In the third of a series on how to be a special needs teacher, Louisa Leaman looks at managing challenging behaviour.The management of pupil behaviour in any school can be demanding, but for the special needs teacher it has its own unique set of challenges. I wouldn't necessarily assume that it is harder, but it is definitely different. In a special needs school, the challenges are likely to be more extreme but then again, the expectations are different.
The education of my special needs pupils has to be individualised, to take account of their very individual needs, and if challenging behaviours are part of that, then that is what I focus on. I enter the classroom expecting to face this issue. A special needs teacher cannot afford to view challenging behaviour as an unwanted or inconvenient disruption, when it forms such a fundamental part of a pupil's needs.
A snapshot of the behaviour I deal with on a daily basis includes at least all of the following: self-harm; physical aggression towards others; refusal to participate in activities or be part of the class group; absconding; excessive noise; hyperactive behaviour; sexualised behaviour; compulsive or repetitive behaviour and, my least favourite of all, issues involving bodily fluids such as spitting, vomiting and smearing.
If two or more pupils decide to "go for it" at the same time, which is a frequent occurrence, then it becomes a question of where to focus the attention. I have to plan to be flexible, to have several extra sets of eyes in the back of my head and to multi-task like crazy. Imagine a large adolescent flinging himself to the floor in a tantrum because it is not his turn to go to soft-play, while another is attempting to escape through a window and another is trying to eat the computer wires.
As with any behaviour, inroads can be made by looking for its causes - dislike of a person or activity, physical discomfort, boredom or frustration. In the special needs classroom, however, identifying these triggers can prove challenging in itself. How do we find out what is bothering a child who has limited ability to communicate their thoughts and feelings? It sometimes comes down to guesswork. Perhaps the special needs teacher's most valuable behaviour management tool is having a personal knowledge of their individual pupils. This takes time to develop, but the process is highly rewarding.
Louisa Leaman teaches at Waverley School in Middlesex Next week: differentiating the curriculum for special needs.