Paula's Sped Resources


by  Doug Doty

Just How Cognitively Delayed Is Cognitively Delayed?

  "What is important is not a child's IQ on a test, but his or her ability to function independently in society".  (BJ Freeman) IQ scores don't really tell you what the person can DO. Focus on skills and needs rather than the label. "Cognitively delayed /mentally retarded/developmentally disabled" is as much of a label as "Republican".

Is It Really A Problem Behavior?

Is the problem behavior a problem for YOU, but functional to the STUDENT? "Hey, I got out of this situation/got attention/got what I wanted!" Try to find the function of the behavior and a more acceptable alternative to teach the student.
"It's okay to be angry, it's not OK to hit people." We can't just shut people down when they display anger (without physical violence or property destruction). We need to teach people appropriate ways to show anger.
  Bad behavior is good behavior - it shows you care. A student who resists a task shows more potential than one who doesn't even care.
Self-stimulatory behavior: We all do it (how many of us have pens with teeth marks by them?). Trying to eliminate self-stimulatory behaviors can be very frustrating, as we can't watch the person 24 hours a day and 7
days a week. Often, discrimination training can be used to teach the person when it is acceptable/not acceptable to stim. Stimming is NOT OK when doing functional tasks, but can be an acceptable behavior during downtime. Don't forget to look at teaching more socially acceptable forms of stimulation (pencil vs. string).
If the student is in constant motion, is the environment that YOU provide not stimulating enough? Making the person slow down/sit down will result in a high level of pent-up energy and frustration for them (and probably you). What can you do to make activities more physical? Can you build in time during the day for the student to be physical?

  ATTENTION!  ATTENTION!!  ATTENTION!!!  If someone with a communication deficit is "doing something for attention", don't ignore them. Use this as an opportunity to teach her more appropriate ways of gaining attention and build on the student's current communication abilities.
Before labeling a behavior as non-compliant, ask yourself, "Does the student understand what I am asking her? Are they capable of doing it? Am I requesting or commanding?
If you find yourself saying, "Stop" or "Don't", make sure you offer an alternative behavior to the student.
Analyze your incident reports or other descriptions of problem behaviors. Do the behaviors occur because the student needs a better way to communicate? A better way to cope with waiting or disappointment? A better way of expressing their emotions?
Be wary of forcing a student to apologize to someone after a bad behavior. If they don't feel remorse for their actions, are you teaching them to lie?
How many times in a day does the person truly have a choice of what they are going to do?

What Do I Teach?

If you don't know where you're going, how can you know when you get there. Stop every now and then ask yourself, "Where is Johnny going to be in 3-5 years? What will he be doing? Who will he be doing it with?" This can help you identify skills to be taught.
Go to the environment Johnny will be in five years from now. Look at what tasks people with disabilities are expected to do. Ask the staff/teacher what skills they want people have when they enter that environment. Ask what problems or lack of skills cause people to fail in that environment.
"Now that you've identified the pre/vocational skills the student will learn, tell me exactly where he can get a paycheck with those skills." How many people do you know who get a livable wage for assembling pens, sorting by color or putting small objects into containers?
  In teaching any skill, ask yourself if the student finds the activity MEANINGFUL, FUNCTIONAL, USEABLE.
If the activity is useable and functional but doesn't have meaning to the student, try to show/tell them how it will be meaningful, 'Do you get more candy from Grandma if you say "Please" or if you say, "Give me that!" If you can't establish meaningfulness, increase the reinforcement.
To determine if a skill is functional and useable, ask, "How will the student use this skill after they've learned it? How often will they be able to use the skill?"

How Do I Teach?

Does the student REALLY know what is expected of them in a particular activity? It may be hopeful to show them how to do it several times before teaching them.
One question to ask when you are not making progress in teaching a skill is, "What relevance does the activity have from the STUDENTS point of view?"  Make it relevant or accept that it is non-relevant to the student and reward them into doing it.
For any activity ask, "What is the student supposed to learn in this activity?" Make sure that is what you teach.
Teach the skill, don't teach TO the skill.
Talking out loud (or quietly) can be a good way for the student to cue herself when learning a new task. "Put a big coin in, put a big coin in, press the red button, take the pop, check for change." Once the student has the skill sequence she can fade volume or length of the cues (don't forget to let the student to the talking.)
Teach colors by objects, not pieces of paper. (Do you want the white pop or the green pop? Can you get your red coat?") In real life we often use several descriptors (coat/red) for an object.
Peer tutors may model appropriate behavior more consistently than you can. They don't know that they're teaching.
Modify tasks and activities. How can you break down or change a task so that the student can do it?
Teach social skills. Most jobs are lost due to a lack of SOCIAL skills, not work skills.
Always say, "Please" and "Thank You".
It's easy to inadvertently teach people to become cue dependent (e.g., the student who won't do ANYTHING until you tell her to). Lessening the cues/prompts you give to people can help to avoid prompt dependency.
Develop the habit of cueing the person to initiate the ACTIVITY rather than preparatory steps (e.g., "Bob, it's time to do math." Rather than "Bob, sit down in the chair. Bob, take out your pencil. Bob, take out a piece of paper.") Make sure the student has the requisite skills and knows the skill sequence before fading to an activity cue.
If you talk too much people stop listening.
"Good job" has as much meaning as praise as "How are you?" has for a question.
We can teach through play, but it's easier to just play. Make sure you (and the student) distinguish between play activities or play time and work time. Be cautious of using a computer for both or save play time on the computer for a time when there will be a natural break (recess, lunch) before requiring the student to work on the computer.
For computer programs, watch to see if a wrong answer more exciting than a correct answer. If a wrong answer gives me a buzzer and some great graphics while a correct answer just gives me another problem, I might pick the wrong answer just for the excitement.
It's easy to give students too many unintended verbal or physical prompts. Spend some time with your hands in your pockets. Don't talk for 1/2 hour, just use gestures and modeling cues.
In most instances, wait 5 seconds before you prompt the student to do the next step or activity.
Does anybody really know what time it is? Does anybody really care? Knowing how to tell time can be important, but for a student who has no control over their schedule or who will always live/work in a controlled environment time may have no relevance. The same can be true of teaching days of the week.  How is Tuesday different from Wednesday
for the student?
Instead of saying, "We'll do that later.", Give sequence information - "We'll do (activity) after lunch." Or "After we clean up we can . . . "
Remember that not everyone is motivated by the same reinforcers. Look at what the person enjoys doing and what they don't enjoy.
Are most of your comments in the classroom cues or directives ("It's time to . . .; Stop doing . . .) or praise and interaction ("Thanks for your help!, Did you watch the news last night?) Have someone else count your comments and give you feedback.


Keep track of your comments to students for ten minutes. How many of your statements are corrective or directive? ("Please don't . . ."; "You need to stand up and go to . . .") How many of your comments are praise or encouragement? Do you ever have an actual conversation with the student, one without an ulterior motive?
Why write when you can type? Will handwriting the primary means of communication for the student? If you are having difficulty teaching writing, try typing. Which do YOU do more of- handwriting or typing?
Does the student not talk because he doesn't need to? What opportunities does the student have to talk? Do YOU always respond to a gestural response from the student, rather than requiring a vocal response?
A useful activity for any student is to "be the student" for an hour or longer. Follow the student, do the same activities, do the same self-stim behaviors, etc. This can give you insight as to her feelings. It can also help you in identifying skills the student needs to learn.
Any communication system to be used by the student must;
1. be portable
2. be available in all environments
3. work better than the students current method of communication
4. be necessary
Teaching reading means teaching comprehension (MEN = where to go to toilet, not just what to point at when I give you cards with MEN and WOMEN)
Teaching numbers means teaching functional usage. Orally counting to five is less important than taking five cans of pop to fill the machine.
Teaching eye contact for the sake of eye contact is a waste of time and offensive to both parties. I don't have to see you to hear you.
When someone is leaving your classroom/other setting, a half hour videotape of the person can be more valuable than a foot of files.

  If a student uses sign language or specific gestures to communicate, make up a sign language vocabulary book that they can take to their next classroom or setting. Students may slightly change signs from the strict ASL or SEE description, so that someone else familiar with sign languages misinterprets the sign.
Sign language can be useful, but only with other people who understand sign. Using sign language at Taco Generica to order a burrito, a coke and an ice cream cone might pose difficulties. Be aware of situations where the student might need to use other means of communication (iconic menus, communication wallet)
back to homepage