distant. Also collaborate with colleagues to determine what coping strategies and tools to equip the student with to self-regulate if she becomes upset during transitions. “There will be more noise and more foot traffic so we’ll have to prepare them,” she says.
  2. Overload students with reinforcement. Advise colleagues on when and how to offer students reinforcement. Provide students with reinforcement more often than you typically would to give them more opportunities to succeed despite all the changes to their routines. “We do reinforcement assessments throughout the entire day to see what students want to work for,” she says. “We’re overloading them with their favorite reinforcers. The change will be that we’re not going to allow students to share materials and reinforcers will be isolated per student to minimize contamination.” Ensure colleagues reinforce students for following the rules as well as for appropriately asking for breaks when they need a brief breather.
  3. Develop visual supports. Create social narratives, visual schedules, and other concrete aids students can refer to throughout the day to remember to wash their hands, wear their mask, and social distance from others, Monk said. Also use social stories to help students feel more comfortable about staff wearing personal protective equipment. “We have our own pictures of our faces with and without masks on that we put in the social stories so students know who everyone is behind the mask,” she says. “Some people got masks with a picture of their own smile on the front, which helps.”
  4. Conduct training. Instruct colleagues on how to offer reinforcements via videoconference sessions and parents on how to offer rewards at home in case there is another surge in COVID-19 cases and students must return to remote learning, Monk says. For example, parents can learn how to use a timer to show a student when he has a minute warning before he has to stop playing on his tablet and go back to learning. Ensure parents understand their child may have a meltdown in the beginning of the return to remote learning if he had been able to use the device only for play while in-person learning was in effect, but now needs to use the tablet for learning. “You have to let them know that explosive behavior is probably going to happen at first and that it’s completely normal,” she says.

Cara Nissman covers autism, school psychology, and IEP team issues for Special Ed Connection, a DA sister publication. 

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