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Special Needs Behavior Plans

Students with complex behavioral problems including cognitive limitations need to be taught to behave appropriately so they can learn in school. An individualized understanding of the student’s developmental level, trauma history, sensory modulation, and effective coping strategies are helpful in developing a behavior plan. It is helpful to develop a trauma informed behavior plan that addresses the student’s feelings and developmental challenges.

Often “big” feelings need to be managed to prevent problematic behaviors. Visual supports help students become aware of their problematic big feelings. Emotional learning follows a developmental sequence with the first feelings learned being sad, mad, glad, tense and relaxed. Once these are learned more complex and combined emotions can be taught. Emphasis is given to current feelings that lead to problematic behavior. Ask student to use different colors to draw all the feelings “in my head”.

FeelingsinmyHead

Next, feelings which are always O. K. things to feel need to be distinguished from problematic behaviors like hitting, which are not O. K. in school. Particularly with cognitively impaired students desired results are emphasized not morality. It is also helpful to use a trauma informed approach that repeatedly emphasizes “I will like you no matter what. Some behaviors will be rewarded that will make you successful, while other behaviors will be punished so you don’t have a bad life”. A rainbow goal is a useful art activity is used to help the student plan behavior goals.

RainbowGoal

For cognitively impaired students goal planning emphasizes what they want to do “Be safe” rather than what they won’t do “hit”. Each rainbow beneath the top pot of gold goal is a related step. The student can dictate or write, chooses the color, and draws. Participation is encouraged, rather than just scribbling and saying “done”.

Finally a safety plan is visually depicted with objectively specified behaviors for reaching their rainbow goal. The students favorite sensory coping strategy options for replacing the inappropriate behavior are included. Coping strategies are “non-contingent reinforcement (NCR)”, always immediately available options that do not need to be earned. This transdisciplinary behavior plan was developed by the student’s occupational therapist, social worker, and speech/language pathologist.

Visual Safety Plan

The objective behaviors include a definition of “Be safe” that the student and all teachers and therapists understand clearly “No hitting, threatening, or throwing objects”. A baseline is taken and specific point chart or rewards are given for progress toward the goal. Visual supports and art activities can help students with complex behavioral challenges improve their behavior for learning.

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Using Sensory Strategies to Improve Behavior

Sensory strategies have a significant impact on the behavior of children and adolescents with developmental, mental health, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and sensory processing challenges. Deep pressure touch provided by pediatric occupational therapists through massage, brushing, weighted blankets, mat sandwiches and other sensory strategies are described as extremely positive experiences for children and adolescents with developmental, mental health, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and sensory processing challenges. Finding preferred activities is helpful because motivation can be a significant problem when treating these youngsters.

MatSandwichPropLayondog

A significant relationship was found between sensory and behavioral problems in children with developmental disorders. Research indicated that deep pressure sensory input functioned as positive reinforcement while matched sensory activities reduced repetitive non-purposeful behaviors in children with Autism Spectrum Disorder. Offering opportunities to use sensory strategies for self-regulation significantly reduced behavioral problems as well as the need for restraint and seclusion in adolescent and adult residential treatment centers for psychiatric and trauma challenges.

PatNatGuardRifleTripLeanPropTactParachute

The usefulness of offering clients deep pressure sensory strategies as an alternative to aggression and restraint makes sense, as it can replace the use of restraint as reinforcement for aggression with sensory activities to reinforce avoiding physical aggression. School occupational and physical therapists have begun using sensory activities as reinforcement for avoiding aggression to reduce student restraint and seclusion. SchoolOTRedAgg  The functioning of sensory strategies as positive reinforcement makes it important for therapists to avoid using sensory strategies immediately following aggressive or inappropriate behavior. Despite bitter conflicts between behaviorists, pediatricians and therapists clients would greatly benefit from their collaboration.

References

Canfield, J. M. (2008). Sensory dysfunction and problem behavior in children with autism spectrum and  other developmental disorders.

McGinnis, A. A., Blakely, E. Q., Harvey, A. C., & Rickards, J. B. (2013). The behavioral effects of a procedure used by pediatric occupational therapists. Behavioral Interventions, 28(1), 48-57.

O’Hagen, M., Divis, M., & Long, J. (2008). Best practice in the reduction and and elimination of seclusion and restraint; Seclusion: time for change. Aukland: Te Pou Te Whakaaro Nui: The National Center of Mental Health Research, Information and Workforce Development.

Rapp, J. T. (2006). Toward an empirical method for identifying matched stimulation for automatically reinforced behavior: A preliminary investigation. Journal of Applied Behavioral Analysis, 39(1), 137-140.

Sutton, D., Wilson, M., Van Kessel, K., & Vanderpyl, J. (2013). Optimizing arousal to manage aggression: A pilot study of sensory modulation. International Journal of Mental Health Nursing, 22, 500-511.

Warner, E., Spinazzola, J., Westcott, A., Gunn, C. & Hodon, H. (2014). The body can change the score. Journal of Child & Adolescent Trauma, 7(4), 237-246.

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Light touch and Holding Interventions

Light touch and holding strategies promote body awareness and social-emotional skills in children and adolescents with behavioral challenges. Deep pressure touch is a more common therapeutic intervention. However, light touch and holding are valuable therapeutic options for promoting attention, body awareness and social-emotional skills.

KONICA MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERA

KONICA MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERA

Body awareness, stress and somatic pain challenges negatively impact behavior in many children and adolescents with developmental, sensory processing, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, internalizing behavioral concerns and other psychiatric disorders.  Attention, body awareness, stress and somatic pain problems can be addressed through the use of light touch and holding strategies.  Light touch and holding strategies are particularly useful for improving and directing functional attention, and provide a valuable option for reducing stress, somatic pain, and social-emotional problems when deep pressure massage is contraindicated.  Particularly for young people experiencing acute pain, edema, taking analgesic medications (e.g., which can decrease pain perception) or taking antidepressant medications (e.g., which can cause light headedness and dizziness) light touch and holding are preferred.

Recent research indicates that positively perceived slow, light touch specifically activates CT afferent fibers connecting to the Insular Cortex that convey social-emotional interactions and our internal sense of self.  FAB Strategies utilizing light touch and holding include: Vibration to the Back, Arms, & Body as well as the Rolling the arm, Back X, Spine crawl, Head crown, and Foot input.  These light touch and holding techniques which are components of FAB Strategies will be described below.

It can be clinically useful to provide extremely irritable children and adolescents who have significant body awareness challenges repeated sensory experiences of the front, back, top and bottom of their bodies. FAB Strategies light touch and holding techniques were developed to provide sensory experiences of the front, back, top and bottom of the body as a foundation for improved body awareness and social-emotional skills.  In addition to the light touch and holding strategies the awareness of the front, back, top and bottom of the body is practiced through several FAB Strategies deep pressure touch and mindful movement activities.

Vibration to the Back, Arms, & Body provide light touch input.  Vibration can also be applied to various body parts with eyes open and closed, to increase body awareness by having clients identify each body part as it is touched (e.g., arm, left ankle).  Light touch can also be provided through the Rolling the arm strategy.  The therapist rolls the arm in a palm open, thumb lateral direction providing relaxation.

Trager and me Original

The Back X involves drawing an X across the back with your fist, while the Spine crawl involves moving up the spine to give awareness of the back. The Back X and Spine Crawl can be done as part of the X Marks the spot light touch game

XMarkstheSpot

The Head Crown involves 10 second holding on the head, first on both sides then on the front and back of the head.

HoldingHeadTx

Foot input involves massage and holding of the feet to provide improved sensory awareness of the feet as the foundation and bottom of the body.  Foot input can be followed by stretching exercises to help decrease the likelihood of habitual toe walking.  Light touch and holding strategies are a valuable intervention to improve attention, body orientation and social-emotional skills through interpersonal touch.  Light touch and holding can also decrease stress, pain, and provide comfort when more intense massage is contraindicated.

References:

Beider, S., Mahrer, N. E., Gold, J. I. (2007). Pediatric massage therapy: An overview for clinicians. Pediatric Clinics of North America, 54(6), 1025-1041.

Bjornsdotter, M., Loken, L., Olausson, H.., Valbo, A., & Wessberg, J. (2009). Somatotopic organization of gentle touch processing in the posterior insular cortex. The Journal of Neuroscience, 29(29) 9314-9320.

Koester, C. (2012). Movement based learning for children of all abilities. Reno, NV: Movement Based Learning Inc.

McGlone, F., Wessberg, J., & Olausson, H. (2014). Discriminative and affective touch: Sensing and feeling. Neuron, 82(4), 737-755.

Perini, I., & Olausson, H. (2015). Seeking pleasant touch: Neural correlates of behavioral preferences for skin stroking. Frontiers in Behavioral Neuroscience, 9.

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FAB Strategies Mindfulness Movement Activities

I wanted to share this video of my FAB Strategies Mindfulness Movement activities to improve student’s behavior  https://www.facebook.com/educationresourcesinc/videos/943257499082558/ It was recorded by ERI at their Therapy in the Schools Conference.  Mindfulness movement activities are simple to do and can improve attention as well as enhance behavior by reducing student’s anxiety and giving them a break from seated work.

Mindfulness movement activities help all students yet are especially helpful for students with developmental disabilities, anxiety, sensory processing challenges, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, ADHD, and/or other behavioral challenges.  Brief five minute mindfulness movement activities can help students attend better and promote the processing of academic learning when done between academic subjects (e.g., after math before proceeding to language arts).  Mindfulness movement activities can also be done in conjunction with teaching Positive Behavioral Support Interventions and used as a pre-correction before challenging school activities (e.g., lunch, playground, assemblies, and transitions).

In this video I demonstrate Touching the head-shoulders-stomach for sensory body awareness, Belly breathing, Hand opening and stretching to prevent hand cramping from writing (while breathing in) followed by thumb fisting as a mudra for relaxation (while breathing out)

MindfulClk1MindfulClk2

Bird breathing, and Mindful Clock Sitting (righting reactions moving forward-back and laterally).

Mindful clock standing activities can also be used, particularly to help students with sensory irritability gain basic body awareness of the anterior-posterior portions of their body through forward-back balancing movements  

MindfulClk3MindfulClk4

as well as sensory awareness and stability of the bottom (feet) and top (head) of their body through squatting then moving on their toes.

SquatToes

I hope more early childhood and special education teachers as well as occupational, physical, speech/language and mental health therapists will begin using basic sensory mindfulness movement activities with their students.  Mindfulness movement activities offer a great opportunity for teachers and therapists to integrate and co-teach the academic and developmental curriculum areas.  As we continue to integrate the regular and special education curriculums, mindfulness movement activities can benefit students while promoting transdisciplinary interactions between teachers and therapists.

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Sensory Strategies For Teens With PTSD

Adolescents with PTSD and sensory processing challenges can benefit from sensory strategies to improve their behavior. Sensory strategies are particularly helpful for improving attention and decreasing aggression. While too seldom used for PTSD I have found that deep pressure touch sensory strategies can be particularly effective for reducing aggression and improving attention in teenagers with PTSD.

Therapists can help help teens understand that past traumatic stress experiences can lead them to overreact to stress. I tell teens “some people who have experienced bad things in the past overreact and get into trouble when they have really big feelings, and benefit from noticing when they first start having big feelings so they can use coping strategies to be successful”. The energy level meter strategy can help teens identify whether their current energy level feels “High”, “Medium” or “Low” and whether they feel “OK and Comfortable” or “Not OK Uncomfortable”. If a teen is too hyper to behave appropriately but rates his current energy as “High Energy and O. K. Comfortable” then the therapist is alerted that the teen is use to having a high energy state. The therapist would try to gradually modulate down the teen’s energy level by beginning with quick and intense tasks then gradually decreasing the speed and intensity in a structured way.    http://www.traumacenter.org/

Visual chart for rating arousal level and if it feels comfortable

Visual chart for rating arousal level and if it feels comfortable

Other teens find it more helpful to use an anger meter that monitors how angry they are feeling so they can leave the situation or use coping strategies to avoid aggressive and self-injurious behavior.

AngerMete

 

Many teens are helped by using movement and deep pressure activities rather than only talk therapy as a coping strategy. This is because our joint receptors (e.g., muscle spindle fibers and Golgi Tendon Organs) convey deep pressure touch input that is typically calming and nurturing, like when a parent calms an upset child by hugging them. An example of input from our joint receptors is that we can identify our index finger with out looking at it, and our experience when walking down stairs in total darkness of feeling off balance because we thought there was another step but we were at the bottom of the stairs. It is important for teens with PTSD to understand that experiencing PTSD as a child can interfere with typical neurological development, the development of body awareness, and functional attention skills https://fabstrategies.org/2013/07/06/sensory-strategies-for-childhood-trauma/

Activities combining deep pressure input (through our body weight as well as lifting or pushing heavy objects) with linear movement can be an extremely effective coping strategies for improving self-control. Teenagers can use pushups, wall pushups, and isometric exercises as coping strategies to avoid aggression and help maintain attention.

Wallpushups http://www.traumacenter.org/products/pdf_files/Can%20the%20Body%20Change%20the%20Score_Sensory%20Modulation_SMART_Adolescent%20Residential%20Trauma%20Treatment_Warner.pdf

It is also helpful to teach teenagers to incorporate deep pressure and linear movement into their daily routines to maintain attention at school (e.g., moving tables, passing out books) and home (e.g., weight training, lawn mowing, vacuuming).  Research supports the use of occupational therapist guided sensory processing strategies to improve self-control of teens with PTSD challenges http://www.traumacenter.org/products/pdf_files/Body_Change_Score_W0001.pdf

Although it is considered a taboo by some mental health professionals I have also found that offering touch, brushing, vibration and massage with FAB Touch Pressure Strategies http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=W8fMdJ6l0AM is a powerful sensory strategy for teenagers with PTSD. Particularly with teens who did not receive nurturing touch growing up and show significant differences in sensory processing on the Sensory Profile sensoryprofile.com I have found FAB Pressure Touch Strategies useful in improving their self-control. It is extremely important to first teach about personal boundaries and always get the parent and teens permission before using touch, but with these guidelines I have found this an extremely effective intervention.

 

 

 

 

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Movement Enhances Emotional Expression

Strategies combining movement with expressing feelings motivates students to improve their self-regulation skills. Movement activities that involve emotion expression are especially helpful for motivating students who have behavioral, developmental, trauma history and/or sensory processing challenges. Movement activities are fun and can easily be integrated into strategies to encourage the expression and understanding of feelings.

A strategy for young students that integrates movement with expressing feelings is Feelings Goose. This is a modification of duck-duck-goose in which the student who is “it” touches each peer on the head with alternating hands, while naming a feeling (e.g., sad). When the student touches a child on the head while expressing the opposite feeling (e.g. glad) he is chased as he attempts to run to the other student’s spot.

FeelingGoose

A strategy that has several variations for progressively older students is switch hands toss. The switch hands toss “favorites” strategy involves students passing a beanbag while expressing their favorite: sport, color, ice cream, team, vacation place, coping strategy, quality in picking a friend, what makes them a good friend, and other favorite categories. Students can pick a favorite category to lead if they are willing to go first in expressing their favorite. The “I feel” strategy involves expressing how they currently feel. In “Guess the feeling” a student acts out a feeling using their face and body and the student they throw the beanbag to guesses what they are feeling.

The most challenging switch hands toss strategy is the “I message”. An I message is a DBT statement in which a student describes an action that others do, how they feel in response, and what the behavior they want others to do. The student says “When people ______, I feel _________, so please. A positive example is “When people say hi to me, I feel happy, so please say hi when you see me”. An example of a complaint would be “When people call me Shortie, I feel angry, so please call me John”. Combining movement with expressing their feelings motivates students to actively express feelings and improves self-control.

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Coping With Hearing Voices

Hearing voices that others don’t perceive is a challenging difficulty for a small but significant number of children, adolescents, and adults. While some people who hear voices do not experience functional problems, many do.  Medications help some but not all people who have functional difficulties involving hearing voices, but do not always eliminate the problem. In addition unlike cardiac disease, people who hear voices also have to deal with being discriminated against and uncomfortable discussing their experiences, something medication does not address.

My experience of working with children, adolescents, and adults with functional problems related to hearing voices got me to research non-medication interventions that could help. While little non-medication research is done in the United States, support groups and coping strategies are used extensively in England to help people with functional problems related to hearing voices. Recently, the Connecticut Department of Mental Health offered a workshop by Rachel Waddingham http://www.behindthelabel.co.uk a United Kingdom interventionist whose work I’d read about. Ms. Waddingham described how support groups, mindfulness activities, and the use of coping strategies can help children and adults who hear voices as a component of their intervention.

As an occupational therapist working in psychiatry I use purposeful activities and coping strategies extensively with some children, adolescents, and young adults who have functional problems related to hearing voices. I sometimes use propelling scooter boards, exercise, taking clients to therapeutic horse back riding, mindfulness activities, and other coping strategies as part of a comprehensive treatment program to help individuals who hear voices.

Engaging in meaningful activities helps assess and promote functional skills. To help youth and adults with functional difficulties related to hearing voices find meaningful coping strategies, I ask them to select 3 from each page of the PaganoFABTriggerCopingForms copy It is helpful to build on the coping strategies the individual is already using affectively to help them better manage their biggest environmental and body triggers.

As a school occupational therapist in a psychiatric hospital school I use partial sentences to simultaneously address writing and provide opportunities to express feelings. In the following example using partial sentences a student expressed her fear of hearing voices and loneliness of not seeing her mom.

PartSentBigFeelin

Coping cards are index cards that are constructed to address the student’s functional goal.  Using an index card a student uses pictures or words to describe their functional goal, preferred interest, reinforcement schedule, and most affective coping strategies.  This reminds students and staff of their individual goal and coping strategies for achieving the goal.

CopingCard

Public school occupational therapy bulletin boards are another way of teaching about coping strategies while showing that occupational therapy can be useful for all students. It helps address the bias some students have that occupational therapy is “only for mentally retarded and crazy kids”, and teachers are always willing to let me have one of their bulletin boards.

OTCopingBoard

The needs of individuals who hear voices is inadequately addressed in the United States because of the fear and biases related to this problem and it is time we professionals address it. Coping strategies have been a useful component of my interventions for individuals with functional difficulties related to hearing voices.

 

References:

Farhall, J., Greenwood, K. M., & Jackson, H. J. (2007). Coping with hallucinated voices in schizophrenia: A review of self-initiated strategies and therapeutic interventions. Clinical Psychology Review, 27(4), 476-493.

Kovacs, M. & Lopez-Duran, N. (2012). Contextual emotion regulation therapy: A developmentally-based intervention for pediatric depression. Child and adolescent psychiatric clinics of North America, 21(2), 327.