The Behaviour Question

21st October 2011 at 01:00

I have a child in my class who has recently been diagnosed with ADHD and ODD (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and oppositional defiant disorder). He loses his temper very quickly and it is usually unknown what the trigger is. He hits children, throws things, bites, kicks, punches and defaces school property. My Senco would like to let him play in his withdrawal room, but I am inclined to try to fit him into a mainstream classroom, even for short periods. Please help!

What you said


The withdrawal room is a good idea: it can act as a safe base. You have to remember, though, this child is not in a place where he is able to learn in a mainstream class. I would put him with small groups to begin with and build him up slowly.

The expert view

I would be minded for the pupil to understand that reintegration with the group and access to play was in some way conditional on better behaviour. After all, even a diagnosis of ODD is simply a description of the child's behaviour rather than an identification that the child has a medical problem. In other words, it's dangerous to treat this as something the child can't help, like a broken leg, because the consequence of this strategy is the child learning that others will accept that this behaviour is inevitable, or in some way acceptable.

This is part of a much larger debate, of course - the contemporary obsession with medicalising behaviours simply because they seem aberrant, or extreme-spectrum. We must not forget that in any population there will always be minorities operating at the fringes of the norm. If minority traits produce desirable effects (such as exceptional intelligence), then we applaud and envy them; but if they produce undesirable effects (such as ODD), we tend to reify them as illnesses.

This creates a mess, as children who would before have been encouraged and habituated out of their behaviours are now appeased and tacitly encouraged. They are stripped of the very core of human integrity - our responsibility for our actions

Instead, treat this boy as if he were the master of himself. Encourage him through patient reward, reinforcement and remonstration, to participate in mainstream society. Otherwise - as with so many ODD children, unfortunately - the chances of falling into criminality and failure rocket as the child's life progresses.

This could be the most important intervention of this boy's life. He isn't sick, he is badly behaved. Maybe he is badly behaved because he is angry, maybe his role models were awful ... who knows? You can't control his mind. You can help him learn to control himself. Praise the good, sanction against the bad, and help him re-enter the classroom community.

Slowly attempt small-group reintegration, but create a behaviour contract with him (if he is old enough to understand) and ensure that it has clear, binary outcomes: praise and blame. It's tough love he needs right now, almost as much as he needs oxygen.

Tom Bennett is author of The Behaviour Guru and Not Quite a Teacher:

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