Tag Archives: behavioral

Create Your Own Tactile Schedule

Anne M. Zachry, M.A.

I have the opportunity to work directly with an adult special education student as part of his compensatory education program, which I am designing, implementing, and supervising. It’s an opportunity to try my own ideas based on the available assessment data and see how they work. This student has autism and vision impairment, so the tools that typically would be used to teach in light of his autism do not always work in light of his vision loss.

One of the most common teaching tools used with students who experience any number of developmental disorders is the visual schedule.  Visual schedules are used to take individual students or groups of students through a routine that is expected to play out over time in a specific order of events.  It can be a daily schedule, a weekly schedule, or an activity-specific schedule.

Tactile schedule for throwing a dinner party.

Visual schedules are also good for illustrating the steps in a task analysis. A task analysis is a process in which the individual steps of a task are broken down and taught in sequence. It is a method developed by and frequently used in Applied Behavioral Analysis (ABA).

A task analysis really has to be tailored to the ability of the individual who needs to understand it. I was creating a task analysis of the steps to throwing a dinner party. Throwing a dinner party was the best way for me to tie all of my student’s functional academic goals into a single activity. That way, I could concurrently instruct towards his goal throughout a given session.

I couldn’t put too many steps in the tactile schedule or it would be too much for my student to process at once and would incline him to develop more rigid rules about the activity than appropriate, but I could order the general tasks that had to be performed in sequence. Due to his autism, my student has a tendency to become ritualized to activities that are done the exact same way every time.

So, for example, we couldn’t cook spaghetti every time we met or he’d never generalize the cooking concepts to other foods. Therefore, the schedule, which is pictured here, simply says, “Cook food,” rather than specify which foods are to be cooked.

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Applying ABA to Non-Compliant LEAs

Positive Reinforcer ChartApplied Behavioral Analysis (“ABA”) has been around for decades, now. As one of the few scientifically research-based methodologies for providing instruction to individuals with autism, it has become regarded as an autism intervention. But ABA is not an autism-specific intervention at all. It is one approach to behavior modification that can be used with pretty much anybody.

Pure ABA has taken some criticism, and not necessarily without cause. Some practitioners have been overly reliant on Discrete Trial Training (“DTT”) to the point of training kids to be little robots without learning to understand or value?why social norms apply to them. The use of response-costs are also used inappropriately by far to many practitioners, particularly those who don’t really understand ABA. Response-costs are basically aversive consequences that are meted out when the individual engages in undesirable behavior.

From a purely scientific standpoint, response-costs can be delivered in a manner that facilitates the learning of more adaptive behavior. In our public schools, however, it far too often gets twisted into a justification to punish a kid for manifesting symptoms at school. (Of course, this presumes that there is any ABA being used in the school setting at all.)

Punishment is already epidemic and positive behavioral interventions are woefully lacking in our public schools. ?The idea of response-costs are far too appealing to school district administrators just looking for an excuse to punish a kid for displaying poor judgment or reacting to environmental antecedents because of a handicapping condition as though the kid is displaying willful defiance or misconduct.

These people don’t need any more ammunition to do the wrong thing. They can take the response-cost concept of pure ABA out of context and resort to reactive strategies in a knee-jerk fashion without putting forth the necessary effort to prevent the maladaptive behaviors and teach appropriate replacement behaviors in the first place.

In California where positive behavioral interventions are very regulated, there is at least some legal recourse for students who have been inappropriately subjected to reactive strategies, including response-costs, but the systems of accountability are far, far from perfect and way too many school districts still get away with harming children in the name of behavioral intervention.

But, like I said, ABA (including response-costs, when appropriate)?can be used effectively with anyone. I kind of look at our advocacy as behavioral intervention where the intent is to change the behavior of education agencies engaging in harmful, non-compliant behavior.

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California’s Regulations for Positive Behavioral Interventions

UPDATE:  Effective July 1, 2013, the Hughes Bill, which described the FAA procedures, was repealed and replaced with AB 86, which offers fewer legal protections to students with behavioral needs.  Click here for more information about this change in the law.  The material below now only applies to those students who were eligible for an FAA and possibly a PBIP prior to July 1, 2013. These students may currently have PBIPs in their IEPs, which remain in force until their IEPs are replaced at their next annual due date. Students with claims arising within the last two years from school agencies’ failures to comply with the Hughes Bill during the portion of the statutory period in which it was still in force may still bring claims regarding those failures, in which case, the material below is still applicable.


Click here to listen to the podcast version of this post.

As part of a series of articles regarding seclusion and restraint practices involving special education students across the nation, we’re starting out with a look at the regulations already on the books in California. We’re starting with these state-specific regulations because California is one of the few states to have regulations this specific and, as one of the most populous states in the nation, these laws impact a lot of kids. So, this information can potentially benefit a lot of students by helping their parents in their efforts to achieve appropriate behavioral interventions as well as help their educators understand their obligations, thereby preventing a lot of costly litigation that takes money away from actual instructional costs.

There is federal legislation pending to address this very issue. The lack of consistency among the states as to what constitutes a lawful restraint or seclusion varies so widely that what is regarded as child abuse in one state is considered perfectly acceptable in others.

Because California has such specific language in its regulations about one aspect of positive behavioral intervention, we wanted to examine these regulations more closely. Plus, I’ve been involved in a due process case in which an 8-year-old with autism was unwittingly provoked into an outburst by well-intended special ed staff with the whole thing culminating in a DARE officer who happened to be on campus handcuffing the boy in an effort to protect him from hurting himself. That whole incident involved both restraint and seclusion with disastrous results.

So, this issue is vivid in my mind right now after having met this sweet boy and his loving family, as well as in light of other work I’ve been doing recently that has also involved inappropriate behavioral interventions in public school settings in California as well as Texas. As advanced as humanity has become, we can still be a savage species when it comes to children, particularly those with disabilities.

The thing about California’s laws relative to the minimum requirements under the federal regulations is that California’s laws are specific to serious behavior problems, interpreted by most school districts to mean violent behaviors, where the federal regulations only specifically mandate behavioral assessment when a student is at risk of expulsion for behaviors that may be related to his/her disability. In both cases, that leaves a lot of latitude for things to get way out of control before a school district takes action, particularly in school districts that are reactionary to student needs once they’ve reached crisis proportions rather than proactive in preventing these kinds of problems from arising in the first place.

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Fighting the Practice of Pushing Students out of School

Dignity in Schools is a national organization that is organizing with grassroots groups across the country to combat the School to Prison Pipeline and other phenomena that lead to students being pushed out of school through unproductive expulsions, suspensions, and police actions rather than educated. Students with disabilities are one of the most frequently targeted populations of school push-out.

The intent is not to absolve students engaging in problem behaviors from being held accountable, but to prevent whatever methods of accountability are used from depriving students of the educations they need in order to become productive members of society. If the “solution” being used isn’t actually making the situation better, then it really isn’t a solution at all and that’s the point behind initiatives like Dignity in Schools, which promotes the use of positive behavioral interventions in our public schools rather than an over-reliance on zero-tolerance punitive measures that do little to nothing to prevent problem behaviors from happening in the first place or from reoccurring again at a later date.

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Feds Seek to Outlaw Injurious & Deadly School Discipline Practices

On January 16, 2010, I posted an article about a federal report on the use of improper seclusions and restraints of children in our nation’s schools. These practices have been used mostly on children with disabilities, resulting in injury, trauma, and death. Continue reading

When Schools Call the Police on Parents

Most parents should find the subject of today’s article shocking and I hope that this remains the case for a long, long time. The reason shocking topics are shocking is because they’re about things that don’t happen that often and stun us when they do.

However, it is not unheard of for schools to call the police on parents when special education disputes arise. When this happens, either the parent legitimately did something wrong for which police action is warranted or somebody at the school did something outrageous and got caught by the parent, resulting in power struggle in which calling the cops is a childish trump card played by a power-tripping school site administrator who has become hell-bent on coming out on top without concern for the damage that will otherwise be done.

I’m not going to dwell on the former possibility because it goes without saying that our children should safe at school and sometimes that means that calling the police on a parent who is being dangerous and disruptive is necessary. I’m going to focus on the latter possibility, instead, because this is an evil that has no business in any free society, much less America’s public schools.

I’ve been dealing with such a situation this week and am really disgusted over the whole thing. This topic also falls right into line with our on-going series on the negative influences that undermine the special education process, which we’re identifying so that all of us who are working so hard towards appropriate outcomes can do so collectively and collaboratively to right these wrongs and make special education actually work.

It has been my observation that single parents, low-income families, and ethnic minorities tend to be the ones most targeted by this unseemly form of retaliation. Heaven help the single, low-income, minority parent who gets faced with a triple-whammy of discrimination on top of the discrimination that is frequently inherent in being the parent of a child challenged by disability. The School to Prison Pipeline involves undermining parents’ advocacy efforts as much as anything else, and calling the cops on a parent from a marginalized population who is insisting on appropriate intervention for his/her child with special needs is exactly the kind of abuse of authority that contributes to the funneling of children from these families out of the classroom and into a prison cell.

Our founder, Nyanza, and I had our families together for a KPS4Parents social event several years ago and I remember that she had to admonish her own son for doing something pretty typical for a kid with ADHD (but that he still shouldn’t have been doing). I don’t even remember what it was exactly, just that it was relatively minor in the grand scheme of the cosmos but it had the potential to call serious negative attention to him if he didn’t knock it off. As much as Nyanza and I are like-minded and practically finish each other’s sentences, it’s the day-to-day life stuff that makes it clear just how racially defined modern American life still is and how different her family’s experiences are from my own.

What stands out in my memory is what she said to him after she looked him in the eye to gain his attention, pointed out what he was doing wrong, and told him what he should do instead. She told him that, statistically speaking, young black men between the ages of 12 and 25 are the most feared people in America and that, as unfair as this was, it was the truth. So, anything he did that was inappropriate for any reason would put him at risk of being treated unreasonably harshly because of this irrational fear. What was obviously an ADHD-related issue was not generally identified by society with his disability but, rather, with his race. That concept makes my mind spin even now.

Fast forward to this past week and I’m working with a single, African-American mother of a handsome little boy with ADHD. He’s a really sweet kid by all accounts, but he’s impulsive, wiggly, and easily provoked by his peers who have totally figured him out and set him up to get in trouble over and over. He’s also in an economically depressed, urban community in a school district that, by reputation, is mediocre on its best day. His elementary school principal has created her own little slummy fiefdom where she can throw around her Caucasian weight and intimidate the parents, most of whom are low-income minorities. You could fit what this principal knows and cares about special education compliance on the head of a pin.

I’m not going to assert the position that I am in any way qualified to speak to the black experience. I’m so white I glow in the dark and I was raised in the racially segregated South. I don’t abide by the really perverse ideas I was exposed to as a kid, but I haven’t lived what black families in America have lived, so I can’t speak with authority on the subject. However, if the amount of stand-up comedian material produced in the United States is any kind of barometer for what goes on in our society, that combined with my personal experiences through the friendships I’ve forged with the African-American women I know, black women have a tendency to speak their minds and God help you if they get mad.

This is a gross over-generalization of course. I know when somebody has crossed the line with Nyanza because she gets really, really serious, looks them dead in the eye, and says what she has to say extremely eloquently. But, I’ve also known a number of opinionated, strong African-American women who, if provoked, will come completely unglued. Amongst their friends and families, this way of reacting to injustice is perfectly acceptable. In elementary school offices, not so much.

Which brings me full circle back to the business of police being called on parents. In this week’s moment of drama (which was another first for me – after over 18 years of this you’d think I wouldn’t encounter anything new), I just happened to return this parent’s phone call as she was sitting in her car in the elementary school parking lot after “having words” with the principal over an improper disciplinary measure taken by school site staff regarding her son. She was just starting to tell me what was going on when she stopped and said, “The principal’s coming.”

The principal approached the parent in her car and began to say something to her, but stopped when the parent put me on speaker phone and identified me to her. I introduced myself, as awkward as the sudden introduction was, and the principal advised the parent that she needed to talk to her. The parent asked “About what?” The principal wouldn’t say anything at first, but upon the parent’s insistence, the principal finally said “Your behavior.” The principal said that if the parent didn’t leave, she was going to have the police escort her off the campus.  And, then the powder keg blew.

What was weird was that even though the principal told this parent that she needed to leave, the principal wanted to first talk to the parent at length about her alleged behavior before letting her actually leave the campus. I realized the principal was up to something.

The parent was very upset, insisting she hadn’t done anything wrong and it took a few moments for me to get her attention, but I did. I got her to take me off speaker phone and told her, “She said she wants you to leave. Leave! Leave now!” I guess my tone was compelling because she stopped insisting that she hadn’t done anything wrong and said, “My advocate is telling me to leave, so I’m leaving.”? Then she drove away. After leaving the school’s parking lot, as she was driving down the street, she saw in the distance in her rear view mirror a squad car pulling into the school parking lot. It took me a half-hour to calm her back down again.

I’m not going to say that this parent didn’t disrupt the school environment. I honestly don’t know.? I wasn’t there. I didn’t see or hear what happened prior to my call with the parent. It is entirely possible that her voice was raised high enough while in the building to cause concern. If that’s the case, then the only argument I have against the request for her to leave was that it came after she had already left the building and was sitting in her car preparing to drive away followed by a delay tactic that was clearly meant to keep her there long enough for the police to arrive and escort her off the campus she was already in the process of leaving.

It was plainly evident to me that the principal was deliberately provoking this parent into an outburst with the intent of having the police pull up in the middle of it.? Even if the principal’s only purpose was to make the record that the parent had to be escorted off school grounds by the police and not actually have her arrested, there are a thousand things wrong with this situation, starting with the fact that the basis for the entire incident is that this parent’s child is not receiving a FAPE and when the parent first approached school site staff for help to resolve the problem, they responded to her with disrespect and refused to help her.? Nyanza’s admonishment to her son about how young black males are perceived sprang to my mind when I first accepted this case because that’s exactly what is happening here.

School districts, or even just individual school sites, that are run by unethical people have a fairly predictable way of doing business. A parent raises a concern and the school site administration discounts it and condescends to the parent. The parent then goes on the internet and researches his/her rights, then goes back to the school and demands an appropriate response, which is not forthcoming. If the parent is unsophisticated, the exchanges are entirely verbal and the only record being kept is whatever is written up by school site staff and placed in the student’s file after each trip into the office by the parent. This cycle repeats for a while, with the parent getting more and more agitated each time around.

If the parent eventually gets outside help or files a complaint with a regulator, the school is suddenly at risk of having its dirty laundry aired to people who might actually have the authority to do something about it. The fiefdom is suddenly on the line. So, an active campaign to discredit the parent is waged and all hell breaks loose. This happens everywhere with parents from all walks of life. But, it is particularly harmful to low-income, minority, single parents whose word has to stand against that of someone in a suit with a Master’s Degree.

A few months ago, I added another tool to our toolbox here at KPS4Parents that may actually turn out to be useful after all. I wasn’t sure how we could exactly use it but it had potential so I went ahead and added it to our collection of resources. I have to be careful how I present it here because I don’t want what I say to be misconstrued as an unauthorized advertisement for something for which we are contractually obligated to seek prior approval to advertise. You can see our approved web content for this possible solution by clicking here.

A friend of mine turned me onto this legal planning solution a few months ago.? While my initial thought was to provide it to parents as an option for due process representation or even estate planning when special needs beneficiaries are involved, there was a whole bunch of other stuff that came with it that I really didn’t think was all that relevant to what KPS4Parents does.? Until the cops got called on my client the other day.

Had I not returned her phone call when I did, my client would have been unwittingly detained by the principal long enough for the police to become involved.? The record would have been made in a manner that misrepresented the situation to the detriment of my client’s case and personal well-being.

That night, I lay in bed thinking: “What about the other parents who will find themselves in similar circumstances but who don’t have an advocate who will just happen to call at the most opportune moment possible?? What would have happened to the sweet little boy I’m representing if his single mother had been taken into custody?? What’s going to happen to him now that he has to go to school at what is clearly now a hostile environment?”? (I’m working on that latter issue, actually.)

If parents who find themselves in situations like these had a 24-hour hotline to call for immediate attorney support when approached by the police, which is one of those things available through that relatively recent addition to our toolbox mentioned above that I never really thought as being relevant to our work until now, that would be a very powerful resource indeed.? So, I’m now rethinking the application of this new tool now that this new situation has developed.

The most useful advice I can give to parents, regardless of who they are and where they live, is to never, ever, under any circumstances, let school site staff goad you into an outburst.? If they try, recognize it for what it is and, if necessary, leave before things get worse.

If you are worried about your child’s welfare in such a hostile situation, and you think the threat is severe enough, remove your child from school and file a suspected child abuse report.? If you determine that your child is not at risk and you send him/her back to school, do not discuss what happened with your child in intimate detail.? You will make your child unnecessarily fearful, which will only make things worse for your child.

If things have gotten so far out of hand that the school has gotten the police involved, it’s time to seek legal representation.? Walking that landmine field alone is just a bad idea.

Click here to download the podcast version of this article.

US GAO Seclusions & Restraints Report

The United States Government Accountability Office (“GAO”) released its report Seclusions and Restraints: Selected Cases of Death and Abuse at Public and Private Schools and Treatment Centers in May 2009. As Congress contemplates new federal legislation to contend with this societal atrocity, we thought it was pertinent to review GAO’s findings and remind ourselves why this is so important.

Examples of Case Studies GAO Examined:

Victim Information School Case Details
Male, 14, diagnosed with post traumatic stress Texas public school – 230 lb. teacher placed 129 lb. child face down on floor and lay on top of him because he did not stay seated in class, causing his death.- Death ruled a homicide but grand jury did not indict teacher. Teacher currently teaches in Virginia.
Female, 4, born with cerebral palsy and diagnosed as autistic West Virginia public school – Child suffered bruising and post traumatic stress disorder after teachers restrained her in a wooden chair with leather straps described as resembling a miniature electric chair for being uncooperative.-School board found liable for negligent training and supervision; teachers were found not liable, and one still works at the school.
Five victims, gender not disclosed, aged 6 and 7 Florida public school – Volunteer teacher’s aide, on probation for burglary and cocaine possession, gagged and duct-taped children for misbehaving.- No records that school did background check or trained aide.

– Aide pled guilty to false imprisonment and battery.

Male, 9, diagnosed with a learning disability New York public school – Parents allowed school to use time out room only as a last resort,  but school put child in room repeatedly for hours at a time for offenses such as whistling, slouching, and hand waving.- Mother reported that the room smelled of urine and child’s hands became blistered while trying to escape.- Jury awarded family $1,000 for each time child was put in the room.

Just to be clear, these are not isolated incidents. GAO tracked hundreds of cases for the purposes of its report, which you can read in full by clicking here.

Back during the 2002-2003 school year, when our founder, Nyanza Cook, was researching how to start a non-profit advocacy organization, she received a phone call one night from her family in Texas.  They knew that she was looking to start what has since become KPS4Parents and wanted to let her know of something that had happened in their local community near Ft. Hood. As much as she had her own motivations for starting our organization based on what her own household here in California had been put through, the story from her family back in Texas pretty much clenched it.

Her nephew, who was a special education student placed in a special day class at the time, was put on the phone with her, clearly distraught. She asked him what was going on and his reply was, “They killed him, Auntie!  They killed him!”

After speaking with him and other family members, this is what she got:  another special education student in her nephew’s class had become non-compliant that day and unable to focus on his school work. In an effort to compel him to stay on task and comply with adult directives, school site staff withheld food from him, refusing to let him go to lunch until he completed a task he’d been requested to complete.

Somewhere around 2pm, he decided he was hungry and was going to find food whether the adults in the room liked it or not.  When he attempted to leave the room, he was tackled to the ground by staff who piled on top of him.  According to Nyanza’s nephew, he gasped a few times that he couldn’t breathe and then fell silent.

When he stopped struggling, staff climbed off of him only to find him limp and lifeless.  He wasn’t breathing.  Staff ended up calling 911 and attempted to resuscitate him.  His classmates looked on in horror throughout the entire incident, including Nyanza’s nephew.

A friend of Nyanza’s family was an emergency room doctor at the hospital where this young man was transported.  He later reported to her that the school district’s lawyer got to the hospital just before or at the same time the ambulance did and did everything he could to try and convince the hospital to call time of death subsequent to the young man’s body’s arrival at the hospital when, in truth, he’d died on school grounds and emergency personnel had not been able to revive him.  Nyanza’s emergency room doctor friend was indignant that the lawyer had even dared to ask.

None of this made it into the local news.  Nyanza’s family didn’t know this young man’s family personally and before too long, the whole thing had been swept under the rug.  It’s unknown if the District settled with the boy’s family or what became of the teachers involved in the incident. However, after reading Case #2 of the GAO report (the first case cited in the table above), the similarities are uncannily eerie and I have to wonder if it isn’t the same case.

Nyanza’s nephew was terrified to go back to school for fear that he would be killed, too.  He was understandably traumatized.  That is an aspect of the harm done when seclusions and restraints are used in the school setting:  the emotional impact on the children who witness take-downs and adults physically manhandling other children.  That’s probably worth a study in and of itself.

What the GAO report makes clear is that this was hardly an isolated incident.  But, the taxpaying public does not finance the public education system so that it can kill children; the public education system is supposed to be educating children.

At the time of the May 2009 report, there were no federal laws regulating the use of seclusions and restraints in public or private schools.? There are no such federal laws today, though legislation has been proposed. State laws were at the time of the report, and still are, highly divergent.

GAO reported that almost all of the hundreds of cases of the use of seclusion and restraint in school settings that its research uncovered involved children with disabilities.  GAO found that there was no national effort to specifically collect data and track the use of seclusions and restraints in the school setting, requiring it to conduct exhaustive research in order to identify cases of such.  It wasn’t that the cases hadn’t been reported, but the way that data was collected by the involved agencies resulted in the seclusion and restraint cases getting mixed in with many other different types of cases, requiring GAO investigators to go through each case to individually identify which ones involved seclusions and restraints in the school setting.

When I first got involved in special education advocacy, I was working with families of children with dyslexia who weren’t receiving adequate reading instruction and kids with ADHD who needed IEP supports to help them with their organizational skills.  Never in my wildest dreams did I ever think I’d end up working cases of where:

  • An 8-year-old nonverbal boy with autism who loved to play “chase” would do what the adults around him mistook for elopement but was actually his way of initiating a “chase” game, only to be tackled to the ground by his principal on a gravel driveway in an effort to prevent the child from leaving the campus (which he wasn’t actually trying to do), resulting in significant bruising to they boy’s chest.
  • A 14-year-old mostly nonverbal boy with autism who became non-compliant with staff directives when his teacher unexpectedly left early for the day (which had not been part of his visual schedule and, thus, he’d been unable to predict), resulting in an unlawful restraint in which a large male staff member twisted the boy’s arm behind his back and broke it, causing nerve damage and requiring surgery to repair.
  • A 15-year-0ld boy with bipolar disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder (from having witnessed his father’s suicide) who was directed into a time-out room alone with his male ESY teacher (an aide on a 30-day emergency teaching credential), who then compelled the student  to perform oral sex upon him behind a locked door.
  • An 8-year-old boy with autism and mild mental retardation who received special education transportation services on a large bus filled mostly with emotionally disturbed children being transported to an ED program on the same campus where his learning handicapped class was located, only to be forced to regularly orally copulate a male ED peer in the back of the bus in the absence of a transportation aide and out of sight of the bus driver.

The latter case was peer-on-peer violence, but it was the lack of appropriate supervision that allowed it to happen. Passiveness on the part of adults can result in just as much harm as outright aggression.

The point is that children with disabilities are at a higher risk of being preyed upon and victimized by people who should know better or peers who themselves are not receiving adequate intervention. This continues in one form or another into adulthood where cognitively impaired adults are put up to committing crimes they don’t understand so that other people will “like them” or are taken advantage of by scam artists and are economically abused.  Women with mental disabilities can easily end up in the sex trade.

What is really scary is when a person with mental deficiencies is repeatedly exposed to violence and learns through experience to behave violently him- or herself.  Trying to unteach that learning when the person has reached adulthood after a lifetime of inappropriate, violent behavior, can only be achieved through very time-consuming, involved, and usually very costly, direct instruction.  The long-term consequences of seclusion and restraint are far-reaching and devastating.