Our back-to-school series continues with a podcast featuring Jackie Bartell, a retired Special Educator in the public school system in Rochester, New York, and DIR Expert Training Leader with the Interdisciplinary Council on Development and Learning (ICDL). We discuss applying the Developmental, Individual differences, Relationship-based (DIR) model in a public school setting.
Applying the DIR Model in a Public School with Jackie Bartell
Applying the DIR model in a public school setting takes a flexible approach and an understanding of process. That is, it is a process that is continually being molded as you go. It’s like starting a DIR program with a child: you first see where the school and staff are at, what unique circumstances exist, and you work to build good relationships.
Jackie tells us that you have to have conversations about where we were, where we are, and where we are going. It is a collaborative effort with special educators, leadership and staff involved. You have to ask, “What do we need in this environment to make this work” for each child. You are really asking teachers and schools to change their whole paradigm of what teaching and learning is about.
To change the paradigm, you have to build trust and relationships with the staff you’re working with. There are some children who need the tools to learn before they can learn. So you have to take care of the regulation piece by looking at individual differences and sensory processing first, and then attention, interaction, and learning. Schools are usually set out to just focus on learning, so this is a switch for some staff.
We always need to think about how to make the child’s experience positive and successful. This starts with knowing the child’s sensory processing profile. “Are they regulated in this environment in this moment?” Schools vary in their knowledge of sensory needs with some having a sensory gym and occupational therapy services, while others need to be educated about it.
Next, how does this child’s regulation change throughout the day? How do we keep the child regulated so we can get to engagement and interaction? School is about back-and-forth interaction so if we can’t get the child to that developmental capacity, school will be very hard for the child.
When a child is not meeting expectations, behavioural issues will often ensue, and this is when schools will decide that behavioural strategies need to be put in place. Jackie stresses here that this is not a behavioural issue, but the child communicating with us.
If they could, they would. But they can’t, so they don’t.
The work to do is to help people understand that the behaviour does not mean the child is being ‘naughty’ but rather saying that something is not ok in the only way they are capable.
When we are stressed and become dysregulated, our ability to communicate decreases. One of the biggest problems is that people have an expectation that when you can demonstrate communication skills, you will be able to maintain those communication skills even when your body is stressed. (See Stuart Shanker’s Self-Reg work for more information.)
When considering younger children versus older children, the regulation piece is the same. You still need to figure out a way to support the child’s regulation. There still needs to be opportunities to find the just right arousal for the child. The difference is that the method by which the child gets this is going to be more controlled by the child him/herself, if (s)he is capable of doing that.
Jackie says that sometimes the DIR principles are written right in to the Individualized Education Plan (IEP) and other times they might not be. Some parents are very invested in the DIR approach and want it in there. Documenting the strategies and principles used is helpful in continuity of the approach from year-to-year as well.
Jackie says that in her experience the children who have a DIR program over other interventions are happy to go to school and are not being forced to go to school. The child is calmer and thus more available for instruction so the staff sees success therefore feels successful as well. Calm is not a compliant, seated child, but rather a child who has an inner state of regulated arousal.
Until next week… here’s to affecting autism through playful interactions!