Archive for the 'functional behavior' Category

The function of a behavior

March 12, 2012

I read the following the other day in the winter edition of the newsletter from the Federation for Children with Special Needs in Boston, and I thought it provided a good example of what has influenced my thinking about some of what goes wrong in our educational process, and even what can go wrong when even such a helpful approach is misused.

An FBA [Functional Behavioral Assessment] assumes that all behaviors serve a purpose, and happen in a specific context.  The purpose, or function, of a given behavior can be to communicate something, to avoid something unwanted, or to get something the students wants.  It may be unclear, even to the student, what purpose a behavior serves, but the Team must never assume that a behavior is meaningless, or that its function is invalid.  Rather, the Team should come up with a best guess, or hypothesis, about what function a problem behavior serves.  The Team should also examine the context of the problem behavior for any clues to its causes and triggers.  Using this information, the Team can create a Behavior Intervention Plan (BIP) to positively support the student’s skillsand/or motivation to substitute a more appropriate behavior that serves the same function as the problem behavior.  If the behavior is the result of a skill that is lacking, the Team can work together to build the skill that can negate the inappropriate behavior.

This is a helpful approach, I think, and an application of social science (I presume) research that I like.  It seems compassionate, for example.

But, as even the article from which the paragraph comes acknowledges, FBAs and BIPs are not always used this way.  For example, “A well-done FBA and BIP can not only minimize or eliminate many problem behaviors, but contribute lasting gains to to a student’s academic and social success, not to mention emotional well-being.  Too often, however, FBAs are viewed as a last (or second to last) resort rather than as a proactive instructional tool.”  And subsequent discussion also tactfully covers how FBAs and BIPs are used primarily as a (negative) disciplinary tool.

So, I reiterate that social sciences are not a panacea to our problems.  They are an approach, a tool, a way of getting information, but how we use the approach, tool, and information is influenced by the “stuff” of the people using them.  For the social science approach, etc. to be used helpfully, its users need to, for example, get their own issues out of the way, like a need to control other people or to put them down.  How much attention educators pay to keeping their own stuff out of the way I don’t know, but “classroom management” (or “school management”) issues can be brought up as a justification to cover a lot of other, less legitimate concerns.

A part about the social science orientation that concerns me is that it seems to deny that the people implementing it are part of the equation, too, and that other concerns, like the desire and ability of these people to separate student behavior from personality, or an insistence on maintaining a social pecking order among students and families, influences whether the approach will be helpful or damaging.  Why we don’t focus more as a society on some of these other ingredients I’m not sure, but maybe it’s because it’s easier and more gratifying to focus on things that try to force other people to change than it is to focus on ourselves and how we might improve what we’re bringing to the table, and because it’s difficult for most people to see when what they’re doing is more self-serving than their explanation of it reflects.

I wonder if we could include as part of a health curriculum for students and part of training for teachers and administrators and staff some lessons in how to become more self-aware.

Social ills

February 10, 2012

In reading all the attention being paid to income inequality, unemployment, and moral decay, I start to wonder why no one talks about the role of anxiety and depression in the interplay of forces.  However depression and anxiety get started, they exacerbate a downward spiral, whether through self-medication or producing a child in the hopes the child will provide love that is missing in the parent’s life or through other maladaptive coping skills.  I suspect at this point that depression and anxiety are larger factors in struggling populations than we are giving these factors credit for, and while I strongly agree that medication can make a huge difference in some people once depression and anxiety become large and otherwise intractable, I don’t think medication is the solution, I think instead we need to treat why there is a net outflow of “energy” in the social group, because I think it is some seemingly innocuous small imbalance that begins it, that then gets amplified and begins a complicated chain of events or process, and whose symptoms we then observe in increased poverty, crime, and fractured families.  I remember reading a case study, while I was in college, about how rehousing poor people into housing projects in or near London unintentionally shredded family and other social networks,* and that this then had far-reaching negative subsequent consequences — the population did much work after the rehousing, much to the surprise of the people who thought they were just proving improved places to live.  That’s the kind of innocuous event I would look for in trying to redress the economic and social ills in the U.S. discussed in Charles Murray’s recent book and all the reactions to it.

*I thought I should add that, as I recall it, the (new) housing projects were high-rise apartment houses, rather than the lower-slung sorts of housing that the people were currently living in, and that the rehousing broke up the physical distribution of the family members, disrupting arrangements, for example, of having an aunt or grandmother around the corner who could pitch in to help with childcare or cooking or emergency help — the rehousing paid no attention to reassembling the physical proximity of the extended family members that was the scaffolding to the social safety net, it scrambled the population by rehousing them according to other criteria, I think.

And I certainly don’t think that the housing should not have been improved, only that the housing planners clearly, in retrospect, needed to take into account additional factors in order to realize the improvements without imposing new costs, however unintentionally.


November 29, 2011

I am trying to figuring out what lies behind the apparent fact that sometimes when we’ve experienced an emotional transaction with someone else we try our best to avoid doing it to others, and why sometimes, whether intentionally or not, we wind up repeating the transaction but with ourselves in the other role.

So, for example, I’ve received very unhelpful condolence notes myself and I make an extra effort not to do the same myself when it’s my turn to write.  On the other hand, I resented that my father refused to teach me how to drive (someone who was like a second mother to me taught me instead, including how to talk to other drivers), and I’ve taught neither of my children to drive (my dad did teach my older sister), although for very different reasons.

I suspect this has to do with how the life lesson needs to be taught, perhaps like the difference between reading about something in a textbook and doing a hands-on project.

So, I titled this “Oppression” because I am wondering how people who grow up feeling oppressed deal with that as adults, whether they try their best not to force others to conform, for example, or whether they visit oppression on others in some other form or guise.


Mainstreaming “coping mechanisms”

September 14, 2011

There is discussion, if not action, about teaching children about diversity and bullying (to embrace the former and eschew the latter).  After reading this morning in the NY Times about problems with the prescription of Xanax, the role of cognitive behavioral therapy in treatment of anxiety, and how many patients don’t yet have these skills as resources, I started thinking that maybe we should be including these skills in some broader way in people’s lives to begin with (or, at least, making them available), within our education of students, for example, whether it’s casually (through modeling by teachers and administrators) or formally (through curriculum).  That way, if and when people encounter the need for them, they have the tools, or at least are aware of their availability.  I would also think that more emphasis on these skills would improve the general atmosphere of our society.

For all of us to win

August 1, 2011

What would “winning” look like?  Legislation put forward by the Democratic caucus?  Legislation proposed by the Republicans?  Something floated by the White House?  The best thinking of our best pundits?  Even the ideas floating up from the electorate?

I actually think winning would look like interactions with less rancor and more sincere good will towards the other.  Every time we erupt with our own righteous indignation at “what the others have done,” we perpetuate the cycle, I think, regardless of how justified we feel according to some doctrine about the others’ content or process.  Every time we think we’ve won when our own preferred course of action carries the day, we achieve only a Pyrrhic victory if civility and caring for others are casualties of the process — we may win a battle but contribute to losing not just a war but our ability to live in peace.

Because I don’t think the it’s a game in which being right and getting our way is the object of the game — I think the “game” (if that’s another name for needing to build something together, whether it’s an economy, a social program, software, a widget, a school of thought, the Tower of Babel, or anything else we do together) is the means to the end, so to speak, the exercise we go through in order to achieve emotional fitness.   And I think that we’ve so lost our way by mistaking content, and getting it “right,” for the main event.

The main event is how we interact, what intangible products we produce through our emotions toward each other.  I’ve used the analogy of a canary in a coal mine dying for what we should be seeing in what’s been going on in Washington, and I see the gases as emanating from our negative regard for one another.

The ironic thing about this is that it’s actually something very much within our control to work on — how we treat each other.  To treat each other well, we need some inner peace ourselves, some self-awareness, too, to achieve this.

I don’t mean this as a speech against anyone, I mean it as guidance to do something other than pulling the tangle tighter by strenuously fighting back — we don’t have to agree with one another, we can believe in our perception of what’s right to do, but we need to relearn how to get along with each other, how to love each other, how to stop trying to control one another.

I suspect that part of the root of all this dysfunctional behavior is our inability to actually love ourselves — to love the part of ourselves that is our core, not our superficial skills and accomplishments.  We often love a false self, I think, and that misprision makes it difficult to love another.  But the encouraging thing is that we can always work on rediscovering who we are through stripping off all our encrustations, and when we have done that, we find ourselves freer to feel and interact in ways that are pleasant and helpful for both ourselves and the people with whom we interact.