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Abstract: The current study investigated early childhood professionals' opinions regarding the use of behavioral supports for children with challenging behavior. Participants included early childhood special education teachers, Title I teachers, speech and language pathologists, instructional aids and paraprofessionals, physical therapists, and school psychologists. Participants rated 24 behavioral support strategies on both their importance and their feasibility. Overall, results indicated that early childhood professionals rated the majority of the behavior support items in the mostly important range. Participants did not rate as many items as mostly feasible, and statistical analyses documented a significant difference between overall importance of the items and overall feasibility. Early childhood professionals' characteristics were analyzed to investigate whether groups differed ill their perceptions of the importance and feasibility of the behavioral support items. Findings indicated that early childhood special education and Title I teachers rated the support items as more important than did paraprofessionals and instructional aids. Educational level also differentiated groups on importance ratings; professionals with either undergraduate degrees or graduate-level educational experiences rated items as more important than professionals with high school--level educations or some college. Years of teaching experience was not associated with ratings, and no teacher characteristic was associated with the feasibility of behavior supports. The implications of these findings are discussed.
Many preschool children who manifest challenging behavior will continue to have behavior problems in elementary school (Campbell, 1998). Preschool children at greatest risk for serious and stable behavior problems are those who have externalizing behavior patterns (e.g., aggression, hyperactivity), social skills deficits, and early adverse family contexts (Stormont, 1998; Walker, Colvin, & Ramsey, 1995). Thus, children at greatest risk for continued behavior problems are those who are both deficient in their production of socially desirable behavior and not likely to have appropriate and consistent support for behavioral change in their family environments. Although extensive research has been conducted on early predictors of behavior problems in children (for reviews, see Campbell, 1998; Stormont, 2002; Webster-Stratton, 1997), less research has been conducted on supportive factors in early childhood settings that can buffer children from developing stable or more serious behavior problems.
The available research on strategies to support social development for young children at risk has documented promising findings. Children in Head Start classrooms who received a 12-week intervention for supporting self-determination improved significantly, according to behavior ratings, in the areas of adaptive behavior, problem behavior, inattention and overactivity, and social interaction time (Serna, Lambros, Nielsen, & Forness, 2002). Interestingly, children in comparison Head Start classrooms, who did not receive the intervention, did not improve and had lower social interaction ratings than the treatment group at posttesting. Furthermore, the comparison children's ratings on attention and activity problems increased over time. Other research in this area has similarly documented behavioral change in young children in Head Start programs with systematic instruction in social skills and activities to encourage positive peer interactions (Tankersley, Kamps, Mancina, & Weidinger, 1996).
This past research strongly supports the use of interventions to build and support appropriate social skills in young children. However, research in this area is still limited. One area for further research in early childhood settings involves the use of system-wide approaches for supporting appropriate behavior. An approach that has extensive research support for school-aged children is the use of systems of schoolwide positive behavior support (PBS). However, whether a system of supports could be employed in preschool settings may be influenced by whether teachers perceive specific components of the approach as important and feasible.
The purpose of this study was to investigate early childhood professionals' opinions regarding the use of behavior support strategies for children with challenging behavior. The teaching supports of interest were specifically related to the behavior supports commonly used in schoolwide PBS systems. To provide some context for early childhood applications, a review of the literature in the area of schoolwide positive behavioral support will be presented first. The program-wide applications of PBS supports for early childhood settings will follow. Finally, specific professional characteristics, which may influence the adoption of such supports in classrooms, will be delineated.
Schoolwide Positive Behavioral Support
A large body of literature validates the use of systematic techniques for teaching and supporting appropriate behavior in children (e.g., Cotton, 1995; Epstein, Kutash, & Duchnowski, 1998; Kameenui & Darch, 1995; Kamps, Kravits, Stolze, & Swaggart, 1990; Mayer, 1995; Sugai, Horner, & Gresham, in press). Many schools acknowledge the importance of supporting appropriate behavior and use systems of positive behavioral support in their schools. Schoolwide systems of PBS build a continuum of behavioral supports designed to meet the needs of all students (Sugai et al., 2000). Starting with primary or universal supports, schools delineate clear, positively stated expectations; teach and practice behaviors related to expectations; and build systems to recognize and celebrate student success in mastering key expectations. Building on universal systems, more specialized behavioral support is offered for students who are at risk due to continued behavioral problems. These secondary or small-group/targeted supports include such strategies as small-group social skill instruction, mentoring, and self-management programs. Finally, for students who continue to display chronic patterns of problem behavior, tertiary or individual strategies are put in place. At the individual student level, the emphasis is on conducting a thorough Functional Behavioral Assessment and designing a related plan that may also include external agencies and family supports.
At the elementary school level, research indicates that schools implementing schoolwide systems of PBS experience office referral reductions of up to 60% (Nakasato, 2000; Nelson, Martella, Marchand-Martella, 2002; Scott, 2001; Sugai, Horner, Lewis, & Cheney, 2002), reductions in problems within specific settings such as playgrounds (Lewis, Colvin, & Sugai, 2000; Lewis, Powers, Kelk, & Newcomer, 2002; Lewis, Sugai, & Colvin, 1998), and an increased capacity to meet the needs of at-risk students (Eber, Sugai, Smith, & …