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FREW Consultants Group        
Monday, October 29 2018

Dissociation

The dominance of male students who appear in suspension data or are attending special settings for ‘out of control’ behaviour, is a feature of all school systems.  If you agree with us that most dysfunctional behaviour is formed in abusive early childhood environments, this reality is counter-intuitive as young girls are at least as likely to be subjected to abuse as boys.  In fact, there is a strong case for inferring that girls are more likely to be abused when you consider that sexual assaults by adult males are most likely to be directed to females. 

The simple answer to this quandary is that these behaviours are cultural and historically females have learned to stay quiet about how they feel and suffer in silence.  There is some truth to this but I offered an explanation about these disproportionate numbers.  This belief based on the work of the anthropologist Louis Leakey who hypothesizes that boys have evolved to externalize their actions.  Once humans became the apex species the main threat to survival was attacks from another tribe.  In the event of such battles males had a greater chance of survival if they act-out, fought the invaders or ran to safety; that is they took action.  Such a response was not as effective for females and children.  They were more likely to survive if they surrendered or dissociated.  They would be taken as trophies.

Reasons that lead me to support this conclusion are that even in modern ‘tribal wars’ like those during the break-up on Yugoslavia in the 1990’s, the Balkans and Kosovo saw acts of murderous brutality against the male populations.  The resulting mass graves were primarily filled with the bodies of potential opponent soldiers. 

I believe this underlies an examination of the suspension data in our schools.  Up to about age ten or eleven the suspension rate of boys is marginally higher than girls.  When we look at the data for puberty and beyond the figure for boys explodes.  I suggest this is when their adult disposition is initiated.

If you look at the most common diagnosis of dysfunctional behaviour that results from early childhood abuse the most common are Conduct Disorder, Oppositional Defiance Disorder and Dissociation Identity Disorder.  The first two disorders are largely populated with boys; in the latter girls dominate the numbers.

In broad terms dissociation from the immediate environment is on a continuum ranging from mild detachment to a more severe isolation.  It is a detachment from the reality rather than a loss of reality that occurs if the child is suffering a psychotic episode. The clinical description of Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID) is a single person who experiences himself/herself as having separate parts of the mind that function with some autonomy.  It manifests as a lack of connection in a person’s thoughts, memories, feelings and actions. 

As stated above almost exclusively these people have documented histories of repeated, overwhelming and often life threatening trauma during sensitive developmental stages of childhood.  At the time of the abuse when the child is faced with this overwhelming trauma and there is no physical escape, they go away ‘in their head’.  This is a highly creative method of survival allowing them to endure in apparent hopeless situations.  If the trauma is repeated eventually this develops as an automatic response to situations which have similar environmental characteristics, despite not being life threatening.  That is if the stimulus presented has strong ‘reminder’ qualities of the original traumatic event(s) the child will dissociate.

How does this disability appear in the classroom?  It does and is a real interference to the potential learning outcomes for these students.  The problem for teachers is that these, mostly girls are quiet and compliant and pose no obvious challenge.  The student’s ‘invisibility’ is intensified in classrooms where there is a core of students with acting out, dysfunctional behaviours.  Teachers are so occupied controlling the obvious problems these girls are left to suffer in silence.

However, schools have a duty to support these students so they will learn.  The following approach will at least create the conditions that allow the students to operate in an environment that will improve the student’s personal control.  These include:

  • Creating a structured environment where the students learn to predict the consequences of their behaviour thus allowing them to regain a sense of control in their life
  • Developing a place that is safe and secure for the students
  • Developing strong boundaries for the students so that they can protect themselves against stimuli that has the same characteristics as the early abuse but not the same ‘real threat’
  • Presenting a program where the students get their needs met
  • Developing a cognitive framework for the students so that they can sort out how they think and feel, undoing damaging ‘self concepts’ and learning about what is ‘normal’
  • Hold the students responsible for their behaviour

The dissociated student presents a real challenge but along with the steps outlined above it is powerful to point out to the student that they have the right to participate and to get their needs met.

Posted by: AT 10:23 pm   |  Permalink   |  0 Comments  |  Email
Monday, October 22 2018

 

Boundary Considerations

In the Newsletter Teaching Practical Boundaries (31st July 2017) I outlined the process of establishing effective boundaries.  The work described how you know your boundaries are being threatened and how to protect yourself.  This simplified approach is useful to either protect yourself from harm or to teach students how they can protect themselves and to develop independence.

Of course, boundaries are not that simple in the complex world of a teacher and the following will help create more professional boundaries that allow you to stay ‘in control’ in the most challenging situations.

Let’s start with a more realistic description of how we create our boundaries.  In a pure form your boundary is the interface between your-self and non-self.  As we grow we constantly build a connection between incoming stimulus, how that affects us and what happens if or when we act in response to that stimulus.  Eventually, after a number of trial and errors a set of rules will develop; those rules will be our reality.  The more consistently the impact of the stimulus and/or the consequence of our behaviour is interconnected the stronger will be the accepted reality.  The link is why we really start to believe we know what just happened or what will happen in any experienced situation.

The day to day correlation between our experiences of the physical world is considerably robust.   We soon learn that if we jump off a wall we fall to the ground or if we go out into the rain without protection we get wet.  But, people are biological beings and our experiences are dependent on the environment in which we develop.   Therefore, the correlation between what happens in my reality and yours is not so consistent.

However, there is enough of a matched response to situations between individuals to allow a broad sense of a shared reality.  This is particularly true if the development of our reality is within a homogenous group.  When we grow-up in a neighbourhood with shared socio-economic and cultural norms, the links between actions and consequences are more likely to be alike.  The chances are that you and the person with whom you experience an event will share the similar beliefs about that incident.  This shared reality will allow you to predict what is most likely to happen in a given situation and that is essential in building a safe and secure environment.

What are the complications for teachers?

The first is that there is a probability that you will be working in a community where the cultural expectations you learned are not the same as the culture you are working in.  The expectations of families, for their kids may clash with yours.  What you expect to happen may not be what they expect to happen.  To compound this problem, even within communities over time traditions change; the older you become the more out of touch you are with those pesky teenagers who grow-up in a ‘modern’ environment.  So again a clash of customs will occur.  It is this clash which will create a level of tension. To protect yourself from that tension the likely thing is to defend your view of reality which by implication means you reject the other view.  You’re right and they are wrong!

The second professional consideration is that you are dealing with children who are just developing their sense of reality.  Because of their limited experience very young children are still learning the stimulus-response/action-consequence connections.  Also, many of these lessons belong on the developmental path they are age dependent and so their reactions you expect for a given situation may not be present.  Say you are annoyed at something they have done, it may well be that they just didn’t know what to do.  Your ‘annoyance’ may provide the correct feedback they need to create this reality!

Finally, the kids we are focused on, those with damaged childhoods will most likely have an interpretation of any situation where there is a disagreement.  Their idea of what should happen, their reality may well be very much at odds with yours.  One example of this clash of realities is that many of these kids are comfortable in a noisy, chaotic classroom while such a classroom will/should strain your sense of ‘safety and security’ this situation will violate your boundaries.  But, when you get the class under control, achieve a state of calm this situation will threaten the abused child, it is not their reality.

One of the great impediments to having strong and effective boundaries is the faulty belief that your reality is another’s reality. This can never be the case (see Newsletter - Theory of Mind, 7th August 2018) your internal world, your reality is yours, it is unique and has developed in response to your perceptions and the environment in which you developed.  Too many people take for granted that their reality is the only reality and when there is a clash in the response to a situation they believe the other person is deliberately taking an action that annoys you. 

As a teacher, you have a professional duty to understand that the children you are dealing with may have a very different view of the world so it is worth repeating the third step in setting those practical boundaries.

Ask the Questions

  • ‘What is really happening’?  This is often not the obvious event.
  • ‘Who is responsible’?

If ‘me’ then I must take responsibility, take action to address the cause of the stress.

If not ‘me’ then I ask a further two questions:

  • ‘What is causing the attack’?
  • What do I have to do to change this situation in the long run’?

Boundaries are extremely important in every part of our life but it is no more important than when you are in charge of a classroom.  This is where your skills define you as a professional teacher!  Remember reality is just a set of rules learned to live in the environment you first develop and continue to live.  These children need the reality that will help them change their reality and so you need to create a structured and supportive environment that will facilitate this.

This change takes time so you have to rely on your own boundaries to allow you to hang in with these most deserving kids.  Understanding their reality, how it damages them, how to help this change should be your reality and this will give you the resilience to turn up each day.

Posted by: AT 10:42 pm   |  Permalink   |  0 Comments  |  Email
Monday, October 15 2018

Resilience

One of the hallmarks of successful students is their resilience; that is, their ‘toughness’ they display when facing some stressful situation that may have long-term negative consequences.  Resilient kids soon get over inevitable set-backs and get on with their life.  Teachers know there is a clear link between a student’s resilience and their learning outcomes and school bureaucrats and educational academics have quickly adopted this link and promote the development of resilience in our schools. 

They understand that students with healthy resilience have confidence in their ability to get through the hard times and have a positive outlook about their future.  Resilient kids have:

  • A deep-seated trust in their community, that they will be safe and supported even when they make a mistake 
  • They have confidence in their ability to solve problems and that they will be supported while they work through difficulties
  • They have a strong sense of self and know they are valued by those that care for them
  • They have the ability to control their levels of stress when faced with a difficulty.

 It will come of no surprise that those students who have severe behaviours, those for whom we advocate and we deal with in these Newsletters are not resilient.  In fact, they are just the opposite and It is no wonder.

Children with severe behaviours:

  • Do not trust the community and never expect support; their experience has taught them just the opposite!
  • They have no confidence that they will succeed, not in the short term and they have no concept of long-term consequences
  • They have a toxic view of their sense of self, that is they don’t make mistakes they believe they are mistakes
  • They are imprisoned by their inability to control the overwhelming effects of stress levels experienced when they are under threat.
  • They have given-up on their self.

The fact is when these children are faced with a crisis situation that threatens their sense of security they will either be consumed by that stress, that is they can erupt with high levels of anger, act out against the threat or they can internalize these acute emotions or implode into and dissociate from the problem.  In either case they are beaten by the stress; they are firmly locked into this dysfunctional response.

The fact is the vast majority of these kids have developed this non-resilient sense of self because of the parenting they have received and the idea that the teacher can provide effective therapy to help them develop resilience is fanciful. It is important to recognise that teachers are not therapists, they have to deal with these kids within the confines of four walls and a significant number of ‘other kids’.  So, what can we do in our resource poor classrooms for these kids? 

As always for so many of these kids the only chance they have is their teacher so again, it is up to the teacher to try to develop their resilience.  Sadly, unless they can, these students will never reach their learning potential.

So, what to do? Well resilience can be considered a personal set of characteristics we would want for all our students.  We want them to:

  • Have a positive sense of their worth
  • Have them develop a sense of trust and be trusted by others in their class and life
  • Have the confidence that they have the ability and the right to solve their own problems in their own way while knowing the support is there if and when they fail
  • Have a sense that they can pursue their own goals and careers; they have something to live for.

The solution in the classroom lies is in the way the classroom is run; by the teacher presenting a very structured set of behaviour rules each child learns to develop a sense of power over the situations in which they find themselves.  They gain an understanding that their outcomes are related to their actions both positive and negative.  Keeping in mind, as the student’s confidence develops it is important to increase the level of challenge to a level that ‘gets the child’s attention’ but not too much that will overwhelm them. 

This structured action – consequence organisation will allow the students to gain a cognitive understanding of how the world works.  But, this is only half the equation.

The level of personal support the teacher offers is critical if we are to develop personal strength in these kids.  Just how much we are there with them while they learn reinforces their sense of worth, first to you a significant other in their life and gradually to themselves.  This level of support, in a normal situation is proportional to the age of the student.  That is, young students require high levels of support and this drops as the students mature, developing their resilience as they age. 

However, and importantly, for students with severe behaviours this relationship between support and development is not directly related to ‘age’ but to the level of their self-control.  A totally dysfunctional thirteen-year-old will need the same level of personal support as a child in kindergarten.   When you have one of these dysfunctional students in your class it is your professional duty to give them this level of support.  The good news is they will develop at a quicker rate if you get the environment right.  

Resilience is a desirable quality for all of us, we deserve it.  Damaged kids have had that ability taken away from them through the abuse or neglect they grew-up in.  Society owes it to them to develop those characteristics that were denied them so they can take their rightful place in their community!

Posted by: AT 07:08 pm   |  Permalink   |  0 Comments  |  Email

PRINCIPALS

John R Frew
Marcia J Vallance


ABN 64 372 518 772

ABOUT

The principals of the company have had long careers in education with a combined total of eighty-one years service.  After starting as mainstream teachers they both moved into careers in providing support for students with severe behaviours.

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