For most of my career as a speech-language pathologist, I have worked with students with emotional, behavioral and social communication deficits in both school settings and in private practice. My students have many classifications, ranging from “language-based learning disabilities” to “autistic” to “emotionally/ behaviorally disturbed”. Emotional behavioral disturbance (EBD) is an educational term for students with social and emotional disabilities. Many of these students are also formally identified outside of schools by clinical or medical professionals and they may receive a medical diagnosis related to their behavior. The hallmark characteristic of this population is antisocial and/or violent behavior. Youths in these groups are more likely to become involved in the legal system as a result of their behavior.
Recently I had the opportunity to present on this topic with my colleague, fellow SLP Danyela Williams, at the Social Thinking provider’s conference in San Francisco. We will also be sharing our ideas at the ASHA convention in Boston in November; if you are attending, please join us on Friday at 5 pm for our session entitled Helping Students With Emotional & Behavioral Challenges to Be Compassionate Communicators.
Many of the students we work with represent the most challenging kids in today’s classrooms. Many are violent in their behavior and language, they are emotionally dysregulated, socially challenged and have weak abilities to express their internal states. For those of you familiar with the Zones of Regulation, they are operating primarily in the yellow and red zones.
As more violent incidents occur in our schools and in our world, the sobering truth is that many of the students we work with are the ones who are at an increased risk of committing a violent act. Many are sending clear signs that they are having difficulty coping in society. When I learned more about the Parkland Florida shooter or the Santa Fe Texas shooter, I know that their social-emotional profiles reflect those of MY students.
These horrific incidents have left many of us feeling frustrated because we have little control and change often seems outside of our abilities. But is it? In the past several years, our intervention has become very purpose driven because we believe that helping children and adolescents to communicate with compassion and think socially is pivotal to the development of a more peaceful world.
If you are still uncomfortable about our role as SLPs in working with this challenging population, let me give you a few sobering statistics:
- According to the U.S. Department of Education, about 5% of children and adolescents in schools are formally identified as qualifying for special education and related services under the eligibility category of emotional behavioral disturbance (EBD). However, the National Association of School Psychologists (2005) suggests that children with EBD are under-identified within the educational system, and only a small number receive the mental health services they need.
- The prevalence of communication problems in populations of violent adolescents has been well documented. A recent study revealed 80% of children ages 5-13 with emotional and behavioral disorders (EBD) also had language deficits, ranging from mild to severe on standardized tests. (Hollo et al., 2014)
The role of speech-language pathologists in the treatment of students with EBD is especially importance because many students often have speech and language disorders that may go untreated.
These alarming trends have important implications for SLPs and raise questions about how we view our roles in serving students with emotional and behavioral disorders.
Especially meaningful to us as SLPs is that language deficits, and even more specifically social communication deficits, are significant factors explaining and predicting the path to violence.
This series will explore the correlations between the underpinnings of social communication and communicating with compassion. We will also share specific methods, strategies, and activities based in social communication skills to help students in grades K-12 learn and use the language of compassion and understanding, especially when expressing emotions.
All of these ideas are collaborative in nature, because we believe in the importance of collaboration with teachers, counselors, occupational and physical therapists and parents. They can easily be implemented in social skills groups and academic classrooms, providing opportunities for more collaboration and generalization of skills. We truly need a team approach!
Please note that my colleague Danyela Williams works primarily with younger students and I work with upper middle and high school. So throughout the series, the activities and intervention developed for younger students are the ideas of Danyela Williams. My information will reflect my work with middle and high school students.
This series will focus on three social communication areas to help students learn to communicate with compassion:
1- Language that shares emotions
2- Listening with compassion
3- Assertive vs. aggressive communication
Join me in two weeks as we explore the first social communication area and activities for older students.
Do you work with students with extremely challenging behaviors? What are your feelings about the role of SLPs and this population? Please comment below!