Consideration of a student’s level of understanding is essential when supporting a student with speech language difficulties and challenging behaviour. When supporting the the student, the aim is to identify what happened, explore why is happened and discuss the appropriate behaviour should a similar incident occur in the future.

If the student has speech language difficulties ask the following structured questions:

• Ask him/her to describe the event, explain how people felt and to report on what people said.

• The student may not understand questions such as:

◦ Why did you do that?

◦ Why did it happen?

◦ Why shouldn’t you have done that?

◦ What makes you think that that is acceptable?

◦ Why do you think your friend did that to you?

◦ What should you have done?

◦ What could you do another time?

◦ What should your friend have done?


• To consider ‘why’ type questions, initially ask the question and model the answer. This will help the student learn that if he is asked this type of question this is the sort of response that is required.

• A Social Story can give a consistent account of desirable behaviours and reasons for behaving in a certain way in a particular situation. This can then be used to explore ‘why?’ type questions.

• Use problem solving skills in non-emotional situations, for example during role-play, social skills groups, and analysis of narrative plots. This will provide essential practice to deal with more difficult events.

• Trial using Comic Strip Conversations to explore the sequence of the event, the feelings of others and report what people said.

N.B. When a student is anxious or upset his level of understanding is likely to be less that it is usually. It is important to be aware of this and to modify the adult’s language accordingly.

If the student is functioning at a very low level of understanding:

• Only ask the student to describe the event, explain how the people felt and report on what people said.

• Don’t ask ‘why?’ type questions.

• Don’t ask the student to suggest solutions to the problem.

• Use Comic Strip Conversations and state:

◦ Why the student may have done what he did

◦ Explain why it happened

◦ Explain why he shouldn’t have done it

◦ Explain why the friend acted as he did

◦ Explain what the student should do another time

• Social Stories can be used to reinforce this guidance. Carol Gray had written useful guidance information about this.

Consideration of a student’s level of understanding is essential when supporting a student with speech language difficulties and challenging behaviour

Supporting Students with challenging behaviour &  speech language difficulties: Verbal Reasoning Difficulties

1. Inference

Developing the student’s ability to make appropriate inferences should begin initially from picture stimuli and observations and moving towards abstracting information from text, situations and discussions.

• Work from the student’s observations of a visual stimulus, for example when sharing a book during a lesson;

Student: “That looks really painful!”

Adult: “Why is it painful?” or “How do you know it is painful for him?”

• Only consider more abstract inferences and making inferences without a visual stimulus, when the student can infer from situations within his experience.

2. Problem Solving

• To facilitate the development of problem solving skills, initially use real, everyday situations. The type of situation is important. It should be something neutral with perhaps two or three feasible solutions.

• Initially the task should be to solve a problem within the student’s experience and from his point of view, e.g. “OK, you forgot your P.E. kit again. What can you do?”

• When a student can do this, identify similar problems experienced by a friend so that the task remains within the student’s experience but he has to think of solutions from another person’s perspective.

• Consider providing forced choice alternatives with picture or photographs of the different options, if possible.

• Gradually introduce meaningful problems that concern people beyond his immediate circle of friends. Use TV programmes or films, or characters from familiar books might be suitable.

• Role play can be useful for some students.

• Move onto more abstract problem solving only when the student can cope with concrete situations.

3. Justifying a Prediction

• When the student gives a prediction, ask him why he thinks something might happen.

• Praise any attempt to provide justification, however strange it might seem.

• It may be necessary to give forced choice alternatives.

• Work initially from real situations or pictures where it is very obvious visually why something might happen.

• Move onto more abstract justifications only when the student can easily justify in simple, real situations or from pictures or photographs.

4. Justifying a Decision

This involves the student being able to explain a decision he made. These types of questions are frequently asked in all sorts of situations throughout the day, and yet some students will not answer because they simply do not understand the questions.

• Use everyday situations. If a ‘Why did you do that?’ type of question is asked and the student is unable to answer, or gives an incorrect response, repeat the question and model the correct answer. Adults supporting students with challenging behaviour tend to model correct answers but the important point is to repeat the questions and model the answer. This makes it quite explicit, when asked this sort of question – this is the right answer.

• It should be easier for the student to justify why they took a particular course of action, before considering the decisions and choices made by others. This is because if it involves the student, it will be about something within his experience, which will be easier. It will also not need the skills of empathy that many students find more difficult.

• Role play can be useful for students with challenging behaviour. The acting can be frozen and reasons for decisions and actions can be explored.

(Adapted from Elklan: Secondary Language Builders by Orlaith O’Caroll ,SLT)

For further information about challenging behaviour go to NICE Guidelines:</a

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