Sunday, December 14, 2008

Appropriate Kindergarten Intervention/RTI- Thoughts and Questions Brewing in My Mind

Kindergarten is an interesting age/grade to teach, *all* of the time. It can become even more dynamic when a child with special needs or undiagnosed issues is part of the group. Working in my fourth school district in my third state, I've been a member of S.W.A.T/S.I.T./S.N.A.P and plain ol' "intervention" teams, working to accommodate the needs of each of my students. Most of the strategies, meetings, suggestions, and plans implemented have been productive, efficient and successful, with one classification of student need a notable exception: the ADHD/Behavior issue child.

For ADHD/Behavior children, kindergarten can be a blessing and a curse. With all of the hands on activities and manipulatives available, not to mention shorter time spent on most activities (at least in the developmentally appropriate classroom and/or at the beginning of the school year) children can get up and move, interact, build, sing, read, play, paint, create and listen. Having to sit still and pay attention for longer amounts of time can be torture however, since the visual, auditory, olfactory and kinesthetic stimulation of these children doesn't diminish just because it's story time or a visitor to the class is sharing a special presentation. The reactions of classmates can create hurt feelings, confusion, and anger, especially when an ADHD/Behavior child feels singled out or targeted for avoidance.

Thankfully, many parents give me a "heads up" before I meet their ADHD/Behavior child. They share their family's history and coping skills, along with information from their doctor or child psychologist. I'm able to put some strategies to immediate use (modifying seating assignments, limiting visual and auditory distractions, stockpiling attention-getters and visual/auditory reminders and cues) and I'm able to create an initial intervention "loop" between other staff members, in case further strategies and resources are needed. I contact my principal, intervention facilitator(s), parents, the school nurse, and those teachers and staff the student will work with on a regular basis. Then, it's all back to me. I spend much of my time at the beginning of the school year developing a safe and nurturing relationship with my students. Students accept guidance, correction, and take a chance at following new suggestions when they trust me.

From day one, I document, document, document. Notes on observations, assessments, strategies tried, successful and not-so. Dates and durations of interventions utilized, and copies kept of e-mail, conference, and phone correspondence with parents. In kindergarten, there is no immediate solution, no quick fix for a child who is both distractable and distracting. I'm assuming by second or third grade, the documentation and work done by kindergarten and first grade teachers is used as the foundation for maintaining a child's successes at school, and should new problems arise, is used to help identify previously successful strategies, or point to a new direction after previous interventions have failed. But in my class, there is no magic wand.

I ask for help when I feel it's necessary, which is probably the most subjective element of all when it comes to utilizing a school's intervention team. I believe since a child spends most of his or her time with me and classmates in our group's environment, that most, if not all strategies and accommodations have to be tried and tested under my watchful eye. If parents are effective advocates for their child, then they usually already have child psychologists, doctors, and counselors with whom they work (this isn't always the case, especially when 1) children come from low-income families and are without the resources or 2) parents of any socio-economic group aren't ready to believe their child's behavior is out-of-the-ordinary.) But here's the rub: I have a high level of tolerance when it comes to working with ADHD/Behavior children. I do not believe they wake up each morning and *decide* "Hey, I think I'll mess with Mrs. Sommerville and the other Super Stars today. Yeah, I'll knock things over, blurt my thoughts out during quiet times, interrupt constantly, fidgit for no discernable reason, AND top it all off with a whining and crying fit. Now *THAT* sounds like a plan!"

Intentions matter to me, as do the emotional and physical reasons behind why a person does what s/he does, the direct result being that I don't send an ADHD/Behavior child out of my class the first, second, or even third time a problem is experienced. How will sitting in the office for ten minutes help teach a young child how to take turns, use an indoor voice, or negotiate for a toy? How will missing recess help a physically busy child release some of that pent-up energy? While an ADHD/Behavior child *might* have been diagnosed prior to kindergarten, most often than not, he or she hasn't been, leaving it to me to document the behaviors exhibited, how they affect the student emotionally, physically, academically and socially, and how his or her personality impacts the learning and socialization of the other students. Students who have been diagnosed usually start behavior modification and/or medication just prior to school starting, so keeping a record of the transition and effectiveness of the treatment and management has to go hand in hand with acclimating to the new school environment and the expectations of the many new people with whom the child will come into contact.

But I worry. Specialists see all of the school's students each thin might their patience be by the time my ADHD/Behavior kiddo gets to them in the afternoon? Some schools and staffs view the actions of ADHD/Behavior kids as disciplinary problems, and respond with punishments and consequences designed to force children into immediate compliance, instead of helping students understand and properly manage their impulses. While confidentiality is key for students, children go home and talk, and as a result, so do their parents. Scenes not witnessed by parents or caregivers can be mis-communicated and mis-interpreted.



  1. Froglady from your school5:13 PM

    Amen, sistah! I could have written this myself, although not nearly as well. No one wakes up "wanting" to be disruptive to others. ADHD kids (and ADHD teachers) will work best for someone who is supportive and understanding, not someone who is constantly sending them out of the room, in effect saying, "You're not important enough to me for me to invest any time to figure out what makes you successful!" Thank goodness I had ONE teacher along the way who saw something worthwhile in me.

  2. Anonymous9:36 AM

    Thank you for this. It has helped me. - A parent

  3. Anonymous12:10 PM

    I am also a kindergarten teacher and have taught public school prek for 2 years and am on my 4th year of teaching kindergarten. I have an ADHD student who is repeating my class this year and is on meds. The meds have done absolute wonders for him and repeating my class (not learning a new teacher)has also been beneficial. This child has an anger issue that is directed at me when he is off of his meds. The year has been progressing wonderfully until this first week back after the winter break. I noticed that it was a gradual decline with Friday being the icing on the cake! I tried every intervention possible in the classroom with removing him twice. Because he has had a smooth year thus far, it was very upsetting for the other students to see him in this manner. The counselor tried working with him for the afternoon, but also had to remove him. Interesting that you speak of overworked counselors. This counselor is new to our school and told me she was ready to hide since she'd seen so many students this day. However, she handled herself very professionally. I have built a very nurturing classroom in which the students all care for each other. Therefore, the students were very surprised and confused about his behavior. I felt like a hurricane had hit the classroom!

  4. Wow! It sounds like your little guy must have had something change in his routine, missed his meds, or he was the perfect weather barometer if your town was just hit by winter weather! I hope his upcoming week (and yours, and your other students'!) returns to normal.


As always, thank you for your comments, tips, suggestions and questions!