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Angry Student Late Elementary

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I am working with a student who displays extreme frustration. Often when the teacher tells the student to do something the child will get so angry that they will hurt themself. The child has hit his head against the wall with force, break pencils in half, and has even thrown a chair. The student has met with the social worker, but the behavior has continued and if anything escalated. Furthermore, the student has missed several days of school already and homework completion is an ongoing issue. It appears that the student has difficulty with concentration in class, often staring off. Hyperactivity is not displayed though and the child does not actively disrupt others around them. Any suggestions for interventions? Doesn't it appear that the child displays behaviors indicative of an Emotional Impairment? Any help/advice is much appreciated.

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Hi and welcome to the forum! Thanks for sharing, hopefully you'll be able to get some good input from our members.

This sounds like a pretty intense case indeed. My first thought is to partially replace what seems to be a trigger or at least an agitator to the behaviors, which is the teacher verbally telling the student to do something. I wonder if the behaviors might decrease or be less frequent if the teacher set up a system of Non-Verbal Cues & Signals along with an Individual or Visual Schedules. Using these two tools, the teacher could then point at the schedule to indicate what and when the student should be doing something, give the student a cue to try a problem again, give a signal to let the student know they need to take a break, etc. By setting up a visual schedule and maybe 3-5 main cues, the teacher may be able to avoid some of these behaviors while still accomplishing what they wanted to through verbally saying it.

I mentioned breaks above. Depending on the age of the student, you may be able to teach them to take Structured Breaks, which could be initiated by the student or the teacher through a cue or signal. The goal is for the student to take the break when they sense themselves getting frustrated or when the teacher see's their frustration escalating.

Mentoring could be something that may help as well. This doesn't need to be a super intensive intervention. Just having the student meet with an adult once a week for 15 minutes to do something the student likes to do, like looking at cars on the internet, drawing, talking about super heroes or comic books, etc. As rapport is built between the student and the adult, this could give rise to an opportunity for the adult to broach the topic of the student's behaviors and what the teachers could do to help. Or the student may open up on their own and talk about it. You never know.

Something else to consider are sensory issues. Sometimes kids with sensory issues can act out like this toward themselves and others. And sometimes even if a kid doesn't have significant sensory problems, sensory tools can still be effective to some degree. You might consider trying to offer the student some sensory tools they could use when working on assignments or tasks that produced frustration. For example, a bumpy seat cushion, headphones to block sound or play white noise like waves, rain, etc, putting VELCRO® brand hook and loop fastener under their desk or some other texture to rub, etc.

I'm sure you've tried to teach the student some coping and relaxation skills. One way that may increase the effectiveness of these skills or help the student to use them more is to present the skills as social stories. You could create a few social stories that tell about how to calm one's self, lower frustration, or relax. The stories could include things like taking deep breaths, crumbling up paper and throwing it away, getting up to take a break or get a drink and then spit the frustration out, stretching frustration out by rolling your neck or stretching arms and legs, etc. Putting coping and relaxation skills like this into a social stories and then daily reading through one of these social stories might impress the skills more in the student. The stories could be used right before times when it is likely the behavior will occur.

Here is a page on coping skills, and another on relaxation skills.

Another thought is to create a coping/relaxation area for the student to use when feeling frustrated, upset, and out of control or beginning to feel out of control. This could be a corner with a beanbag where they listen to waves or rain on headphones to calm down and regroup. Or they go to the area and choose a coping skill to use from a small list of coping skills. The teacher could sit down with the student and come up with a list of 5 coping skills that would be posted in this area. The student might need a separate area like this to start with if they are unable to use the coping and relaxation skills in the moment at their seat. This change in location can sometimes act like a reset button and redirect the student's perseverative thoughts on whatever is making them so frustrated.

Something I should have mentioned much earlier is the need to teach and make sure the student understands what they are feeling and what feelings to pay attention to so they can try to predict and detect when they are going to get out of control or become very frustrated. You could discuss a few basic feelings with the student, like frustration, anger, irritation, etc, then associate these words with a feeling faces chart. The student could then learn to point to the chart to indicate how they are feeling, to which the teacher might then direct them to go to their relaxation corner and choose a strategy from the list to use to make that feeling better or less intense, etc.

Hopefully there is something in all this that might spur a new thought or idea for you. I'll add more if something comes to mind. Hopefully someone else jumps in here with some more ideas.

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Thank you very much! I appreciate the thorough and timely response. I cannot wait to sit down with the team and go over the new intervention strategies that were suggested.

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I'm happy to throw some ideas on the wall and see what sticks. Behavior intervention feels like Edison and the lightbulb sometimes, we figure out 1000 ways not to intervene, haa! I think I'll tweet that one.

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