Behavior Modification Techniques in Special Education

By Tammy Quinn Mckillip

Special children have special needs when it comes to discipline techniques. Tricks that may work for a "typical" child may not work or could even backfire with a special needs student, so the discipline your child receives in her special needs classes may likely be unfamiliar to you.

Praise

Praising a special education student for what he has done right will reinforce good behavior and create confidence in making the right choices. While it is important to discourage negative behaviors, it is even more essential to emphasize the positive ones. Special needs students tend to be praise-hungry. They are often used to hearing about what they've done wrong. Telling them when they've done something right will grab their attention and reinforce good behaviors.

Rewards

Special needs students sometimes need extra help in remembering what is expected of them, behavior-wise. Providing tangible rewards for mastered behaviors or accomplishments is one way to remind them about what works in the classroom. Because their interest is peaked by providing an objective goal--the reward--they have an easier time remembering how to behave. Even small items such as stickers, tokens or bookmarks will let the child know he is on the right track and is deserving of a reward.

Behavior Chart

Tracking a child's good behaviors is one way to modify bad ones. Whenever a child makes it through a day (or part of a day or hour) without demonstrating the negative behavior, she receives a sticker or check mark on her behavior chart. When she has attained a predetermined number of stickers or checks, she will receive a tangible reward. Focusing on being good for small segments of time (the smaller, the better) helps the student keep track of what is expected of her so that she can behave accordingly.

Redirection

Redirecting a child from an undesirable behavior to one that is more appropriate is an effective behavior modification technique used in most special education classrooms today. With redirection, the child is distracted from the inappropriate behavior and is encouraged to focus on a task that will help him to behave correctly. Instead of being punished for his inappropriateness, he is given the opportunity to make a different choice when he becomes involved in a different activity.

Engage

Involving the student in her own behavior assessment is another way that special education teachers modify unwanted behaviors in the classroom. When the student knows exactly what is expected of her and is asked to keep track of and judge her own compliance with the rules, she is generally more apt to obey them. Giving her the power to evaluate her own behavior will boost confidence and self-esteem, as well as make her more aware of her impulses and her ability to control them.

Visuals

A well-equipped special education classroom will have plenty of visuals, such as step charts and behavior charts, to help the children remember what is expected of them. By providing clear visual cues, the special education teacher will reinforce the students' self-sufficiency and decision-making abilities. Having a visual code, such as hand motions, can keep a student's wandering attention on the right track.

Modeling

Modeling appropriate behavior is one of the most effective means of behavior modification in any classroom. By demonstrating the right way to behave, the teacher provides a guide as to what is expected and also proves that the behavior is possible. If the teacher can do it, so can the student.

Extinction

A child's behavior is almost always motivated by a desire to achieve a reaction or goal. When a special education teacher practices the principle of "extinction," she is modifying a behavior by cutting off the reward. For example, if a child consistently screams when it is time to put away the play-dough, it is simple to figure out the expected reward is more time with the play-dough. The special education teacher would then ignore the screams and put the play-dough away. If the screaming continues after the play-dough has been put away, the teacher might calmly request the the student do his screaming in another corner of the room so as not to disturb the rest of the class while they enjoy the present activity. By extinguishing the reward, the child has no incentive to continue with the unwanted behavior.