Sample Thesis Chapter 2 - Study of the Problem
Chapter Two: Study of the Problem
Several Pre-K students in three of the five Pre-K classrooms are hitting and spitting on other students, tearing others work papers, covering their own ears in music and act unsafely on the playground on a consistent daily basis. These four and five years olds also display characteristics of being over sensitive to noise, lighting, clothing, smells and tastes of food. They cannot stand in a line to enter or exit a classroom or bathroom, they become hysterical when the fire alarm drills when the buzzers sound and lights strobe, they have difficulty participating in circle or share time or even sitting within a foot of other children on the carpet. They do not respond to a gentle touch on their shoulders, but pull away or run to a corner of the room or out the door. They cringe at loud noises, spit out snack foods if they do not like the texture or taste, and physically push away children who walk up and ask if they would like to play.
It is important to Vacaville Christian Schools to provide academic excellence in a safe nurturing environment for all children. Vacaville Christian Schools believes all children can be successful, but feels new curriculum and teacher training might are necessary to help children who act out asocially or exhibit symptoms of Sensory Processing Disorder also known as Sensory Motor Integration Difficulties.
Currently teachers are frustrated and overwhelmed by behaviors which are hurtful and disruptive. Parent interviews and conferences show these same behaviors are also exhibited in the home and are also overwhelming the parents. Few resource services are available to parents as many pediatricians who see the children for only a few minutes at a time tell parents they must expect these typical immature four year old behaviors.
Teachers using traditional methods of behavior charts and setting strict classroom rules and guidelines for consistent behavior are finding limited if any success. Children’s self esteem falls further as the same children repeatedly find themselves in trouble and yet another referral for disruptive or hurtful behavior goes homes on their sign out sheets.
The teachers complain that most of the children can follow the rules and treat others kindly, the parents of the disruptive children must make the children obey. Parents and grandparents come to the classroom daily to sit and observe their children and intercede when problems arise but no lasting effect is seen.
Teachers spend more time dealing with disruptions than they do telling stories, leading music or facilitating center or share time. Because of these disruptions, center time is ineffective, other students are complaining about being bullied, and parents are complaining about play ground and center safety, resulting in higher stress for the teachers and less learning for all children involved, including the at risk students.
Teachers are tired of using their prep time to write student referrals for negative behaviors, parents cringe when entering the school each day dreading yet another note on their child’s sign out sheet. Highly sensitive children are tired of getting into trouble at school and spending much of their time in time out. They cry at home and no longer want to come to school. The constant playground and center disruptions from these four preschoolers are beginning to influence and cause diminished performance results from other children in the class.
Even with teachers attending seminars for working with problem behaviors that occur in classrooms, in-service on discipline and reaching the heart of a child, and parents attending parenting classes very little improvement is seen, and most is short lived.
The writer feels much more can be done. The writer is the parent of an adopted child who was exposed to drugs prenatally who struggles with sensory motor integration difficulties. The writer has attended many workshops and read many books on ways to understand and help the child who marches to a different drummer. The writer has met with her superintendent, the second administrator, the administrative team and her two head teachers who all feel these children’s special needs must be addressed if they are to be promoted into the K-12 program and remain at Vacaville Christian Schools.
In the two classrooms that do not have adopted children who were exposed to drugs prenatally the classroom’s atmosphere are relaxed and nurturing. Teacher greet smiling parents and hug four and five year old children who run into the teacher’s arms greeting them with a newsflash of everything that happened from the last time they parted. “Homework”, cut out pictures from a newspaper that start with the letter “c” taped to a piece of construction paper or the child’s name traced on a piece of lined paper is excitedly turned in for a sticker of the child’s choice. Lunch boxes are placed on the wooden ledge or “hot lunch” cards are pulled from the child’s sign in/out sheet and placed into the basket by the sign in/out book for the lunch count. The children with mom or dad proudly looking on, skip to their cubby and pull out their construction paper folder complete with “Dd says d-d-d as in dinosaur” and a bright smiling picture of a red triceratops and their crayon box and marker and place it on their nametag which is covered with see through contact paper on one of the various primary color tables. Then after several more hugs and kisses good-bye, the child runs to the “good-bye window” for one less wave and to throw one more kiss before joining a group of friends for free play or choosing a puzzle or center activity to take back to one of the tables.
In three of the five Pre-K classrooms at Vacaville Christian School there is an absence of the warmth and relaxed atmosphere that is exhibited in the other two Pre-K classrooms. Parents often carry whiny or crying children into the classroom; those who come in holding their parent’s hands are solemn faced and have difficulty in transitioning into the program. They either exhibit withdrawn tendencies, sitting away from other children, leery of joining in at one of the open centers such as dramatic play, blocks, library or art or they immediately plow through block castles, tumbling other children’s masterpieces to the ground causing hurt feelings and tears. A teacher’s smile and “how are you today Bobby” can have a face pressed into mom’s tummy. Little or no eye contact is seen unless the teacher patiently kneels by the child stroking their arm gently and waits for it. In a classroom with many children walking in at the same time greeting the teacher simultaneously this doesn’t always take place. Homework that is turned into the basket appears to have been done by the parent, rather than the child. One parent comments “my child threw away all of his papers that had stickers on them that said “great job” or “terrific” or were pictures of animals. If his papers don’t say “excellent” he throws them in the garbage. What do I do?” When the parent asks “what is for hot lunch today” the highly sensitive child quickly looks up scanning the teacher’s face listening intently for the reply. The teacher replies “we’re having spaghetti and green beans and Jell-O with fruit.” The child whines “I don’t want sgetti, it’s too wiggly, green beans are yucky, Jell-O is slimy . . . bring me McDonald’s, promise you’ll bring me McDonald’s!” The parent, knowing well the behavior will escalate into a full temper tantrum within minutes quickly agrees to the child’s whiny demands. The teacher gently suggests the child get out her folder and crayons before joining a playgroup. The child slumps into her chair, the parent proceeds to the cubby to remove and bring back the requested items all the while making pleasant conversation with the child, trying to transition the child into the Pre-K program in a more relaxed manner before the parent leaves for work. The parent, glancing at the clock states “I guess it’s time for me to leave” and leans down to kiss the child’s head. The parent states I wave good-bye to you at the “good-bye window” and a solemn faced child walks to the window holding the teacher’s hand to wave good-bye to mom. The child turns to join the class, but the teacher sees the mother’s shoulder’s slump as if she is totally exhausted from all the effort it takes to help her child start another morning at school. The phone rings in the classroom within minutes, the child’s mother is now on her cell phone in her car “you will be able to reach me all day as usual if there are any problems.”
When the adopted drug exposed child walks into a classroom, a quiet and orderly classroom can be quickly transformed into bedlam, with shouts of “it smells funny in here”, “it’s too cold”, “it’s too hot”, “the music is too loud, it hurts my ears!” When this over sensitive child arrives peace can turn into chaos. When there are two or three over sensitive children in the same classroom, the joy of teaching quickly turns to despair.
The writer has observed that the two classrooms which do not have adopted drug exposed children have fewer than two “referrals”, notes to parents explaining hurtful or unsafe behavior, each week. In classrooms which have adopted drug exposed children the director often receives two referrals each day. These referrals show the director not only the unsafe or hurtful behavior that took place, but how many phone calls were made to parents, how many parent teacher conferences were requested to discuss the behaviors, and the director can easily see how much time the teacher was pulled from classroom activities to deal with what has taken place. Referrals have been written on Pre-K children in these three classrooms for:
- threatening to shoot and kill another child or lock them in jail
- for biting, kicking, scratching or punching a child
- for spitting in a child’s face
- for throwing rocks into a child’s face repeatedly, and many other behaviors.
Directors have observed through carefully reading and charting the referrals that over 75% of the referrals occur during outdoor play. While the same number of teachers are observing the children and facilitating play, the children have a very large outdoor area with several types of swings, slides, and ride toys with giant springs, horizontal ladder, large sand box, trikes and many other choices. When a teacher kneels to tie a shoe, or give a child a push on a swing she is briefly limited to one child, and while 10 of the other 11 are willing to follow routine safety rules, too often the child who marches to a different drummer does not. This child has thrown his sweater into the rocks and kicked it away “because it scratches”. When a friend happily runs to bring him the sweater expecting a “thank you” he is pushed down for his trouble and begins to cry. When another child runs up to one of the highly sensitive children and taps his back and says “want to play”, the child who was tapped has just entered the “fight-flight-fright mode” of his adrenaline rush and with a delayed ability to read facial expression or tone of voice has just punched the face of the child who gently tapped his shoulder. When asked “why did you punch Timmy” by the teacher he defiantly remarks “he hit me!” Often at least one child in a classroom will notice which children tend to erupt most often and will occasionally make a comment merely to see the eruption take place.
The playground is an overwhelming place to these hyper sensitive children with so many children screaming as they bump into their peers, swings soaring, trikes racing by, and ground surfaces uneven with rock, lawn and concrete walkways.
Even with weekly staff meetings, monthly expected outcome brain-storming sessions and numerous parent teacher conferences, any victories appear to be short lived. Young children in general tend to react, rather than respond to their circumstances. Children who struggle with sensory motor integration difficulties, the highly sensitive children, over react in most circumstances.
The administration, writer, and school nurse all believe the teachers sincerely want to help every child in their classroom be successful. Prior to this study the teachers were asked to list the antecedents most likely to cause friction with this age group. Additional curriculum and learning toys were purchased to alleviate the tension of waiting for popular center materials to be available. Daily routines were modified to decrease “waiting time” and more centers were added to decrease the number of children in any one center. While these actions were somewhat successful in diminishing lag time tension in the centers, the solutions addressed only the symptoms rather than the problem itself.
Vacaville Christian Schools is concerned with optimum development in each child. Emotional and social growth are equally as important as physical, spiritual and intellectual advancement. While it is apparent some teachers are more willing to adapt their classroom time to meet the additional needs of these over sensitive students, burn out is a very real problem for all teachers. Traditional methodologies need constant adjustment and still do not hold up against the negative behaviors which increase rather than decrease each week. Traditional teaching does not soothe the child whose social and emotional state is “out-of – sync” with the rest of the class. Standard early education assessment methods do not address the core problems these children face. The school nurse supplies staff with resources for parents including medical screening in the community. While no staff has suggested medication for the children, parents of six of the affected Pre-K children have discussed these behavior issues with their pediatricians who have offered to begin or increase ADHD medications and have offered the possibility of psychiatric counseling. Three of the parents have started their children on Ritalin; one more is still in the screening process. Other parents are adamant against all ADHD medications. While there are no physical or occupational therapists available to work with the children, their advice has been sought for possible solutions. Attempts have been made to implement some of their techniques, but no formal plan of action has taken place.
Additionally, teachers have expressed concern on behalf of the children in the class who do not suffer from unusual emotional or social problems. Teacher’s state parents are concerned that some of the less mature children might be picking up some of the negative habits that are routinely exhibited. There is also a concern that the classroom is not the safe play haven it should be with constant outbursts and tantrums. Nap time is regularly disturbed and center time, music, story and art are often disrupted. Teachers have commented on the amount of personal time they spend at home re-writing lesson plans in attempts to accommodate these drug children. Teachers have also expressed concerns from the parents in their classroom who wonder if their children are getting enough attention from teachers who deal repeatedly with children exhibiting out of bounds behavior. This is a legitimate concern to administration as these parents pay high tuition each month and retention of families is an all school goal.
The writer has observed a higher tension level in the three classrooms containing children who are highly sensitive and suffer from sensory motor integration difficulties. These classrooms do not show the same progress in preparing for kindergarten. Many individual and group conversations with the Pre-K teacher’s show concern that the Pre-K children will not have the skill base necessary to move into Vacaville Christian School’s highly academic kindergarten classes in the fall. Teachers feel too much teaching time is being used for behavior modification. The administration, writer and teachers feel curriculum improvement and more specialized training are needed if they are to prepare all children for kindergarten.
Vacaville Christian Schools in partnership with home and church exists to provide a distinctive; Christ centered education, in a nurturing environment which equips young people to excel in life and service to Jesus Christ. Every school goal and policy is defined through the mission of Vacaville Christian Schools. The administrators and staff strive to offer a school program that excels in all areas and meets each child’s emotional, social, physical, spiritual and intellectual development. Vacaville Christian Schools accepts no state or federal money, and exists only on tuition and monetary gifts to the school. The staff at Vacaville Christian School does not make the same salary teachers might make at Head Start or in a church supported school, but they are expected to have the same education. Every staff member is encouraged to be a life-learner, to work towards their next level of education. A yearly stipend is paid to each teacher who enrolls in and completes new early education courses, or courses which will complete their associates, bachelors or master’s program.
The elementary, middle school and high school departments each have a resource teacher to help students who are struggling primarily in reading or math. The early education department does not have a resource teacher or any teachers trained in special education. The purpose of this study is not to show the need for a resource teacher for the early education department. The purpose of this study and primarily this literature review is to confirm the lasting effects of prenatal drug abuse and to suggest a paradigm shift for teacher’s who will teach and interact with these children.
According to literature children who are not able to interact socially or emotionally with others present a very real problem in schools now, and will continue to do so to a greater extent as they mature and move up through the school system. Without a change in curriculum and staff awareness and training, these children are not likely to make strong friendships now, or be a part of a permanent relationship when they are older. “Robbie had problems in fine and gross motor skills and in sensory integration. His fine motor difficulties involved what are called bilateral assistive skills such as using scissors or buttoning. He also had trouble controlling his posture and processing his movements in space , as well as balance, muscle tone and motor planning problems”(p. 106, 1996). Greenspan says this child can copy a picture or a puzzle, but not handle swinging or coming down a slide.
One myth which needs to be dispelled is that “children are flexible”. In truth, the highly sensitive child is not flexible, but desperately needs adults in his world to help him gain these skills. Dr. Ross Greene in The Explosive Child states “mastery of flexibility and frustration tolerance is crucial to a child’s overall development because interacting adaptively with the world requires the continual ability to solve problems, work out disagreements, and control the emotions one experiences when frustrated.” (p. 12, 2005).
Disciplining children who are highly sensitive and suffer from sensory defensiveness is a further cause of concern. These children live in a state of “red alert”. Occupational Therapist Linda Stephens refers to Dr. Ayer’s title of “tactile defensiveness”, a “hyper responsiveness to touch which was first identified by Dr. Ayers in the 1960’s. This individual has such a highly aroused nervous system that he is characterized by a “fight, flight or fright” reaction to information others would consider non threatening” (1997). These are the children who appear rigid demanding wanting tags cut out of clothing, socks turned inside out because the seams are uncomfortable and unwilling to try new snacks and hot lunch items because of they do not like the textures. This child is often unwilling to flush the toilet at bathroom break because of the loud noise and sits during music with his hands on his ears. Expecting children to “just do it” is no more realistic than asking an adult to be happy about having a root canal.
Highly sensitive children and children suffering from sensory motor integration difficulties need teachers willing to plan a curriculum which includes modeling positive social reinforcers on a daily basis. Rex Forehand says in Parenting the Strong Willed Child, “positive attention, smiles, and laughter are social reinforcers that highly sensitive children desperately need. These social reinforcers work slowly and have to occur repeatedly in order to significantly change a person’s behavior” (p.16, 2002). “Punishment” says Forehand “teaches children what not to do, but not what to do” (p.19, 2002). Teachers must regularly plan time daily to teach all your children how to read body language, how to express their feelings, how to understand that laughter can be joyful rather than hurtful, and that each time a friend looks at them and laughs or smiles it is a gift, and not a mean act.
To make a positive change in these children’s lives teachers must be willing to make a change in their thinking and methodology. Literature confirms this child is not trying to be difficult. As Dr. Ross Greene states in The Explosive Child, “children do well if they can, teachers need a new plan do help them do well. Plan A impose your will does not work. Plan C drop the expectation isn’t helpful either. Plan B calls for collaborative problem solving, pursuing your expectations, reducing the likelihood of explosions, and teaching the child skills so eventually he can do well in the world without your help,”(p. 273, 2005) is the suggested game plan.
Each teacher needs to honestly measure their own feelings about working with children who have special needs. A mistaken approach by many staff members has been to struggle with the classroom authority. Some of the faculty believed more consistent rules and a stronger classroom routine would diminish stress. Some staff persists in believing if the classroom works for the majority of children it works for all children. Dr. Stanley Greenspan dispels the myth that a one-size-fits-all approach will work with these children. “Contrary to the belief that all of us experience basic sensations similarly, we have found that children vary considerable in how they perceive sights, sounds, touch, odors, and movement patterns. A child may be overly sensitive an over reactive or under sensitive and under reactive to a given sense.”(p. 4, 1996).
Literature shows us additional baggage these highly sensitive children carry. To the teachers who feel they spent the first two weeks teaching the class the correct routine, and the child who does not follow it is choosing to be noncompliant, Dr. Greenspan replies this is not the case. Many have poor fine and gross motor skills. They have difficulty with motor planning, “some children are gifted in their ability to plan complex behaviors and movement patterns, while others find even the most elementary sequencing of motor acts, such as putting their fingers in their mouths a most perplexing task. “The overly sensitive child can experience motor planning challenges – the skills that are required to carry out a series of action sequences, such as putting on socks or remembering a night time routine of brushing teeth, putting on pajamas and kissing mom and dad goodnight”(p. 4 & 38, 1996).
Literature also gives us strong guidelines on the class size and ratio’s that are best for these children. Remembering this child’s poor motor skills and lack of ability to handle chaos, pediatrician Perri Klass suggests parents and teachers make wise choices for their highly sensitive kids. “How many children are in this child’s room? What kind of furniture is in the room? If there is a bench, can the child physically support himself on a bench, especially when the room is crowded and the noise level is very high” (p. 160, 2003).
How much is the over sensitive child trying to take in and when does it get to be too much? Greenspan says “because sensitive children are so tuned into sensations, they tend to experience the world in little pieces. They see the details but miss the big picture. This child might react to a part of a visual image, rather than the entire image. They may be frightened by a clown’s face because they focus on the big nose or all the orange hair, and are unable to see these features as a part of something that others might see as funny”(p. 37, 1996).
The pioneer of sensory integration difficulties, A. Jean Ayres was the first occupational therapist who clearly defined its dysfunction. Ayer’s analogy was “think of the compare the brain to a large city with traffic consisting of neural impulses. Good sensory processing enables all the impulses to flow easily and reach their destination quickly. Sensory integrative dysfunction is a sort of traffic jam in the brain. Some bits of sensory information get tied up in traffic and certain parts of the brain do not get the sensory information they need to do their jobs” (Ayres, p. 51).
Literature explains that Sensory Motor Integration Disorder and children suffering from characteristics of it such as sensory overload lead an exceptionally difficult and frightening life. Greensspan states “imagine how you would feel if you attended a rock concert after staying up at night consuming cup after cup of strong coffee. The sound would probably ground right through you, while the flashing lights and crowded bodies would be bewildering, overwhelming. Many overly sensitive children feel this way every day, as if they have little barrier between themselves and the rest of the world. They feel as if things are happening to them, rather than feeling they have much control over their life. While our senses can give us pleasure, they are entirely difficult for the highly sensitive child. A friendly touch might feel harsh to her. Certain sounds may seem to come out of a bull horn. Certain smells seem oppressive. Even bright colors can overwhelm” (p. 36, 1996).
This study shows the deficits that can be expected in the social abilities of the preschool child who suffers from Sensory Motor Integration Difficulties which generally comes from prenatal substance abuse. (Kane, Anthony M.D., 2004-6). Dr. Terry Brazleton in Touch Points 3-6 says these deficits are many and very real. These children have “clumsy, disorganized behavior which creates a sense of failure that only adds to their distress. This child can rarely describe his sensory experiences t others because he has no internal baseline with which to compare them. He has poor adaptive behavior, an inability to respond to new circumstances, especially when expectations are high and new people are involved” (p. 422-3, 2001). Teachers need to think of children’s first days and weeks in school and what happens when new teachers transition in and out of these children’s lives.
One of the most important reminders literature gives us is that these children are victims of abuse and did not chose the difficult life conditions they live with. It will also show what courses of action the preschool teacher has in working with children who are affected by Sensory Motor Integration Difficulties (SMID). Dr. Ross Greene cautions teachers “if you interpret this child’s behavior as planned, intentional, and purposeful, then use labels such as stubborn, willful, manipulative, bratty, attention-seeking, out of control and defiant, then popular strategies at motivating compliant behavior and teaching the child who the boss is will make perfect sense” (p.15, 2005) but he cautions you will be completely off base and will fail in all of your endeavors. Teachers must be extremely honest in their own self-evaluation in working with these highly sensitive children, and recognize it’s not an easy journey. “It is essential we create a community of learners by emphasizing a social curriculum as much as we do an academic curriculum” (p.258, 1996) states Greene.
Lastly this study examines the possibilities of physical and occupational therapy increasing the ability for children suffering from SMID to increase their social abilities with peers (Stephens, Linda C, 1997). While literature points to physical and occupational therapy being the most promising treatment for the underlying problems that cause sensory motor integration difficulties, literature gives us many options for helping our Pre-K children right now. Carol Stock Kranowitz, author of The Out-of-Sync Child Has Fun- Activities for Kids with sensory Processing Disorder (2003) shows teachers in this book how easy it is to add meaningful activities to their daily lesson plans in her chart at the back of her book. A small portion of her chart is printed below:
- Various prenatal and family dynamic factors can contribute to the causes for these asocial behaviors.
- Preschoolers have a short attention span and children suffering from SMID which can be caused by prenatal substance abuse causing an increased lack of focus, generally resulting in ADHD.
- Personalities and temperaments as well as reaction to prescribed medications such as Ritalin and Concerta can come into play.
- Family dynamics and lack of parent knowledge on discipline and structure can cause a lack of long term improvement.
- Teacher’s instruction style and personality can cause negative behavior styles, as well as lack of teacher knowledge of special needs children and their atypical behaviors.
- Teacher fails to modify instructional style to accommodate student personalities, medical and psychological conditions.
- Teacher lacks individual instruction time with students due to large student teacher ratio and an increase in the number of students showing atypical behaviors in the classroom.
- Teacher lacks assistance from a mentor teacher who has experience in working with asocial and SMID children.