Saturday, January 18, 2014

Natural Consequences

I am learning so much at my job.  I've written previously about what a difficult transition it's been.

I work with kids with some hard-core emotional and behavior issues, who don't respond to normal punishment techniques.  At all.  They don't care about school or good grades.  A suspension is a welcome day off.

So we practice something called "natural consequences."  There isn't much disciplinary action that goes on because it won't deter the negative behaviors anyway, but somehow these kids have to be made to realize that the real world isn't going to tolerate the way they act, talk, and behave.

It's not a way I'm used to thinking. I'm used to a stricter, rule-based environment.  It's taken me a long time to get used to the fact that actions that would get a kid kicked out of a typical school are not exactly tolerated here, but are dealt with in a much more forgiving manner.  It's a place where negative behaviors are recognized as caused by biological disabilities, in most cases.

While we accept that much of these kids' behavior and lack of impulse control is due to a disability, we also have to teach them how to survive in the outside world.  A world where they will find there are natural consequences to their behaviors, whether or not they are in control of them.

A student who was given a bit of freedom to say, go outside for a short walk, and who threw litter on the ground and tried to knock over a street sign won't be able to go out and walk the next time he wants to.  And it's explained to him in a very calm, nonblaming manner.  I might say something like "well, the last time we walked, your actions were inappropriate, and so now we'll have to stay in the rest of the day.  We can try going out again tomorrow."

It can be very frustrating.  But these kids have shown time and again they have no respect for authority and no motivation whatsoever to do right and follow rules.

Sometimes our plan of doling out natural consequences works; sometimes it seems to have no effect.  We stick to the consistency of this routine, though, and hopefully it finds a niche in these kids' brains and sticks.

I love it though.  It's shown me one more example of how diverse the world is, and how much I don't understand about different kinds of people.  I thought I knew the Special Needs World because I'm a part of it, but even within that world there are variances so wide, we have no idea what each other might be dealing with.  I was completely clueless as to how much of what we define as simply "criminal" behavior is actually caused by a brain disorder.  As I get to know these kids I can see the incredible lack of control they have over their emotions and impulses, and I'm drawn to help them.  I see the frustration and anxiety they live with almost every moment of the day, and I'm awed and inspired when they manage to overcome their own deficits.

And I want other people to understand.  You know that impulse to bite your fingernails?  Or to twirl your hair?  What if that impulse was instead to break things?  What if your fingers itched to tear books?  Be thankful that your impulses are controllable, or at least acceptable in society.  Not everyone is so lucky.

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