Friday, 19 October 2012

REBT and Aspergers

The English lingo is replete with idioms that would pose a problem or two to a student with Aspergers Syndrome. Certain turns of phrase would be as clear as muddy water! She would remain none the wiser if you were to ask her to ‘pull your socks up’ or ‘pull your finger out'or 'take a chair!’ Are you with me? She’d be flat out trying to cop on to the message.  How difficult would it be to get a handle on the meaning of a message if it can only be taken literally.

Consider the expressions ‘to get a handle on something’ and ‘turns of phrase’ mentioned above. Somehow we internalise these expressions, which make particular meanings and we draw them out of our linguistic hat and use them in the right place at the right time in the right context (We hope!). But what of the student who has Aspergers Syndrome?  What assumptions can we make about her capacity to understand these culturally specific idioms?

I was once asked to observe a student in the classroom setting as the teacher had some concerns about the child’s behaviour. I asked the student on one occasion ‘is that your paper under the desk there? To which he replied ‘yes it is’ and continued to carry on doing what he was doing. Implied in my words and tone was ‘there’s paper under your desk. I assume it’s yours and will you pick it up?’ I expected that the student would understand this, as most other students would do in my experience. I remember I found this interesting and repeated what I asked before. The result was exactly the same and then it dawned on me (‘to dawn on someone’ – another one!) that this person might be exhibiting characteristics of Aspergers Syndrome.   He understood the literal meaning of what I had said and responded accordingly but had missed the other more subtle meanings conveyed by tone and body language. How much more trouble would this student have dealing with idiomatic terms such as those mentioned above?

As it turned out he was diagnosed eventually as having Aspergers Syndrome.

What can happen if we assume a student ‘should’ know what was being asked of him? He would be reprimanded possibly labeled a naughty so and so who ‘should’ show more respect to his elders! The student would be wondering what’s going on. ‘You asked me if that was my paper under my desk and I answered you. Why am I in trouble?’ And it would escalate from there as mutual misunderstanding prevailed. 

As Karen Horney once said

‘Try to eliminate the word ‘SHOULD’ from your vocabulary … but try doing so though without replacing ‘SHOULD’ with OUGHT or YOU”D better.”

Karen Horney

Rational Emotive Behaviour Education reminds us that when we operate from a ‘shouldist’ perspective we don’t make helpful judgements and we don’t feel our optimum best.  Our ‘behaviour management’ approach to addressing student behaviour is based on such a perspective. All students are the same and they should all know better. Right?

Not true. Someone once said, ‘treating everyone the same is not equality.’
However we continue to persist with this system of warnings, detention, suspension and exclusion. Why is this approach unhelpful to our Aspergers student? What ‘musts’ ‘oughts’ and ‘shoulds’ underpin this one size fits all approach to behaviour (mis)education?

Rational Emotive Behaviour Educators will:

·  Not assume that all students absolutely should behave as the teacher believes they must.

·  Remain calm as they will not demand that they should get something that they know they won’t get (in the short term).

·  Teach students how their thinking feeling and behaviour are linked together.

·  Negotiate learning goals with students to help them develop their competencies.

·  Regard behaviour education as part of the curriculum and not exclusive of it.

Specific to the Asperger child the Rational Emotive Behaviour Educator will:

·  Understand that she will take things literally so teaching about idiom would help or choosing not to use it is an option in some situations.

·  Be explicit, ‘please pick up that paper under your desk?’ rather than ‘is that your paper under the desk?’

·   Help her challenge inflexible ‘must’ expectations e.g. ‘People must always behave as I believe they must’ or ‘things always must be the way I want them to be’ (social stories, change classroom furniture, change the timetable) by exposing the student to subtle and explained changes.

·  Teach her to put the ‘badness’ of situations in perspective, to decatastrophise so she accepts that when she doesn’t get what she believes she must have, she can handle it.

·  Teach her to prefer rather than demand that others/the world should always give her what she wants.

Foreshore, Whyalla, South Australia

Thursday, 4 October 2012

Positive Psychology in Schools and The Australian Curriculum Stuart High School, Whyalla South Australia

The REBE (Rational Emotive Behaviour Education) brand of psychology says that to negotiate the road ahead requires competencies that will help students build resilience. The Australian Curriculum outlines seven general competencies that are promoted in schools. Personal and Social Competence is promoted through the whole school application of Rational Emotive Behaviour Education.

REBE is a psychotherapy-based system of behaviour education based on the ABC Theory of Emotional (and behavioural) Disturbance. It teaches that the events in our lives PLUS our constructed beliefs (personal philosophies about self, others and life) drive our behavioural and emotional responses to situations (A+B=C). It is not the event itself alone that causes emotional and behavioural disturbance. (A=C).

This is not a ‘think positive and everything will be OK’ approach, it is not the vacuous ‘there, there all will be OK’ mantra of the ‘warm fuzzy’ movement of the 80’s and 90’s.

Each day students whither in the face of challenge and discomfort, withdrawing from activities they don't like or find 'boring.' 'I don't want to do sport because it's boring' or 'maths is boring and makes me mad.' Each time a student withdraws from challenges her ability to bounce back in adversity diminishes. They construct the view that 'in life I shouldn't have to do things that are hard and boring and it's not fair when things don't go my way as they must do and I just can't stand it.' This is the motto of the helpless, those who have not been held to account when the going got tough. And the result? Young people are not ready for the real world where they will be held to account and their livelihood will depend on it. Will they then default to the care of their families, the government to look after them in a world that is 'unfair and boring' and which makes them so 'angry/anxious/depressed?'

REBE challenges students to consider if their anger/boredom/anxiety/depression is indeed ‘made’ by other people and events. It explains what constructivism is and how our constructed beliefs drive how we feel and behave. If a student believes that a challenge is not a catastrophe and she can stand discomfort she is more likely to hang in there when the going gets tough. If she believes on the other hand that she ‘shouldn’t be inconvenienced by difficulty and that she can’t stand tough situations' she is more likely to give up and feel angry.

REBE teaches students how to take control of their emotions and behaviours so that they continue to work towards their goals in life. It teaches them that life is not a cakewalk and that things won’t always go their way but to hang tough when the going gets tough.

The staff at Stuart High School in Whyalla, South Australia teach REBE across all curriculum areas and the benefits are many:

  •        Improved attendance
  •        Improved mental health outcomes
  •        Students more engaged in learning
  •        More confident, prepared to take risks

The Albert Ellis Professional Learning Centre was established this year to support other schools and teachers learn about REBE. It is the Centre’s aim to promote positive psychology in schools through the Rational Emotive Behaviour Education Curriculum. It consistently challenges the belief that the world is unfair, that it 'makes' us angry and sad and that we can't handle tough situations.

As Dr Albert Ellis once said: 'The universe doesn’t care about you, it’s not for or against you, it just doesn’t give a shit.

More information:
Twitter: (@REBTOZ)

Tuesday, 2 October 2012

Albert Ellis: A Guide to Rational Living - Thinking Allowed DVD w/ Jeffr...

Rational Emotive Behaviour Education is based on Ellis' Rational Emotive Behaviour Therapy. Here he explains the link between thinking, feeling and behaving. His ABC Theory of Emotional (and behavioural) Disturbance helps teachers to help students understand how they have constructed the beliefs that drive their dysfunctional feelings and behaviours. Rational Emotive Behaviour Education is all about challenging those unhelpful core beliefs and replacing them with healthy, rational habits of thinking. Educators at Stuart High School in Whyalla South Australia are implmenting REBE across all curriculum areas effectively.