Aran Hall School is a residential school for pupils with autism and learning disabilities. Principal Duncan Pritchard and his colleagues wanted to ensure teachers were able to manage any associated challenging behaviour.
Pupils with intellectual and other developmental disabilities sometimes react badly when they are denied access to their preferred activities. Simply saying no had in the past led to an escalation in disruptive behaviour, including aggression, shouting and throwing things. So Pritchard decided to investigate what training would best prepare staff to deal with these situations.
Pritchard selected 20 staff members and split them into an experimental group and a control group.
The members of the experimental group were coached in two verbal responses through 90 minutes of traditional training, a card game and a role play session. The role play used 30 standardised scenarios based on real episodes of problem behaviour that had occurred at the school.
For the first response, if a pupil demanded access to a computer game when it was not available, the experimental group were trained to say no while presenting alternate activities, such as: "We can play football or do some drawing together - you choose."
The second response was to offer the desired activity as a prize for being good. So if a pupil demanded access to a computer game when they were meant to be doing chores, the member of staff could say: "Yes you can, just as soon as you have finished cleaning your room. I will help you."
The control group's training consisted of a traditional workshop alongside reading and reviewing behaviour management plans.
Data was collected on how staff in the experimental and control groups responded to pupil demands. Rates of problem behaviour were lower for the staff who had received the role play training than for the staff in the control group.
The findings suggested that role play training was more effective than more traditional approaches. Staff completed a brief questionnaire after the experiment, which revealed that they had enjoyed the training and now felt more confident in managing problem behaviour. Role play has become an integral part of the school's induction programme for all new staff.
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