Questions and Answers
Question # 21
Can the behavioural challenges of children with NLD be overcome
if parents and school personnel simply set up a good discipline plan
with clear rewards and consequences?
Consistent rewards and consequences are keys to good parenting for all children (more so for some children than for others!). However, the complexity of behavioural challenges found in children with NLD often requires parents and school personnel to assess behaviour problems carefully before setting up a disciplined plan. Most behaviour problems of children are related to anger, anxiety, and/or wrestling with conflicts over control. These children know how to behave, but are either overwhelmed by their feelings and/or act in a disruptive or oppositional manner because of their feelings.
In contrast, it is more likely that the behaviour difficulties demonstrated by children with NLD reflect situations where their processing capacities are overwhelmed or where they do not know the correct way to respond. That is, they are not choosing to act in disruptive ways or expressing strong feelings through their conduct; rather, these youngsters do not know how to respond appropriately or cannot process the social information being presented to them.
In many situations, well-meaning parents and school personnel will design a structured behaviour plan with rewards for good behaviour and consequences for negative behaviours. When the plan does not work, they tend to increase the rewards and consequences, thereby raising the ante without achieving any success. Providing rewards or consequences to motivate better behaviour will not be effective because these children have a skill deficit such that they cannot handle the situation or do not know how to respond in an appropriate manner to it. No rewards or consequences will enable them to demonstrate skills and behaviours that they have not mastered. Because the child does not have the skills to handle the situations in question, he/she continues to demonstrate poor behaviour and, thus, encounters increasingly negative feedback and the loss of privileges. This can have a powerfully negative impact on the child and lead to secondary behaviour problems.
Most children with NLD need more support in some situations to avoid getting overwhelmed, or they need to learn the appropriate way to respond. Parents and school personnel (including a School Psychologist who is familiar with behavioural intervention techniques) should carefully assess problem situations to determine which demands are overwhelming the child and which needed skills are missing. This type of assessment will bring to light those situations that are too challenging for the child and the relevant skills that should be taught to them to meet such challenges.
Of course, there are times when behaviour problems are not related to a skill deficit and children with NLD are just acting-out anger or being manipulative. However, these situations are rare in children with NLD.
Bottom line: It is advisable to rule out the presence of skill deficits before commencing a regimen of rewards and consequences. Otherwise, the treatment programme may be ineffective or even counterproductive.