Attention, Sensory, Escape

Unknown-7You all know I ponder behavior management obsessively. I scrutinize observable behaviors, never assume, and consider all possibilities. I like figuring out what makes another tick.

And you all know I believe we don’t do this well in schools. In fact, I argue, as time marches on and we learn more and more about neurology and brain-based learning, we are doing worse and worse. Whoever said it’s a sure thing we do better when we know better was wrong.

We have all attended workshops and professional development sessions about behavior management and we usually come away with limited information about the purposes behavior serve. We usually learn which are the most widely believed purposes for behavior. Attention seeking (a bad thing), tangibles (something to definitely use), power and control (kids trying to take something from the teacher), avoidance (lazy kids), revenge (kids dishing out pay back), and testing (kids making sure you mean what you say).

Well, I find all of the above to be so very limited and misrepresented. After years of doing this, I have come to the conclusion that kids present behaviors as a way to escape, to get attention and to meet sensory needs. If they are behaving for tangibles, then you have succeeded in training them for the circus. Good for you.

images-15Escape, evade, avoid, dodge, avert. Most commonly used descriptors are avoidance and escape. But how deeply we understand what, why and how a kiddo is avoiding and escaping determines how effective we will be in developing interventions. Without a deep understanding, we really have nothing useful. Rarely are we exploring a thorough list. We should be asking and then collecting specific data to determine if the student is escaping because he feels unable to do what is asked of him, if he is avoiding failure or physical and/or emotional discomfort. Executive functioning as in a can’t, not a won’t, looks a lot like avoidance. But it’s not. We have to explore these things. We cannot assume avoidance is based in laziness. Maybe your student is escaping boredom, feeling a disconnect. Unknown-6

And keep in mind that as adults, we avoid and escape all day long. We can because we have more autonomy than kids do. And when we do avoid and escape nobody is calling us naughty.

One of my biggest concerns is how often we blame behaviors on attention seeking like that is a bad thing. Like it is an evil child who seeks attenimages-14tion, a needy child that just needs to buck up. Why do we hold so tightly to the belief that seeking attention is a bad thing? Attention seeking behaviors are what keep us alive. Crying babies. Seeking attention. We have to seek the attention of others to stay safe and alive. This is a developmentally necessary behavior. We need to interact with others. It’s a human condition that keeps us in the group, the clan and that is what keeps us safe. And then there are those complex kids that don’t want certain kinds of attention so they present in maladaptive ways. Attention seeking needs to be considered from a survivalist perspective. And if a kiddo needs attention, give it to them. Just give it to them. It doesn’t take anything away from you. Attend to our kids and the benefits will blow your mind.

images-16Meeting sensory needs is something every single living thing spends a great deal of processing energy on. Why do you suppose studying the 5 senses is such a big part of the science curriculum? If we do not attend to our sensory needs, we will fall in harms way, we may freeze or burn. Some of us have pretty strong, over-active sensory receptors. Some are under developed, turned down or off. Right now while you read this you are attending to sensory needs. Is music playing, the TV on, are you bouncing your leg, chewing gum, eating, sitting in the dark or a sunlit room? Do not assume a kiddo is seeking attention. They might just be trying to self-regulate and navigate sensory input. Maybe they are under-stimulated by the content of your lesson and delivery of said lesson. Maybe they are truly very excited about the content and have much to express about it. Sitting still when excited is hard. Not interacting when excited is hard.

These points of discussion are critical to collecting useful data for an FBA. Too many FBAs are full of assumptions, limited date, answering the wrong questions, not asking questions.

Next few posts will be about how to identify target behaviors, how to ask the right questions that will lead you to meaningful and useful data collection.

We have to get better at this. We have to get this right.

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