CA Dept. of Education


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Behavior Archive 2005


Dru Saren, Ph.D
Behavioral and Education Specialist

I have taught pre-school through graduate school; general and special education; in public, private and psychiatric hospital schools; in New York City, New Mexico, and California. I received my doctorate in education, with a specialization in working with students with behavioral and emotional disorders, from the University of New Mexico in 1986.

Much of my success and failure in implementing behavior strategies, as well as maintaining some sense of humor about it all, can be credited to a 27-year post graduate course offered by my daughter, who has Down Syndrome, and her younger brother and sister, who have substituted when things were going too smoothly.

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  • What kind of resources can I provide to the teachers to understand his behavior?


I am an autism specialist working with a Kindergarten student with autism whose mother insisted that he be included in a general education class for at least half of his day with a 1 to 1 aide. He is pulled out for pre-teaching, speech and short breaks for sensory interventions. Academically he can do the concrete manipulative work, the stations, and the worksheets. He has significant social and language delays. He has difficulty during transitions waiting and is a perfectionist about his writing. During transitions, waiting or when his writing is not perfect he may start to scream or tantrum. He is removed from the classroom for short periods of time and then returns when he is calm.

The teachers feel these disruptions are impeding their ability to teach their other students and want him out of the class. They cannot see the small steps of improvement. He has learned routines and is gradually able to wait and deal with longer periods of school based activities. But any time he is disruptive (even positive self-talk, repeating social stories) the teacher reprimand him. When he is doing well they rarely recognize it. The teachers and administrators want him gone.

What kind of resources can I provide to the teachers to understand his behavior and understand the types of things they need to do to accommodate him? How do I let them know what is a reasonable amount of disruption (or is any disruptions really too much) and still support them in their desire to provide the best education to the other students?

How do I get them to have joy for his success? The principal keeps quoting the law that if a students behavior disrupts other students then he does not need to be included. How can I address that?

Julie Schepis, Ph.D., BCBA

Behavior Intervention Specialist

(707) 399-5064


Dear Julie

Thanks for your question. The situation you describe is one I, too, have encountered. I’m going to answer your questions one at a time:

  1. What kind of resources can I provide to the teachers to understand his behavior and understand the types of things they need to do to accommodate him?

The Diagnostic Center staff present a training, “Teaching Students with Autism”, that provides information about understanding and working with students on the autism spectrum. There are a few more sessions this school year. It would be wonderful if his teacher, principal, and others who work with him could attend. Check our website to see the date, place, and contact person:

Check out this website for other trainings:

  1. Along with providing training in understanding autism, it sounds like this student may benefit from some or all of the following: an individual schedule, an embedded/mini-task/within activity schedule, a Time Timer, a Wait Card, a Help Card, a Break Card (with consideration of a break within the classroom), using the structured teaching methods within the general education classroom when necessary, and explicit ways to react when he tantrums (e.g., choice cards, interpreting the behavior as communication, etc.). All of these strategies are presented in the training we offer and are also available on many on-line sources for autism such as

  2. How do I let them know what is a reasonable amount of disruption (or is any disruptions really too much) and still support them in their desire to provide the best education to the other students?I would look at ability awareness programs that emphasize that we all have areas where we are strong and areas where we need more help and we are all made richer by being with all kinds of people. Start with these; if they aren’t what you had in mind, they might have some helpful links.
  1. How do I get them to have joy for his success?

Think of this as a skill to teach and you are the teacher. Teach, model, cue and reinforce small increments of successful joy sharing! Model by sincere remarks that draw attention to his progress. Chart his progress in a given area (e.g., decrease in number or duration of tantrums) and present these at the next meeting. Ask the parents to express their joy in his inclusion with the teacher, other parents, and the principal. Encourage them not to focus on the parts of the program they would like improved until they have expressed five things they appreciate. If possible, maybe one member of the family can participate in a class activity, either as a volunteer or by presenting a talent they have or an interes,t so that they become real people to the staff.

  1. The principal keeps quoting the law that if a students behavior disrupts other students then he does not need to be included. How can I address that?

Well, you might quote the law that says that we are required to provide the supports and services necessary for a student with special needs to be educated in the least restrictive environment.

Title 34, Code of Federal Regulations, section300.346 provides in part: “(a). . . . (2) Consideration of Special Factors. The IEP team also shall---(i) In the case of a child whose behavior impedes his or her learning or that of others, consider, if appropriate, strategies, including positive behavioral intervention, strategies, and supports to address that behavior... (c)Statement in IEP. If, in considering the special factors described in paragraphs (a)(1) and (2) of this section, the IEP team determines that a child needs a particular device or service (including an intervention, accommodation, or other program modification) in order for the child to receive [a free appropriate public education], the IEP team must include a statement to that effect in the child’s IEP. . . .”

ACCOMMODATE, MODIFY, AND SUPPORT I.D.E.A. 1997 Reauthorization specifies (300.342(b)(3))that the public agency shall ensure... each teacher and provider is informed of his or her specific responsibilities related to implementing the child’s IEP and the specific accommodations, modifications, and supports that must be provided for the child in accordance with the IEP.

(Diana Browning Wright, Behavior/Discipline Trainings, 2002 IDEA law.)

A behavior support plan is one of the supports that can help this student be more successful. For many resources in writing plans and the law:

I hope this helps, Julie. I have had cases where I was able to win hearts and minds and others where the child was placed in a more restrictive environment. The difference between the two outcomes were not based on the severity of the child’s impairment but on the willingness of the staff to embrace him or her as a member of their community. It’s a noble fight. Good luck.


  • We have a second grade student who fits the criteria for Selective Mutism.


We have a second grade student who fits the criteria for Selective Mutism. She has not spoken in school for her entire educational career. We need help in developing classroom modifications and in establishing alternative modes of classroom-based assessment (i.e., “How do we modify grades for reading fluency?)

Thank you, in advance, for your help.

Gwen Weiland, School Psychologist 
Maki Itoh, MFTI


Gwen, thanks for your question. I have enlisted the help of Virginia Sanchez-Salazar, an extraordinary Speech/ Language Pathologist at the Diagnostic Center ( She wrote:

Selective Mutism (SM) is a childhood manifestation of social anxiety disorder. Children with SM are anxious to the point that they actually exhibit a physical reaction and literally cannot talk in one or more social settings, including school, despite speaking in other social situations, such as at home. These children may also lack typical facial expressions because they are overwhelmed with fear and unable to participate in any way. Other children with this diagnosis may be able to participate in activities while remaining silent. Some anxious children may speak only when required but do not volunteer to speak and do not initiate interaction.

In many cases, these children have fully developed to age expectations in all respects; they tend to be intelligent, sensitive, introspective, and perceptive. However, some children with Selective Mutism may also have receptive or expressive language disorders, articulation disorders, or learning disabilities; they may be bilingual or come from bilingual homes.

For the majority of Selectively Mute children, inclusion in the regular classroom is important and necessary. Proper socialization and meeting the demands of the academics should be instilled from the beginning. A teacher who is patient and understands that the SM child is suffering from anxiety can help greatly by making special accommodations within the classroom setting. Such accommodations should allow the child the opportunity to develop a comfort level within the classroom in order to benefit from an optimal educational experience. Consider the following accommodations that have been shown to be helpful with SM children: Small group activities (in contrast to large group).

  • Pair the SM child with a partner for classroom discussions.
  • Allow the child to respond with nonverbal signals (such as pointing, head nods and shakes, thumbs up or down, eye contact, facial expressions, etc.).
  • Allow the SM child to write answers to questions, instead of having to verbalize.
  • Allow the child to TAPE RECORD lessons at home and/or alone in the classroom for the teacher to listen to later.
  • Allow the child to take home grade appropriate work if she is unable to perform successfully in the classroom.
  • When an oral presentation is required from the students, the SM child could meet this requirement by videotaping the lesson at home and then playing it for the class, or writing the presentation for the teacher or a classmate to read to the class.
  • Provide some fun and motivating project periods, such as arts and crafts, which allow for comfortable, nonverbal peer interaction.
  • Encourage the child to play on a computer with a buddy using interactive software that requires at least nonverbal interaction between the students.
  • Provide the SM child with word prediction software on laptop computer to encourage her writing responses to questions in class that can be “heard” by all.
  • Allow the parents to help in the classroom as much as possible for the SM child to feel more comfortable. Experience proves that the SM child will whisper to the parents rather rapidly, and over some time, with guidance, this can carry over to verbalization.
  • Provide one-to-one time with the teacher (or speech/language pathologist, or psychologist) to play a simple, familiar board game or computer game. The relaxed atmosphere will allow the SM child to “open up.” Then, when the child is comfortable enough to speak in this situation, add one close friend in the room with the SM child and adult. Next, increase the peers to two in the same room with the SM child and adult, etc.

Alternative modes of classroom-based assessment will need to be established. For example, taping reading fluency lessons at home via video or audiotape is appropriate, assuming a gradual weaning to “verbalization” is taking place. Consider this sequence of steps:

  • Allow the child to tape her lessons at home.
  • Next, encourage her to tape in a classroom with her parent present.
  • Encourage her to tape part of a lesson on tape, then whisper the lesson to the parent (or teacher) within the class setting.
  • Next, have her whisper the entire school lesson in the classroom with only the teacher present.
  • Increase to another student (a preferred friend), plus the teacher.
  • Increase all to verbalization.

Each individual step is often a huge leap because the child feels that “the words just won’t come out” even through she desperately wants to speak to her peers. Even the slightest successes from the child—including looking at the teacher, or coming to the speech room—should be calmly but fully praised the adult.

A professional (usually a physician or psychologist) who is experienced in treating Selective Mutism should design an individualized treatment plan for the SM child. The treatment should not focus on getting the child to speak, but rather, to lower her overall anxiety, build self-esteem and increase her confidence in social settings. According to current research reports, the best treatment for Selective Mutism seems to be a combination of behavioral therapy and medication (such as a Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitor). Over a period of 9 -12 months, the medication may help lower anxiety levels enough to allow the SM child to benefit from the behavioral treatment necessary to build long lasting coping skills and to overcome Selective Mutism.

A collaborative effort among the SM child’s treating clinician, school psychologist, teacher, speech/language pathologist and parents is essential in order to best help the child progress. Frequent “tweaking” of the treatment plan is necessary in order to find the best tactics.

Additional help in understanding Selective Mutism is available through the Selective Mutism Group-Childhood Anxiety Network (SMG-CAN) At this site, very useful and reader-friendly booklets (written by Dr. Elisa Chipon-Blum) for school personnel and parents are available including:

  • “The Ideal Classroom Setting for the Selectively Mute Child.”
  • “Easing School Jitters for the Selectively Mute Child.”
  • “What is Selective Mutism? When the Words Just Won’t Come out: A Guidebook to Understanding Selective Mutism.”
  • “Understanding Katie.”
  • If I do the "agreements" of TRIBES what do I do with the rules and level system of the behavorlist system?


I teach a Behavioral Adjustment Unit for grades K-5. I am very good at adjusting behaviors using a strictly behaviorist classroom management system. For years I have known in my soul that the system is just baby sitting or keeping the students at bay while they are in school. Within the system I am unable to truly reach and change the person beneath the behaviors, no matter how loving and kind I am. I just read Punished By Rewards by Kohn, and attended a TRIBES training. My mind is in a knot! Everyone at work thinks I'm great because I quiet the fighting lion but I know the lion is only being feed with treats and will one day grow up. I want to change how I do things but am scared that If I do things will go crazy in my classroom. I think to myself just start implementing a little at a time. But where do I start? If I do the "agreements" of TRIBES what do I do with the rules and level system of the behavorlist system?

Mary Simmons


O Mary, I so relate to your dilemma!! I interpret what you are saying as: how can I move my students from external to internal control? As you no doubt know, students need to acquire new skills in order to develop more adaptive behaviors. Here are some ideas:

  1. Teach self management systems:
    1. This website is a succinct overview and provides some examples.
    2. This website shows how to implement self-management strategies for the whole class.
    3. Schedules are a form of self-management. Use class and individual schedules. this web site can get you started; there are numerous others, especially sites of resources for children with autism.
  2. Increase the students’ ability to observe themselves:
  3. Directly address accepting responsibility: 
    This website has some nice ways to teach the concept of personal responsibility:
  4. Look for ways to share responsibility. For example:
    • If your class uses contracts with points, have them decide how many points they deserve and discuss with them how they arrived at this number. Use this discussion to show them your thinking.
    • Increase the number of choices they get to make in their assignments. Allow them choice in areas that you are willing to negotiate. For example, do you want to do math in the morning or after lunch? Do you want to do the even problems or the odd problems? Do you want to use pencil or marker?
    • Have students take over some of the housekeeping chores: calling students to line up, taking attendance, collecting homework.
  5. Look for ways to build community:
    Foster group identity (“all of us in Room 6 like the color blue…prefer chicken fingers to pizza…can walk down the halls like we are invisible…”).

Foster interdependence. For instance, make class rewards dependent upon group cooperation. For example, play the Golden Nuggets Rule Game:

    • Spray paint a bunch of small rocks gold.
    • Hand one to a student.
    • Ask what rule she was following.
    • A right answer gets it in the jar.
    • A filled jar gets a class treat.
      (Styrofoam “popcorn” in a movie theater popcorn bag is another variation.)

The research indicates that neither the authoritarian nor the permissive teacher is as effective as the authoritative. It sounds like you have needed to be the authoritarian and now want to move into more authoritative, but curb your impulse to become too permissive. You will also want to move slowly. I love Tribes and you may have to introduce it with firmer boundaries than suggested.

Finally, there are some children in ED programs (children with conduct disorders or oppositional defiant disorder) who are not able to internalize rules and norms. These children will always require external supports, firm management systems, clear consequences, and rich reinforcement to be maintained in school. If you have students like these, adjust your expectations and continue to provide the level of professionalism you obviously do.

Best of luck and thanks for writing.


  • How does law and research feel about having a separate class for students who have behavior disorders?


I teach a generic special ed class in the elementary school setting. Many of our referrals are based on Behavior Disorders (BD) or Learning Disablilities (LD). The students who are classified as BD are often on grade level but can not function in the regular classroom because of behavior problems. It is extremely distracting to other students trying to learn. When they are placed in the self-contained classroom with LD children, we face the same challenge. How is placing them with LD students who need even more attention a Least Restrictive Environment for all involved? How does law and research feel about having a separate class for students who have (BD)?


Whew! I understand your quandary, and I do have some thoughts:

  1. All your BD students are on grade level? Wow, most of mine were not. I see this as an opportunity. Since most of them have social skill deficits and self esteem deficits, can you use their academic ability to have them as peer tutors, models, group leaders, or other roles that can address their needs while helping their peers? 
  2. Creating a caring community where students feel connected to each other, with programs such as Tribes, can prevent many problems. creating a positive classroom environment is the most effective way to improve behavior and learning. The Tribes TLC ® process is the way to do it.

    Students achieve because they:

    • feel included and appreciated by peers and teachers
    • are respected for their different abilities, cultures, gender, interests and dreams
    • are actively involved in their own learning
    • have positive expectations from others that they will succeed. 
  3. My experience with students with learning disabilities is that many also have social skill deficits. Some are less mature than their peers, some are impulsive, and some have self esteem issues that come from years of being unsuccessful in school. Thus, I think that strategies to teach social problem solving, self management, conflict resolution, taking responsibility, using I-messages, what to do about bullying, would be appropriate for the whole class. Here are a few resources: - 
    PATH is a planning tool which starts in the future and works backwards to an outcome of first (beginning) steps that are possible and positive. It is excellent for team building. It has been used to mediate conflicts. - 
    classic program for teaching pro-social skills - 
    teach the whole class to self-monitor to learn about self-management -
    Working Together to Resolve Conflict program consisting of a conflict resolution curriculum and peer mediation training materials 
    Tools for Getting Along - 
    Teaching Students to Problem Solve is a 20 lesson curriculum designed for 4th and 5th grade students. Its instructional focus is on understanding and dealing with frustration and anger, since anger is a frequent correlate of disruptive and aggressive behavior and can be preceded by frustration. - 
    for materials to prevent bullying

  4. Are there inclusion (or mainstreaming) opportunities for any of your students? Some of the BD kids who have academic strengths might benefit from general ed instruction; some of the LD kids with pro-social behaviors might be included at other times. With smaller groups in your room, you could focus on specific and individualized skills. 

  5. Teach the Rules. From

    The best strategies for establishing acceptable behaviors are those strategies that are pro-active and preventative. If you want cooperative children/students, they need to understand and be able to follow your rules and routines. You will need to communicate your expectations for acceptable behavior.

    • Describe the acceptable behaviors with words and actions; be specific.
    • Provide opportunities for children to practice the rules.
    • Provide specific and ongoing feedback. Give regular reminders and reinforement.

    Here’s a game to reinforce rule following:

    The Golden Nuggets Game

    • Choose a rule. Try one that is easy for your students as they learn the game but move on to ones that are giving some or all of the students trouble. Or, you can reward all rules followed.
    • Spray paint a bunch of stones gold. Get a glass jar. The size of the jar you choose will determine how often the class earns a reinforcer.
    • When a student obeys the rule, hand her a gold nugget and ask her to tell the class what rule she followed.
    • After she correctly identifies the rule, she places the gold nugget in the jar. When the jar is filled, the class earns a treat. It might be a popcorn party, an early dismissal to recess, 10 minutes free time on Friday afternoon, or something else that they come up with.

To be perfectly honest, I don’t know any law or research that addresses the placement of BD students. Placement is an IEP team decision that is based on providing the special services that the student needs in order to make progress in a free and appropriate public school.

  • I have one girl who gets extremely upset when any other children in the class cry.


I am a teacher in a preschool special day class for severely handicapped children. I have one girl who gets extremely upset when any other children in the class cry. Her behavior consists of a vigorous shaking/flapping of her hands while getting in very close proximity to the crying child. Occasionally, the child who is crying gets accidentally hit by this girl while she is flapping. At the same time she is flapping she is getting more and more worked up, losing her ability to speak making an oooooo sound or uhuhuh sounds as she builds in intensity.

We try to get the upset child away from the girl for both safety reasons as well as attempting to remove the stimulus, but that sometimes is not enough and the child has a tantrum. i feel that the tantrum may be anger at her inability to speak and/or comfort her classmate. When she is upset, we go to the quiet area (the bathroom located in the classroom) to calmly talk to her and eventually calm her down. The quiet area is necessary to remove all the stimuli from the girl and at the same time help restore order to the rest of the class who can get upset by the girl's extremely loud crying and shouting.

Calming the girl down can take up to 15 minutes on some occasions. I can give greater detail on the behaviors if you need them. What advice would you have for dealing with this?




Hi George,

Thanks for the question. I would focus some more on the function of her (I’ll call her Amy) behavior. Your hypothesis is that Amy is protesting her inability to comfort her classmate. That may be so, but even typically developing preschoolers are quite egocentric, so a delayed preschooler is even less likely to be so altruistic. My hypotheses about her crying are that it might be:

  • A protest because she finds the noise annoying, or
  • A protest because she finds the noise scary, or
  • A request for attention because she knows the child who is crying will be getting a lot of attention

I’d bet on the first one (she is annoyed) and so I would look at what changes can I make in the environment and what new skills can I teach Amy.

Here are some ideas for changing the environment (time, space, materials, or interactions):

  • I would have a plan with my instructional assistant: one of us goes to the crying child and one of us goes to Amy immediately (interactions)
  • I would have some voice output communication device (VOCA), like a BIGmack™ (, already programmed in Amy’s (or another child’s) voice to say. “I don’t like that noise.” I would model using it for Amy when things are calm. (materials)
  • I might place the VOCA in the quiet area and lead her to it as soon as crying starts. (space)
  • I would emphasize (reinforce) Amy’s use of the VOCA (“Good using words, Amy.”) and not comforting her (interactions).
Here are some ideas for teaching new skills:
  • Teach Amy to use headphones for a favorite book on tape or computer. Have it set up and ready for immediate use.
  • If the VOCA is not a good idea for Amy, teach her to cover her ears, make a face and say “I don’t like that noise.” Practice doing this when things are quiet.
  • Depending on Amy’s level of understanding, create a social story (with pictures) such as:
    • Sometimes my friends cry.
    • This hurts my ears (makes me sad; makes me scared; whatever)
    • When this happens, I can:
      • Go to the quiet area
      • Listen to books on the headphones
      • Use my words
    • I can take care of myself (picture of smiling Amy).

Another key element to changing Amy’s behavior lies in the reinforcement piece. At this time, it sounds as though she receives a lot of reinforcement (in the form of special attention) for getting upset. The reinforcement needs to be heaped on when she makes any progress towards, what I would name for her, “taking care of yourself.” The behavior I would reinforce heavily and consistently looks like:

  • expressing distress with words,
  • doing something to distract herself from the noise,
  • removing herself from the area,
  • not requiring direct staff attention
Hope this helps! 
Best, Dru
  • Two questions.

Happy Spring! Your lonely Maytag Behavior Specialist isn’t lonely anymore; lots of questions are coming into her mailbox. I’ve selected two, one school-based, one home-based, and sent two to our pediatrician. Look for some others next month.

Question 1:

What cognitive level would a second grade class holding a class discussion to talk about four students who mess up the class' chances on obtaining their goals. They tell these students how they feel and that they are tired of the empty promises and words?


Question 2:

Dr. Saren,

I have a daughter who just turned 5. Her behavior is disruptive at home and at school to the extent that we feel the need to seek treatment, but are unsure how to go about it. She hit most developmental milestones early. She is very bright. From developmental screens and observation, we know that: Her fine motor skills are far above average (writing, drawing, painting, coloring, manipulatives, etc.). She has a large vocabulary and is extremely expressive both verbally and dramatically. Her abstract thinking skills are above average and her cognitive skills are above average. From about age two she has described vivid dreams in great detail. Her gross motor skills are average. She is highly active, highly persistent, and intense in her reactions. She can be extremely sensitive, generous, helpful, and thoughtful — on her own terms. She engages better with adults and older children than she does children her own age.

This is the troubling behavior: Her impulse control is dramatically lacking. This causes the most trouble both at home and school. She is also extremely defiant both at home and at school. Her ability to express herself well also lends itself to verbal onslaughts and attitude you would expect from a teenager, yet her social skills appear behind those of her peers in that she has trouble joining a group or accepting another person’s reactions if that reaction is not what she wants. She is socially awkward in many ways. From “en utero” she has been extremely active and seems to be “sensory seeking”. She bounces, arm flaps, fidgets, and can be very rough. Even when engaging in a “quiet” activity she is squirming, sitting down, then standing, standing on one foot, etc.. She bites her nails to the quick. She is highly tactile to the extent that she touches almost everything and everyone — and persists when asked to stop. She is highly attention seeking, and seems to dislike playing or being alone. She has a speech articulation delay of about one year due to allergies causing temporary hearing loss (we’ve sought speech therapy and do preventive allergy treatment).

Physically she is extremely healthy. She has allergies to dust, mold, and chemical dyes. She has had a few illnesses typical of childhood such as colds, a few ear infections, strep throat, and the like. She is tall for her age and of appropriate weight. She has had no injuries or head trauma.

Based on the above information, what sort of professionals or assessments would you suggest we investigate?

Thank you,

M. Gregory

Answer 1:

Dear N2Special Kids,

What I think you are asking is either:

  1. Are second graders developmentally able to influence their peers by using a community standards approach, OR,
  2. What is a more effective method that second graders can use to influence their peers in order to earn a group reinforcer?

To answer the first question, I would say that second graders are at a level of cognitive development to form a community and to reinforce standards among themselves. That said, I would question a situation in which a small group of this class (the Gang of Four) is allowed to be ostracized. Here’s my thinking on this:

  • Shaming is never an acceptable technique to shape behavior
  • The teacher needs to assess:
    • Is the behavior that she is holding the class to beyond the ability of those 4 students?
    • Is the reinforcement strong enough to entice the hold-outs?

What would be more effective? Knowing as little as I do about this situation I might think that perhaps better ways to teach this behavior might include:

  • Teach, review, practice and reinforce rules that pertain to this behavior.
  • Reinforce heavily when any of the 4 approximate the desired behavior

The bottom line is that you should never use a group reinforcer for any behavior that is not within the reach of all of the class and that peer pressure for second graders needs to be used only in positive ways. Building community is an immensely powerful and worthwhile endeavor; use it for the good.

Answer 2:

Dear Ms. Gregory,

Your daughter sounds like an interesting child and your approach toward her gifts and challenges seems thoughtful and measured. I am wondering if the behavior difficulties she presents in school are great enough that the staff wants to refer her for an evaluation. It sounds like she might qualify for speech and language services and that might open the door to other evaluations. Ask the staff if a speech and language evaluation is warranted.

If that route were not the one you would or can choose, I would start with a comprehensive evaluation from a child psychologist who is who is experienced in administering cognitive assessments and in conducting clinical evaluations. Ask at school or parent organizations for one who comes recommended from credible sources. Interview him or her on the telephone and ask about qualifications. He or she could:

  • Take a good look at her cognitive abilities. Sensory integration issues and asynchronous development are not uncommon in gifted children. (see Advance for Speech-Language Pathologists and Audiologists August 16, 2004 Off the Chart www/advanceweb/com
  • Screen for areas like Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder and other conditions
  • Direct you to an occupational therapist if her sensory issues appear to warrant an evaluation
  • Offer an opinion about whether some parenting classes or family therapy might be useful
  • Explore her temperament and the match with your family

Best of luck.

Thank you both for your questions this month.


  • Is it fair of the school to demand such a letter be signed?



My 10 yr old son was recently put on pre expulsion from school due to his being suspended 3 times for playing with a zapper with his friends, shooting paper clips through a mechanical pencil, having a laser and shining it in class. He is facing expulsion and being sent to a special school where they send all their problem kids, unless we and our son sign a contract saying he will not commit any more "danger to other acts" for the rest of the year and if he does he will be expelled and that no other school in the district has to take him. 

I s it fair of the school to demand such a letter be signed?  He is ADHD diagnosed and on meds. I asked his psych if he thought he belonged at this school and he said it was absurd to demand such a contract and to send him to that school was not correct since he is not a child who has defiant behavioral issues, as do students at this school. I have just realized that the school has not even done I.E.P. testing on him and does nothing to help with his ADHD problem...thank you Gloria l


Dear Gloria,

When families wonder if their child’s rights are not being adequately addressed, there are a number of resources available. Check out this website: is a wonderful compendium of the law relating to special education issues.

Next, I would visit This site will lead you to additional resources about Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD).

Your next stop might be:


Among the many resources you will find at this site is a Behavior Support Plan (BSP) form and instructions in how a school team writes one. If your son receives special education or has a 504 Plan, he is entitled to the supports and services he needs to benefit from a free and appropriate education. A BSP might be one of those services. If he does not have an IEP or 504 plan, the school team can still create a BSP in keeping with the spirit of best practices.

The “contract” he is being asked to sign holds him accountable for behaviors he has not shown any ability to control so it is doomed to fail unless it is part of a BSP. This plan is an educational blue print that looks at the function of his behavior, denotes methods to teach him better ways to get his needs met, considers various environmental adjustments to avoid the need for this behavior, and reinforces him for progress. The “contract” concept could be one of the reactive strategies but it would need to allow him time to learn better behaviors. This BSP is the form we use in California but if you don’t live in CA, your state or district must have its own form.

The PENT web site also has links to other sites pertaining to Special Education law as well as other information that might relate to your son’s situation. This is a unique time because IDEA, the law that governs special education in this country, has just been reauthorized. It has some new provisions that will need to be interpreted. Professionals in the field will want to wait for clarification before taking action, particularly in areas affecting behavior.

This sounds like an urgent situation and a difficult time for you and your family. Take someone with you to your meetings. Take notes. Ask questions, but try to avoid taking a combative stance. Perhaps a teleconference with your son’s psychiatrist and the educational team would help them to understand him better and make them more willing to meet his needs. Your focus should be on getting him the supports he needs to learn better ways to get his needs met at school. Keep your eye on that goal!

Good luck.


  • He frequently gets very upset over things that other students say or do.


Dear Dru,

I have a 6-year-old student with Asperger's in my special day class.  He frequently gets very upset over things that other students say or do.  If they don't answer a question correctly or do something the right way, he starts yelling and screaming.  I understand that his need for order is part of his disability.  I'm not always sure about how to handle his outbursts.  It disrupts the class and I have him in tears.  He has a schedule that he refers to each day and I try to give him advanced warning of any changes.  Any suggestions would be appreciated!

Jenny Tam



Thanks for your question. I have seen this type of behavior in children with Asperger's Syndrome many times. They just can’t tolerate things if they are not “right” as defined by them! It disrupts the class and gets them nowhere in making friends.

Here are some ideas:

  1. Provide a space in the classroom (“Jack’s Private Office”) where he can go when he is overwhelmed by the demands of the classroom. It can be the corner of the class library, or some protected spot with a beanbag chair.
  2. Involve the child’s Speech and Language Specialist. He should have one! If he doesn’t, request an evaluation. He will qualify because his use of pragmatic language is deficient.
  3. With the help of the Speech and Language Specialist, write a social story for the child to follow. Because he is so young, he will need pictures of some kind so that he can “read” it to himself. One source for learning to write social stories is at: There are also books and other resources at this site.

    The social story might look something like this:

    Sometimes my friends don’t know the right answer or do things the right way. This makes me mad and I want to tell them the right way. But this makes them feel bad. I will be very very quiet.. Instead I will squeeze my squeeze ball. (or other calming activity; see below) I can tell Ms. Tam the right answer later. Then my friends and Ms. Tam will be happy.

  4. He will need time to learn to read his social story and to practice doing what it says before he is expected to use it in class. The social story must be reviewed with him when he is calm and not caught up in the situation. 
  5. With his family and other IEP team members, develop a list of calming activities. Practice these with the student.
  6. Have a visual reminder that you can point to when you see him about to get upset, or to remind him of the expected behavior if he has already started. It might be a picture of the child squeezing his squeeze ball or it might be a copy of the social story.
  7. Or, try Option Cards. Use index cards and write the problem:

    My classmates say or do things that are not right

    1. I can go to my private office.
    2. Squeeze my squeeze ball.
    (from Moore, S. (2002) Asperger's syndrome and the elementary school experience)

You don’t have to do this all alone, Jenny! The problem that the student is having is a part of who he is, and figuring out how to help him learn a different way to protest is as important for him as helping him learn academics. You might want to consider this new behavior as an IEP goal.

Another option in addition to the suggestions above is to involve the team in creating a Positive Behavior Plan.

Thanks so much for your question Jenny. I hope these ideas will help.


Other resources:

Myles, B. & Soutwick, J. (1999). Asperger’s sundrome and difficult moments: Practical solutions for tantrums, rages and meltdowns. Autism-Asperger Publishing Co.

Moyes, R. (2002). Addressing the challenging behavior of children with high-functioning autism/asperger syndrome in the classroom: A guide for teachers and parents. Jessica Kingley Publishers,

Street, A. & Cattoche, R. (1995). Picture the progress: Drawings of positive student behavior for behavior cards, discussion cards, and rule charts. Autism-Asperger Publishing