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Sunday, July 14, 2019

Chapter 7: Beyond Behavior

This chapter begins with a story about an autistic student who had a habit of snapping in class.  As he moved into second grade, the teacher his teacher found his behavior disturbing.  She asked for interventions to diminish the behavior.

This lead Dr. Delahooke to ponder whether the behavior should be corrected or if it was serving a purpose.  Many misunderstand the behavior of autistic students.  They fail to look at the individual differences or respect the way in which these children have adapted to the neurotypical world.

In the case of the child who snapped his fingers, it was discovered that the behavior was a coping strategy for anxiety.

Many autistic children suffer from over-responsivity (which is sensitivity to sensory input).  They also have trouble with anxiety, digestive problems and sleep issues, because they suffer from high stress. Many treatment plans ignore this problem instead focusing on social skills, communication and behavior.  As we know these top down skills will not be mastered until safety and connection are addressed.

“In this case, the message is that diversity of movement and behaviors shouldn’t be automatically judged as negative.” p.207

Using composure and acceptance, we could lovingly say:
  • “It looks like you felt something, sweetheart. What might that be?” p.226
  • “It seems a bit difficult for you to sit up straight right now. Perhaps you can prop yourself up right next to me with this nice pillow.” p.222
  • “It seems that you feel it’s a bit noisy in here.  Feel free to grab your headphones if you need to.” p.223

Click here and here to read stories about people who are on the spectrum and have struggled with sensory issues.

The next story is of an autistic girl who sang during inappropriate times and was not able to keep her hands to herself. After trying reinforcement of desired behavior with disappointing results, it was decided that the child would get three chances to comply.  If she failed on the third attempt, she would be taken to a quiet area with her aid. 

The first time she was taken to the room she returned quietly and seemed calm.  In actuality, she was on the blue pathway as the experience traumatized her.  She began refusing to go to school, became afraid small rooms and locked doors.

Elizabeth Torres, a researcher, has studied autistic behaviors and how they are attempts to deal with bodily difference.  These adjustment and adaptations like “stimming”, lack of eye contact, repeated routines could be coping skills to deal with stimulus in the environment with a sensory system that is wired differently than neurotypical people.

Instead of trying to eliminate these behaviors, explaining them to others, such as students or other adults, will generate acceptance and understanding.  Ignoring the behavior is not a good approach as there maybe medical reasons for them.  Ignoring also decreases our connections with others and is very stressful to nonspeaking autistic children.

Helping Neurodiverse Individuals:

  1. Realize that the child may understand what is happening, but that they may not be able to show you that they comprehend the situation.
  2. Find help for a child that is nonspeaking or not communicating.
  3. Build safety and connections with the child to facilitate risk taking.

Monday, July 8, 2019

Chapter 6: Beyond Behavior

Dr. Delahooke begins the chapter reminding us about using IDEA, behavior tracking, and early experiences.
Inquire:  Find out the child’s history and look for behavior patterns.
Determine:  Try to figure out what is distressing the child.
Examine:  look at for causes and triggers
Address: support with interactions developmental problems that are causing behaviors.

In another case study, after tracking and learning the child’s history, it was discovered that a child’s preschool bullying experience had left him on the red pathway when interacting with others.  This trauma had skewed his perception and he interpreted ordinary interactions as threats. The result was that he hit others. This instinct was subconscious and the child could not explain why he hit others. Certain sounds, sights, sensations, and experiences were triggers leading to regular overreactions. 

It is important to note that what causes trauma for one person, may not cause trauma for another. 

The treatment plan was to hire an aid to provide him with a sense of safety when he was moving toward the red pathway.  The teacher also helped provide cues of safety. When the child moved toward the red path, they would move closer, speak calmly, and use reassuring facial cues and body language.

Tracking behavior it was noted that the child was developmentally behind in problem solving with peers. The team decided that “play” would be a natural way to develop this skill.

“Play allows for children to integrate and use bottom-up and top-down functioning in real time.  It’s one of the most therapeutic things we can do with children” (p.176).

Therapeutic Developmental play must:
  • Involve an attentive engaging adult (In the case study, the parents played with their child.)
  • Be enjoyable and safe
  • Have a child driven plan
  • Have mutual engagement (no distractions)
  • Not include teaching or questioning
  • Have an adult embracing their character
The child’s play themes will highlight issues before a child can express these feelings. Play experiences provide safe opportunities to problem solve increasing self-regulation skills.
Dramatic play is not the only beneficial type of play.  Sports, games etc. are also valuable as long as there is engagement, conversation, and a sense of safety.

For more information on using play visit https://www.playproject.org/

Once a child demonstrates the ability to using top-down thinking, we can introduce self-regulation and teach problem solving skills. When teaching a state, it is important to be neutral and show appreciation for how they protect us.  We can help students recognize their own triggers and how they are feeling. We reinforce the idea that experiencing emotions and learning to manage them is a normal part of life. When the child recognizes their state of being, they can then be taught to problem solve and create their own solutions. (There is a sample lesson in the book for teaching children to recognize and name their state.)

Finally, Dr. Delahooke mentions the stigma regarding mental health and recommends as adults we talk about our emotions with acceptance. She recommends looking into the work of Brene’ Brown.

Tuesday, July 2, 2019

Chapter 5: Beyond Behaviors

Dr. Delahooke begins the chapter with a case study about a little boy who had many behavioral challenges.  The four-step process she used to determine strategies to assist the child is IDEA.  This stands for Inquire, Determine, Examine, Address.

Inquire:  Find out the child’s history and look for behavior patterns.
Determine:  Try to figure out what is distressing the child.
Examine:  Look at for causes and triggers.
Address: Support with interactions developmental problems that are causing behaviors.

It is imperative to get a history of the child to gather information about prenatal experiences, the first few month of life, and early childhood.  Some forms you may want to use for this purpose are linked below.  (Dr. Delahooke has her own worksheets included in her book for use.) Developmental History Questionnaire
This is done in addition to keeping a behavior journal and tracking behavior for several weeks.  This should help identify triggers or patterns.  If patterns are not found, ask a wider variety of health questions such as sleep patterns, nutrition/food intake, regularity/toileting.  

In the case study, after history and behavior tracking were gathered no pattern emerged.  However, when general health questions were asked it was discovered that the child had poor sleep.  The first goal was to attempt to get the child to sleep regularly every night.  Then to determine what, if any, benefit that would have on behavior.
However, the daily tracking had to continue to find other patterns. Click here for more about Behavior tracking.
In doing so, the child’s parents recognized that constipation would increase tantrums as it was one of the child's stressors.
The child's plan to help sleep cycles began several hours before actual bedtime.  The plan included soft lighting and soothing music.  Screen time ended earlier and books were read.  Parents monitored their attitudes and voice levels to reduce stress on the child. After solving these physical issues, they then began address the missing foundations for regulation and attention.

Once sensory preferences are identified, they can be used to help a child calm him/herself.  (Food is not a recommended tool, as it is a risk factor for obesity.) Be careful in experimenting with these, as some sensory experiences have an emotional reaction attached, and could set off triggers.  Use of sensory preferences are to be used with an adult helping the child first.  This emotional co-regulation is the prerequisite to emotional self-regulation. 
Click the link to see a Sensory Checklist that might be helpful for you.

In working with a child who is in the middle of a tantrum, be gentle, slow, and provide cues of safety. When the child is more relaxed ask what helps him/her calm down. See Sesame Street's Dealing with Tantrums resources.
Children who are shutdown and withdrawn need to be given cues of connection and love gently.

Some children have an especially difficult time calming their bodies.  Activities such as sports, yoga, meditation etc. can help if the child finds these activities enjoyable. Once children develop the awareness of what their bodies are telling them they can learn self-care techniques.

Mindfulness Exercise for Children
These practices help the child settle and develop an awareness of their bodies. This leads to teaching a child how to care for themselves based on what their body is telling them.

Sending Friendly Wishes
This is a strategy that helps children send good thoughts to others and themselves.  This approach uses body up techniques, such as relaxing and breathing, paired with a top down method like guided imagery.
See more at https://www.susankaisergreenland.com/watch-1/friendly-wishes

Dr. Delahooke's concluding point is that you can use body up approaches to scaffold top down strategies.

Sunday, June 23, 2019

Beyond Behaviors: Ch.4

Dr. Delahooke begins the chapter by illustrating an experience she had in observing a child whose IEP instructions were making his behaviors worse as the staff followed them.  She has a word of caution for those responsible for creating IEP goals.  Before you try to make the undesired behavior stop, determine if the behavior is an attempt to seek relational help.  Ignoring behavior is not beneficial to building relational safety needed to develop regulation skills. 

In order to achieve this, you need to:  
  • Create a sense of safety and connection in relationships with the child.
  • Learn what causes or triggers the undesired behavior.
  • Try to limit triggers and help the child with ways to handle their upset.

Looking at neuroceptive states, relational safety is critical to developing self-regulation.  Social engagement occurs as children feel safe with adults because flight and fright responses are shut down.
On the blue pathway, people are perceiving the highest level of threat.  Here, mentally and physically, a person is shutting down and preparing to die.
On the red pathway, one is seeking to feel better and taking action to eliminate the threat.
The child’s view of safety and threat are what are important here, not the adult’s perceptions.  We need to refrain from judging the child’s perception.

Teachers or an aide can help a child as a co-regulator.  Unfortunately, this idea is not utilized in our classrooms.  Instead, we continue to use the same outdated strategies that are not backed by neuroscience. (We ignore, separate, and punish behavior.)

There are two types of stress.  One is considered good because it creates a scaffolded experience that we are able to manage and learn from.  The other is bad because it overloads us and puts our resilience in jeopardy.  We need to pay attention to a child’s stress level, help them manage it in a way that will help them grow.   Manageable stress has a zone of proximal development, we need to tailor a child’s experiences to this ZPD for optimum benefit.
The school system continues to focus only on compliance, teaching, and elimination of undesired behavior.  We ignore the child’s sense of safety.

Just as it is important to check in with the child and his/her emotional state, we also have to be aware of our own feelings.  Children are aware of our feelings despite the brave faces we wear.  We need to address our own upset before we can help others.  If we find ourselves on the blue or red pathways, we need to regulate our selves back to the green pathway.  Triggers may cause us to say or do things that are regrettable.
If we practice mindfulness, which is being in the moment without judgement, we can help students do the same. We are not able to teach a child a skill that we do not possess.  If we can’t be calm, we can’t teach our students how to do this.

Breathing is the most obtainable tool for calm at our disposal.  We should practice breathing exercises daily. 

There are several checklists for an adult to check in with themselves to determine whether they are mentally and emotionally prepared to work with students.  How the adult feeling is as important as the words they speak.  Children can sense our moods and are confused by behavior that conflicts with those emotions.

Sunday, June 16, 2019

Beyond Behaviors: Chapter 3

In this chapter the author illustrates examples of individual differences in neurodevelopment.  She outlines differences in the body, how sensations are managed, personal thoughts and feelings.

Dr. Delahooke has noticed a pattern of anxiety in the nervous systems of children who have suffered from intrusive medical procedures, trauma, and prolonged physical or emotional pain.  These children have adapted to these situations in a way that they may often become disobedient, insecure, bossy, and plagued by separation anxiety.

Physical illnesses can adversely affect a child's behavior due to the uncomfortable sensations.

 You won’t be able to comprehend behavior without understanding how the child interprets the world through sensory input.  Teachers are not trained to understand this critical impact on behavior. The following link will take you to a website where you can go through a checklist and identify sensory issues your child might have.

Profectum Parent Toolbox

These posters are available at https://consciousdiscipline.com/resources/safe-place-sensory-integration-signs/ Place these in your safe place to help identify sensory problems.

According to Dr. Delahooke (2019):
              The role of sensory processing in children’s overall development is not yet integrated into the fields of mental health, education or social work in any comprehensive way, even though it is a foundational piece of the puzzle as we interpret children’s behaviors and how to help them. (p.68)

Without this understanding, we disable our effectiveness in helping children calm.  Older children and adults that are triggered, may slip into bottom up strategies, as they are in red or blue pathways.  Support from the bottom up,  will lead us to the green pathway and back to higher brain function.
Sometimes, subconsciously, we pair a sensation with an emotion. In the case, that the sensory experience was negative, the created memory will be negative. These can be triggered by a similar experience causing a child to move to the red pathway.
Children who are sensitive and over react to sensations are likely to have problems with anxiety or the need to control. 

We are well versed in the basic five senses, however Dr. Lucy Jane Miller, has added three more systems:

Vestibular:  The information about position and accretion of head and body and its relation to gravity
Proprioceptive:  Processes sensation in muscles and joints
Interoceptive:  how body organs feel and sensations in the body

 An imbalance of these can cause sensory discomfort and lead to behavior problems.

Basically, sensory systems react to body and brain connections.  These can be influenced by genetics and prenatal, relational, and/or physical environments.  A sensory experience coded with emotion turned memory would trigger a child by a sensation, feeling or thought based on the negative experience.

Watch the TED talk by Nadine Burke Harris.  See if you can see some parallel consequences of trauma on both Mental and Physical Health.

Monday, June 10, 2019

Beyond Behaviors Ch.2

Children do not gain the ability to use language to express feelings until they master prerequisite skills.  This comes through adult support and takes time.

Many children are being punished for stress behaviors due to faulty neuroception.

This means we need to gain the skills to read behavior as "bottom up" or "top down."

Top Down Processing
This is conscious thinking which occurs in the executive state, or in the prefrontal cortex, which is not fully developed until the early 20's.  Children start to have some control over their attention and impulses when they are about preschool age, when they start testing limits, but will not have full control until much later.  The fully developed executive thinking may halted by  perceived threats of danger as we revert to survival instincts.

Bottom Up Processing
These are processes that we are born with and are unconscious. They are innate survival skills.

When we don't look at behavior from both perspectives, we don't see the entire picture.

How does social emotional develop begin...
  • With nurturing, an infant will develop regulation and attention.  The child will cry and caregivers will attend to them.
  • Next, the child will develop engagement and connection, if they feel safe.
  • Soon, they will begin to communicate by mirroring the caregivers actions. This translates to communication of desires.
  • Language develops and over years the child learns to share feelings engage in co-operative problem solving and relationships.

The developmental process does not happen in any one order. When children have a strong foundation of social emotional development, they are more resilient in the face of adversity.  Parents should be deliberate about forming loving relationships; the frame in which engagement occurs. Children become hardwired for communication through interactions.  Problem solving is like having the ability to move through rooms in a house. The d├ęcor of the home is like a child’s ability to express likes/dislikes, explain, and share thoughts.  The child can then move from "house to house" as they discover other people’s outlooks, desires, and begin to use executive thinking.

One way to support this developmental process is through Becky Bailey’s “I Love you Rituals.” It has games and rhymes that you play with your child.  As a teacher, you can incorporate these into your morning routine to assist child development.

Another way to support the Social Developmental process is by use of Kagan Strategies in the classroom.

Assess the child…

Do they have the foundation to give attention and stay calm?

Are they framed to open interaction with others?

Are they wired to converse with others?

Do they "access rooms" by talking or asking questions?

Are they colorfully using words, imagination, and creativity to share ideas?

Does the child access "the driveway" into logical thinking?

The first four skills are bottom up processes, while the last two are top down. But we can go back to more primitive forms of the processes if we are triggered.

Autonomic nervous system (the part of the nervous system responsible for control of the bodily functions not consciously directed, such as breathing, the heartbeat, and digestive processes.) is broken into three colors to represent responses based on Polyvagal Theory. 

In addition to the above assessment determine…
What foundation color (green, red, blue) is the child’s pathway?

A course of action must take in account these factors, as well as, the child's preferences.

Next week- Chapter 3: Individual Differences

Sunday, June 2, 2019

Beyond Behaviors Book Study: Ch. 1

I have been in education for 23 years.  In all that time, I have been trained in everything from Guided Reading to Physical Education strategies.  Never, have I been offered a training in social emotional education or dealing with challenging behaviors.  Since the dawn of time, we have been using punishments and rewards to get others to do what we want.

One day, I came to work and I felt like there has to be more than this.  The world is different and the children in it are different.  There must be something more to get children to be more cooperative in class.   
I've heard that the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over expecting different results.

 There are countless variations of punishment and reward systems and I did not want or need another.

By chance, I happened to find this book by Dr. Delahooke and I knew I had to read it.  This coupled with my study of Conscious Discipline by Dr. Bailey has led me to a new way of looking at discipline.

  Using our knowledge of how the brain works to think about behavior is truly innovate and moves us into the 21st century!  

I am so excited to be doing this book study! I hope you will join me and leave me a comment about your thoughts!

According to Dr. Delahooke, we make three errors when we address behaviors. 

1. We don't try to find the cause of the behavior.
2. We don't individualize our approach.
3. We don't use a developmental approach.

Why are so many students expelled? We mistakenly believe that behavior is intentional, when it is actually a reaction to a stressor.  We try to reason with the child before they are developmentally ready.   

We need to determine if the behavior is intentional or a response to stress.

Supports put in place must be suitable for the individual, taking into consideration how individual interprets the environment.

Expecting a child to "calm down" and "use your words" when they do not yet have the ability will not bring about the desired results. When polled over 50% of parents believed children under three have impulse control and over 30% think a child under two has this ability. These skills only develop in children after reaching neurodevelopmental milestones. 

To find success in helping children develop emotional regulation is to create an atmosphere of safety and connection. Adults who are helpful with co-regulation will help children develop theses skills.

Dr.  Becky Bailey of Conscious Discipline has developed a curriculum called the Feeling Buddies which helps adults teach children to regulate. 


We only see the tip of the iceberg when we look at outside behaviors.  Looking under the iceberg helps adults make a mind shift.  Instead of judging behaviors, we seek to find what is happening in the mind and body.  These include sensations, emotions, memories, ideas, developmental capabilities- the causes of what you see.  

Iceberg in the Arctic with its underside exposed.jpg
By AWeith - Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, Link

Unfortunately, we as teachers, have not been trained to understand the "complexity of the body-mind-brain connection."

The polyvagal theory, in an extremely simplified version, is the way person responds and regulates stress.  Continual behavior problems attest that a child is adaptively responding to different forms of stress.  The nervous system trying to adjust to stressors to find relief.  Simply put, it is survival instinct in action. 

Further, social engagement is the newest and most adaptive of neurophysiological states, yet it is still driven by the need to find safety when we feel threatened.

Those that suffer faulty neuroception, due to trauma or a susceptible nervous system, may over or under perceive a situation as  dangerous.  Therefore these reactions come in the form of behavior challenges.  

In neuroscience, the need for safety is a prerequisite to thinking.  To engage students, we must build a connection.

Kenneth Wesson, neuroscience education consultant, says "Emotional safety is a school requirement and priority." 

This information calls for teachers to make a mind shift from student compliance to creating emotional, relational safety.

"'I have a discipline problem.' No! You have an engagement problem."-Kenneth Wesson

This very idea can be summed up with this quote from Dr. Becky Bailey's book Conscious Discipline, "Our brains are wired to connect, attune with, resonate with and learn from each other.  For this reason, a child must be able to answer the questions "Am I safe?" and "Am I loved?" in the affirmative... (p.172)"

Next week: Chapter 2:  Top Down or Bottom Up?