Noncompliance in Students with Behavior Disorders

Students with behavioral disorders exhibit behaviors that teachers and others in their environment find offensive and intolerable. Noncompliance, one of these behaviors, is increasing in frequency of occurrence among children (Walker & Sylwester, 1998). The behavior can be displayed by several topographies. Noncompliance is defined as failure to follow a request or standard/rule. This behavior has been identified as one that leads to other forms of maladaptive behaviors, such as vandalism, stealing, and bullying (Walker & Sylwester, 1998). Noncompliant behavior is destructive to the student’s success academically at school and socially in the school, home, and community environments. It often leads to power struggles and other negative verbal exchanges, sometimes resulting in physically aggressive behavior. These types of coercive interactions destroy relationships. A survey of 1,100 general education and special education teachers identified that child compliance to teacher requests is “the most highly valued form of adaptive student behavior” (Walker, 1986). Compliance to requests and standards/rules is essential for success in the student’s present and future environments. It has a direct impact on relationship, education, and employment. Teacher and staff behavior (Walker & Sylwester, 1998; Martella et al., 1993; Umbreit & Blair, 1997) curricular/instructional variables (Umbreit & Blair, 1997; Clark et al, 1995; and Daepe et al., 1996), and other aspects of the school environment are relevant contingencies affecting student compliance. In fact, these contingencies may serve as setting events and reinforcers for the noncompliant behavior.

Research (Daepe et al., 1996; Umbreit & Blair, 1997) suggests that difficult tasks may elicit disruptive behavior and lead to the development of escape and avoidance strategies. The noncompliant behavior may serve as an escape or avoidance strategy when the task presented is perceived aversive by the student. Umbreit and Blair (1997) conducted a study regarding the effects of structural analysis on the aggressive and noncompliant behavior of a preschooler at-risk for behavior disorders. The problem behaviors were resolved through program modification. They reported that there is “the need to examine potentially aversive stimuli within the school program that may set the occasion” for problem behavior. In addition, Walker & Sylwester (1998) made the following program recommendations for what teachers and others can do to increase and maintain compliant behavior: provide areas for individual work, provide areas for cooperative work, directions written on the board, start-up ideas posted, and involve the student in the development of classroom rules, policies, and procedures.

The verbal behavior of teachers and others are also relevant contingencies and may serve as aversive stimuli that occasions problem behavior. Walker & Sylwester (1998) identified two types of commands, alpha and beta, which are used to usually initiate or terminate behavior. Beta commands usually consist of multiple commands which are vague and usually administered too rapidly for the individual to have time to respond (Walker & Sylwester, 1998). Alpha commands on the other hand are “clear, direct, and specific” (Walker & Sylwester, 1998). And result in more compliant behavior.

Sometimes noncompliant behavior occurs frequently enough to warrant an individualized and intensive intervention. To do this effectively, variables that are reinforcing the behavior needs to be identified. One such approach which has proven to be effective in incorporating the development of hypotheses which lead to the identification of variables influencing the target behavior is functional assessment (Dunlap et al., 1993). Functional assessment is a “process of identifying the relationships between environmental events, the occurrences, and nonoccurrence of a target behavior” (Dunlap et al., 1993). This process should be a consideration when noncompliant behavior is serious and persistent enough to require an individualized intervention.

One final point that should be taken into consideration if the goal is to improve student compliance is the training of staff. Martella et al. (1993) conducted a study on improving the behavior of a student with severe disabilities through paraprofessional training. The study was intensive and extensive. Results revealed that improvement in the paraprofessional’s skills resulted in improved student behavior.

As indicated earlier, the frequency with which students are exhibiting noncompliant behavior is increasing. Teachers and others in the student’s environment may not be able to control the topography of the behavior that is exhibited, but there are many variables that are within their control which exert considerable influence over the probability of compliance versus noncompliance. They must become aware of what these variables are and use that knowledge to promote compliance and set student’s up for success. Teachers and others must also be informed of effective assessment and intervention strategies to use when noncompliant behavior is persistent over time.

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