To my brilliant research career that never was

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A letter to my unfinished business, aka my research career,

We first met in 2002. I was a dual degree student, studying science and education.

You were the Advanced Study Program in Science, a course “for high-achieving students interested in pursuing a career in scientific research”.

I reminisce about our year together fondly. You were interesting and enjoyable, we learned so much, and met many great people.

I was in another relationship at the time, and was quite open about it. I wanted to teach.

We were a great threesome – I loved science – I loved doing it, learning about it, showing it; but deep down I saw myself exploring the scientific world with students, rather than spending my days with you in the lab or field.

Read more… 

Survivors of institutional sexual abuse are failed by the legal process

imageMy piece published today in Overland entitled Survivors of abuse are failed by the legal system. 

 

The Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse has been inundated with thousands of Australians sharing their stories of abuse. Over 5500 people have attended a private session and a further 1500 are scheduled. Repeatedly, survivors have told not just the heinous stories about their abuse, but about the systems which allowed abuse to flourish. Despite all this, the processes for seeking redress frequently put survivors in an invidious position and the barriers to substantive compensation are overwhelming. Read more…

Geocached Dreams

imageIn the last few months or so I’ve noticed a curious and distinctive bunch of people when I go out for my afternoon bike ride or run.

 

I’m guessing at ages here – a ten year old kid was slowly riding his bike while half on, half off, in no distinct direction, but with definite purpose. Two young men sat in their cars, engines running, near the top of the bikepath. Half a dozen 12 year olds walked around the steps of the overpass with a teacher looking on – a boarding house outing I suspect. A young woman was slowly riding a fold up bike she must have purchased extremely recently, since the barcode label was still attached to the basket. Three 11 year olds had Macgyvered-up phone holders with duct tape and wood offcuts on their bikes for better screen visibility.  One very tall and obese man – tummy hanging out from under his shirt, cigarette balanced on his bottom lip, stood next to his svelte, dark haired companion, both staring at their phones. Two Grade Nine girls from the local rich private school in full uniform, including Panama hats and brown leather shoes, were on skateboards while holding golf umbrellas for the rain. A couple in their 20s, clad in active wear and cuddling, stood near the path. All were meandering, but constantly checking their phones, so I assume they were playing Pokemon Go. They were hunting the geocached pocket monsters – all around us, but visible only through the smartphone screen.

 

In the same park someone lovingly tends some fairy doors and fairy gardens. There is a little grove where the trees don’t let much light through. It’s dark and mossy like a rain forests. No bikes are allowed on that part of the path.

The fairy house are beautifully decorated. Miniature tea sets and flowers in tiny vases sit near the fairy doors, sprinkled with glitter. Minute framed pictures carefully hung on the tree add to the décor.

I’ve lived near this park for the better part of two decades. I’ve never seen anyone tending the fairy parties, and yet I can’t remember them ever not being there. I’ve often thought about who is cultivating them, and why? They are never unkempt.

My hunch is that is that someone who has lost a child is tending the fairy gardens in memory of her little lost one. How many fairies, how many lost children, dwell among the greenery?

 

As well as invisible fairies, lost children and unseen pokemon exist around us, what other spectres concealed? Are the ghosts of all the choices we didn’t make, floating amongst the trees? Are there diaphanous angels of abandoned dreams moving about unseen? If there was an app to find lost children and abandoned hopes, what would we see floating around us? Would we be able to Catch Them All?

Could we bear it, if we did?

 

Panicking Lines and Menacing Bears

image

By Elizabeth Saunders with apologies to Alan Alexander Milne

 

Whenever I walk down a Brisbane street,

I’m ever so careful to watch my feet

And I keep from the lines

Or it’s double-up time.

Tactile paving is oft the worst to step on

No steps is best, or else two must be upon.

But no gait change allowed

(That counts as a step)

It must be all even among the crowd.

 

There are bears in my brain which make up the rules

I don’t know what they are til I’m given the chills.

Driveways, usually, an even number of steps

Sticks, leaves and seedpods must be re-stepped.

Running’s the worst,

(And with no headphone a curse.)

I halt on my jog – a utility cover.

I’ll have to turn round and look for another

Route to get home but all paths are the same,

Too many parts to mimic and maim.

 

The bears growl to each other

Inside my brain

About the lines on the footpath

And the marks on the drain.

The masses of bears,

They see the germs too.

Telephones, lift buttons and eftpos devices

Handles and handshakes: unsanitary vices.

I do my hand washing and I use my hand gel,

The bears think I’m a silly

But I use hand wipes as well.

 

Some of the younger bears try to pretend

That it’s all about footpaths

Or germs on one’s skin.

But the bigger bears know that in the scariest lairs

They go beyond childhood games and cares

For deep down inside are the menacing bears.

 

The intrusive thoughts, those menacing bears,

They tear apart every one of your cares.

The worst thing you can think of,

Your boggart – that’s you.

You “know” it’s not true – but really, do you?

You might try to pretend to be someone’s friend

Then hurt them somehow

Or whatever it is that you think is most foul.

 

The bears in your brain, they know that it’s true

The worst of the worst – the bears tell you it’s you.

It’s ever so portant that you don’t balk

As you try to believe your therapist’s talk

And it’s ever so frightful to beg out “Bears,

Stop the intrusive thoughts from the darkest of lairs!”

“A Sign From Above” aka The Geese and the Cyclists

cyclist

 

For someone who doesn’t believe in ‘signs’ or ‘messages’, I’ve decided to let this one through.

I’ve recently taken up cycling. I try to go at least one day on the weekend and listen to music or podcasts while I cycle through the bushlands, wetlands and carparklands of the surrounding suburbs.

I’ve been a bit down lately. Actually, that’s a huge understatement. A team of professionals, a suite of medications, a range of coping strategies (some more maladaptive than others), hospital stays of varying durations, a horde of loving friends and family, and I’m barely keeping my head above water.

Everyone keeps banging on about how well I’m doing and that I should give myself some credit for what I am achieving.

My inner-self cries “what achievements?” Since when did getting someone else to do school drop off, staying in bed all day then heating up a freezer dinner become an achievement?

I know we have times in our lives when we need the help of others – new baby, bereavement, serious illness and the like – but seriously, I’ve barely cooked a meal in two years. What happened to the person who used to just get stuff done?

I have such a low capacity now, and no resilience. Last Wednesday I presented at the national conference for my profession. Last Thursday I was taken by ambulance to psychiatric emergency because I got a bit stressed in a meeting.

Today I dropped off a fortnight’s worth of laundry to a friend who begged me to let her do it. I don’t even have the energy to politely refuse when people offer anymore. I’m so dismayed with my own inability to complete tasks that I gratefully piled her up with overflowing baskets.

Back to this afternoon’s bike ride. I gave up early. I’d been for a big ride yesterday, the wind was against me and I didn’t have any oomph. I tried to be gentle with myself and concluded that a short ride was better than no ride, and headed for home do something nice before it was time to pick up the kids.

 

Read more… 

Advice for the mentally ill

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I returned home from yet another hospital visit today to see that my ABC Open piece on ‘Advice’ had been published.

Advice for the mentally ill 

Ensure that you have a supportive and loving spouse, family, friends and employer. Navigating mental illness without this is unthinkable.

Don’t expect that if you present to the emergency department that you will get to see a doctor. If you get concerned about this, expect to be offered prescription sedatives, but you still won’t get to talk to a psychiatrist.

Expect to be scolded if you insist on this – being proactive in seeking medical care is generally frowned upon as ‘rudeness’. Don’t feel relieved when you finally get an appointment; tomorrow they’ll decide you live in the wrong suburb and will cancel.

When admitted, an allied health professional may occasionally visit. Sporadically you’ll get to see a doctor, but she’ll contradict the registrar and scold you for following her advice.

Read more…

Literature Review: Working with students with challenging behaviours

 

Literature Review:

WORKING WITH STUDENTS WITH CHALLENGING BEHAVIOURS

Elizabeth Saunders

www.elizabethsaunders.com.au

www.twitter.com.au/e_r_saunders

CONASTA 65 presentation July 2016 (video) 

Introduction

Challenging behaviours are a key issue which continue to confront schools. Effective management of this complex, multifaceted issue is crucial from an inclusive and human rights perspective. Many stakeholders are involved and the consequences of (mis)management are far reaching. Challenging behaviours are defined as those

“of such intensity, frequency or duration as to threaten the quality of life and/or the physical safety of the individual or others, and which is likely to lead to responses that are restrictive, aversive or result in exclusion” (Royal College of Psychiatrists (RCP) et al., 2007 in (Evers & Pilling , 2012)

Intense and severe challenging behaviours such as violent outbursts can be very disruptive and a barrier to learning; however, seemingly inconsequential behaviour (such as calling out or being out of seat) can be just as problematic when occurring with high frequency (Alter, Walker, & Landers, 2013; Dunlap & Fox, 2007; Dunlap, Sailor, Horner, & Sugai, 2009; Katsiyannis, Conroy, & Zhang, 2008).

The term ‘challenging behaviours’ is a critical and deliberate change from terms such as ‘abhorrent’, ‘abnormal’ or ‘problem’, although the latter is still used at times. It views challenging behaviours as a mismatch between the behaviour and the environment, rather than blaming the behaviour, and usually by extension the student, for the problem (Dunlap et al., 2009; Lohrmann, Forman, Martin, & Palmieri, 2008).

Addressing challenging behaviour is important to education because all students have a right to an education, and students and staff all have a right to be safe. Challenging behaviours can be very stressful for students, peers, teachers and other staff and families alike.  (Bambara, Goh, Kern, & Caskie, 2012; Dunlap & Fox, 2007; Goh & Bambara, 2012; O’Brennan, Bradshaw, & Furlong, 2014; Preece, 2014; Quesenberry, Hemmeter, & Ortrosky, 2011).

 

Development and maintenance of challenging behaviour

The literature identifies a variety of generally interrelated factors which contribute to the development and maintenance of challenging behaviours.

There is no broad consensus in the literature about specific statistics, but some groups of students are more likely to demonstrate challenging behaviours. These overwhelmingly include students with disabilities and learning difficulties, students with emotional and behavioural disorders or mental health conditions, boys, and to a lesser extent, students undergoing puberty, and in some instances, students from low socioeconomic backgrounds or families with a history of anti-social behaviour (although the literature does not have consensus on this in an Australian context)  (Allan Allday, Neilsen-Gatti, & Hudson, 2013; Barroso, et al., 2008; Brown & Conroy, 2011; Bull, Oliver, Callaghan, & Woodcock, 2015; Cameron, Connor, Morrison, & Jewkes, 2008; Conroy, Stichter, Daunic, & Haydon, 2008; Dunlap & Fox, 2007; Felstrom, Mulryan, Reidy, Staines, & Hillery, 2005; Hemphill, et al., 2010a; Hemphill, et al., 2010b, Kelly, Carey, McCarthy, & Coyle, 2007; Koristsas & Iacono, 2012; Ling & Mak, 2011; McKenna, Flower, Kyung Kim, Ciullo, & Haring, 2015; Voorhees, Walker, Snell, & Smith, 2013; Westling, 2010).

 

Perceived and actual lack of skills and/ or support of teachers, school and parents can also contribute to the maintenance of challenging behaviours by inadvertently rewarding and maintaining them. (Allan Allday et al., 2013; Dunlap & Fox, 2007, Dunlap et al., 2009; Ling & Mak, 2011; Preece, 2014; Quesenberry et al., 2011; Voorhees et al., 2013; Westling, 2010).

 

The development and maintenance of challenging behaviour is complex and multifaceted. Factors which may contribute to causing challenging behaviours include behaviour as communication  (Brown & Conroy, 2011; Koristsas & Iacono, 2012; Ling & Mak, 2011; Michail, 2011; Nemeth & Brillante, 2011), academic and/or social skills deficit  (Brown & Conroy, 2011; Koristsas & Iacono, 2012; McKenna et al, 2015; Martella & Marchand-Martella, 2015), physiological or psychological conditions (Koristsas & Iacono, 2012; Michail, 2011), relationships (or lack thereof) (Furlong, Sharkey, Quirk, & Dowdy, 2011) and operant conditioning and reinforcement (Dunlap et al., 2008; Koristsas & Iacono, 2012). In most instances, challenging behaviour can be attributed to a complex combination of some or all of these factors (Koristsas & Iacono, 2012).

Undeniably, the most significant factor is operant conditioning and reinforcement as it interacts with all components and (generally unintentionally) rewards or maintains the challenging behaviour. (Dunlap et al., 2008; Dunlap et al., 2009) For example, a student who experiences anxiety about being required to complete an academic task may engage in challenging behaviour which results in his/her exclusion from the class, thereby achieving the desired outcome or purpose, that is, avoiding the task (eg McKenna et al., 2015).

 

Effective strategies that can be used by schools and teachers to prevent or reduce challenging behaviours

Before effective strategies are considered, it is relevant to address ineffective strategies which dominate school culture; that is, punitive and exclusionary methods. The research continually demonstrates that they are not effective as they do not address the cause of the behaviour or equip students to replace the challenging behaviours with more appropriate ones and indeed they often cause more harm than good (Carnett, et al., 2014). Because punitive and exclusionary strategies are so entrenched in school culture and in the attitudes of many teachers and parents, they are still widely use despite the total lack of empirical or ethical support (Dunlap et al. 2008; Dunlap et al., 2009; Michail, 2011; Milleia & Petersena; Voorhees et al., 2013; Wilhite, Braaten, Frey, & Wilder, 2007).

A far more effective approach is Positive Behaviour Support (PBS). PBS was developed in the 1980s from Applied Behaviour Analysis (ABA) (Dunlap et al., 2008; Dunlap et al., 2009; Michail, 2011). It is a human rights based, person centred approach which acknowledges and understands the factors which contribute to challenging behaviour and offers useful, empirically supported methods to reduce or prevent them (Devlin, Healy, Leader, & Hughes, 2010; Goh & Bambara, 2012; Preece, 2014). The aim of PBS is to facilitate improved quality of life for the person with challenging behaviour and then, by extension, those around him/her and when implemented well is very effective under a wide range of circumstances (Dunlap & Fox, 2007; Freeman, et al., 2015; Goh & Bambara, 2012; Muscott, Mann, & LeBrun, 2008; Voorhees et al., 2013; Westling, 2010). As well as reduction or prevention of students’ challenging behaviour, schoolwide BS programs have been shown to effectively improve outcomes for teachers’ well being and reduce burn-out (Ross, Romer, & Horner, 2012).

 

With its origins in ABA, PBS recognises that each behaviour has an antecedent, the behaviour itself, and the consequence. (Dunlap et al., 2008; Dunlap et al., 2009). The core features are

(a) application of research-validated behavioral science; (b) integration of multiple intervention elements to provide ecologically valid, practical support; (c) commitment to substantive, durable lifestyle outcomes; and (d) implementation of support within organizational systems that facilitate sustained effects (Carr et al., 1994, 2002; Durand, 1990; Horner et al., 1990; Sugai et al., 2000 in Dunlap, Sailor, Horner, & Sugai, 2009)

By observing a student’s behaviour in the ecological context of its precedent and consequence, a greater understanding of both its purpose and how it is being reinforced can be gained which allows changes to be made to intervene and support the student. This may be done by altering or avoiding particular triggers which may precede an event, responding to the student’s communication in a more appropriate way or helping the student to acquire alternate ways to achieve the intended purpose of the behaviour (Brown & Conroy, 2011).

 

Adequate and appropriate training and support for teachers is essential to implementing PBS and is largely lacking.  (Allan Allday et al., 2013; Kelly et al., 2007; Ling & Mak, 2011; Prather-Jones, 2011; Preece, 2014; Quesenberry et al., 2011; Voorhees et al., 2013; Westling, 2010). Effective implementation of PBS also often requires a fundamental shift in attitudes and values and this too can be fostered through increased professional development and support for teachers and schools (Alter et al., 2013; Ling & Mak, 2011; Michail, 2011).

 

A comparison between schoolwide positive behaviour supports and positive behaviour supports that are planned and implemented for individual students

When PBS was first used in schools it was highly ineffective and inefficient. The resources required to implement detailed plans in the context of a busy classroom were astronomically out of reach and inefficient. A three tiered approach is a far more efficient and pragmatic approach (Dunlap et al., 2009; Bradshaw, Mitchell, & Leaf, 2009).

 

Tier One supports apply generally to all students and teachers and consist of consistent, appropriate and respectful rules with accompanying accommodations. Tier Two requires more support and is appropriate for those students who require somewhat more intensive intervention. Tier Three interventions are suitable for students who have challenging behaviour which has no responded to the first two tiers; it is very time and resource intensive and provides a high level of support (Brown & Conroy, 2011; Dunlap et al., 2009).

Key features for the success of schoolwide programs are

(a) team-based implementation, which consists of a representative schoolwide team that is organized and engages in problem solving and data-based decision making; (b) administrative leadership, which consists of consistent public support and active involvement in schoolwide team planning; (c) documented commitment to the education of all students and to improving the climate of the school; (d) adequate personnel and time for the planning and implementation of SWPBS; (e) budgeted support for activities associated with team planning, staff development, and necessary materials; and (f) information-system development for data management. (Lohrmann et al., 2008)

Schoolwide approaches are more likely to succeed at a district/ state level if there is leadership and funding from governing bodies, capacity for local professional development, behavioural expertise and evaluation capacity (Horner, et al., 2014). School personnel often demonstrate reluctance or resistance to adopt universal behavioural supports due to lack of leadership, not perceiving the changes as worthwhile (particularly if the connection between behaviour and academic achievement was not appreciated), a perceived hopelessness about change, or if the staff are lacking in relevant skills (Lohrmann et al., 2008). Staff are more likely to see the benefits of more intensive interventions. Philosophically difference values and beliefs are also a source of staff resistance (Lohrmann et al., 2008). There is some concern about the potential for this to lead to students internalising problems (McIntosh, Ty, & Miller, 2014) but more work needs to be done in this area.  Barriers to implementing individualised plans for also included those related to beliefs, time and training (Bambara et al., 2012).

Intensive individual PBS plans would be conducted with a period of observation then meeting with stakeholders to discuss appropriate supports. Whilst the team of professionals and family create strength working together, difficulty in creating time to regularly meet often impedes effectiveness (Dunlap & Fox, 2007; Goh & Bambara, 2012).

 

Conclusion

In summary, the key messages from the literature are that challenging behaviours

  • are an important issue facing schools, teachers, students and families
  • challenging behaviours arise from a conflict between the student’s behaviour and the environment rather than a flaw with the student
  • challenging behaviours occur and are maintained by complex interactions including reinforcement
  • are ineffectively addressed by punitive measures and typically dominant school cultures
  • can be addressed effectively through positive behaviour support and a person centred, human rights based approach
  • PBS is applicable and relevant at all tiers from school wide to high needs individuals.

 

Some limitations were observed in the body of literature. Specifically, many studies are small scale, non random samples.  As such, the validity of making generalisations and applications to other settings needs to be carefully considered. As many of the studies shows similar effectiveness of PBS in many different settings then it is appropriate to make cautious generalisations. There are few large scale or long term studies; as such this presents rich potential research opportunities (Goh & Bambara, 2012; McKenna, Flower, Kyung Kim, Ciullo, & Haring, 2015).

 


 

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Alter, P., Walker, J., & Landers, E. (2013). Teachers’ perceptions of students’ challenging behavior and the impact of teacher demographics. Education and Treatment of Children, 36(4), 51-69.

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Kelly, A., Carey, S., McCarthy, S., & Coyle, C. (2007). Challenging behaviour: principals’ experience of stress and perception of the effects of challenging behaviour on staff in special schools in Ireland. European Journal of Special Needs Education, 22(2), 161-181. doi:10.1080/08856250701269507

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Ling, C. Y., & Mak, W. W. (2011). Coping with challenging behaviours of children with autism: effectiveness of brief training workshop for frontline staff in special education settings. Journal of Intellectual Disability Research, 56(3), 258-269. doi:10.1111/j.1365-2788.2011.01469.x

Lohrmann, S., Forman, S., Martin, S., & Palmieri, M. (2008). Understanding school personnel’s resistance to adopting schoolwide positive behavior support at a universal level of intervention. Journal of Positive Behaviour Interventions, 10(4), 256-269.

Martella, R. C., & Marchand-Martella, N. (2015). Improving classroom behavior through effective instruction: An illustrative program example using SRA FLEX literacy. 2015, 38(2), 241-271.

McIntosh, K., Ty, S. V., & Miller, L. D. (2014). Effects of school-wide positive behavorial interventions and supports on internalising problems: Current evidence and future directions. Journal of Positive Behavior Interventions, 16(4), 209-218. doi:10.1177/1098300713491980

McKenna, J. W., Flower, A., Kyung Kim, M., Ciullo, S., & Haring. (2015). A systematic review of function-based interventions for students with learning disabilities. Learning Disabilities Research & Practices, 30, 15-28.

Michail, S. (2011). Understanding school responses to students’ challenging behaviour: A review of literature. Improving Schools, 14(2), 156-171. doi:10.1177/1365480211407764

Milleia, Z., & Petersena, E. B. (n.d.). Complicating ‘student behaviour’: exploring the discursive constitution of ‘learner subjectivities’. doi:10.1080/13632752.2014.947097

Muscott, H. S., Mann, E. L., & LeBrun, M. R. (2008). Positive behavioral interventions and suorts in New Hampshire: Effects of large-scale implementation of schoolwide positive behaviour support on student discipline and academic achievement. Journal of Positive Behavior Interventions, 10(3), 190-205.

Nemeth, K., & Brillante, P. (2011). Solving the puzzle: Dual language learners with challenging behaviours. YC Young Children, 66(4), 12-17.

O’Brennan, L. M., Bradshaw, C. P., & Furlong, M. J. (2014). Influence of classroom and school climate on teacher perceptions of student problem behavior. School Mental Health, 6(2), 125-136.

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