Assessment and Common Behavioral Problems
By Dan Braico, Kirsty Hansen, Joel Crandell, Jeff Rasmussen, Kindra Shaw

1. Introduction


When we set out to write this assessment wiki, we wanted to focus on an issue that would appear within our classrooms one day. What we decided was to break down some of the more common behavioral issues that we would be confronted with. Each of these subjects could use their own wiki, but we wanted to share the basics. We hope you enjoy our project!

2. Autism

2.1 What is it Autism?

Autism is a disorder of neural development which is described as having impaired social interaction and communication. It is also impaired by restricted and repetitive behavior. Autism or autism spectrum disorders (ASD) are lifelong neurological disorders that affect how one thinks. Students with ASD have developmental disabilities that make it harder to understand what they see, hear, and sense. As a result, this affects behavior and communication with others. Autism can range from mild to severe and other learning disabilities can be created from it such as anxiety, attention difficulties or unusual responses to sensory stimuli.

AutisticChild.jpg2.2 Causes of Autism

No one really knows the causes of autism, but scientists believe there are genetic interactions, exposure to viruses or chemicals and exposure to allergies.

2.3 Characteristics of Autism

Autism ranges in many levels, from mild to severe. People with autism don't want others to pity them or to try and make them normal. In fact, people with it believe autism shouldn't be cured because it is a part of who they are. Having a society to include everyone despite their differences is something people with autism want.
  • Autism Society Canada states that:
"Current prevalence of ASD is 1 in 200 Canadians"
"Current prevalence of ASD in children in 1 in 165 Canadians"
"It is 4 times more common in boys than in girls"

Early in a child's development (ages 3-5), children with autism demonstrate different social behaviors such as less smiling, showing others less eye contact, trouble recognizing faces, difficulty recognizing others emotions and autistic children are less likely to show a social understanding. As the autistic child grows older, there is a constant struggle to make and maintain friendships with others. When it comes to communication, autistic children are less likely to share their own experiences and they are more likely to repeat others words. Autistic students do better on basic vocabulary and spelling test compared to the average person. But, when it comes to complex language tasks such as dealing with figurative language, students with autism have difficulty comprehending it. Along with figurative language, autistic students have trouble using their imagination and often mimic what others have done.

People with autism show many kinds of repetitive behaviors:
Stereotypy: repetitive movement such as hand flapping, head rolling, and body rocking
Compulsive behavior: arranging objects in stacks or by organization
230px-Autism-stacking-cans_2nd_edit.jpgSameness: resisting change eg. refusing to be interrupted
Ritualistic behavior: having the exact same routine for daily activities
Restricted behavior: limited in interests eg. watching only 1 television show
Self-injury: movements that can injure eg. eye poking, hand biting, head banging

2.4 Autism in the Classroom

Being Aware of Autism
  • Meet with the parents and student early in the school year and talk about how as a teacher, you can support the students needs related to ASD. The meeting can help to find out about the student's strengths, interests, areas of need, symptoms, strategies used at home that could be used at school.
  • Consulting health care providers such as school or community nurses about more information about autism.
  • Share information about teaching strategies for autism to staff members and gain information from them about teaching strategies.

Teaching Strategies
  • Break up large tasks into small steps and reinforce them. Illustrating the steps helps with the process.
  • Clarity is important because students with Autism need clear instructions, a model or illustration to follow and lots of time to complete the task
  • Provide lots of hands on activities rather than activities that require a pencil and paper
  • Keep the classroom organized and label personal belonging and classroom materials so the student knows where objects are when activities happen in class
  • Reduce glistzomania and distractions in the classroom eg. decorations, noise of florescent lights
  • Present the only the necessary materials for a task
  • Warn student with ASD about changes
  • Provide increased supervision during break times

2.5 Assessing Students with Autism

What do informal and formal assessments tell us about the student?
What information do we already have?
What more do we need to know?

These are several questions teachers have when trying to assess students with autism. To assess students with autism, you need to create an individual education plan. The education plan can incorporate what is in the school curriculum with activities, goals, and objectives that are unique to the individual. The plan is created with the helps of teachers, the students parents, behavior consultants, and psychologists. Effective individual education plans incorporate the following:
  • Personal and education data
  • Information about students strengths and needs
  • Long term goals, short term goals and objective
  • Resources and strategies working towards the goals and objectives
  • How the student's progress will be assessed and evaluated

The plan is revised during the school year when the students behaviors or needs change. The plan should motivate the student to use their strengths to help others in the classroom at subjects. Having the student socially interact with others can help improve the students learning for school work and the real world.

3. Asperger's Syndrome

3.1 What is Asperger's Syndrome?

Asperger's syndrome was diagnosed in 1944 by Han Asperger. He focused his studies on children that tended to be withdrawn and absorbed. It is now considered to be a part of the Autistic Spectrum Disorders, although some argue that it deserves its own classification. The main difference separating Asperger's syndrome from autism is that people diagnosed with Asperger's tend to be higher functioning.

3.2 Characteristics of Asperger's Syndrome

There are several key characteristics of Asperger's Syndrome, although it can be very similar to some autistic diagnosis'. Asperger's syndrome can include:
  • Difficulties with social interactions
  • Inability to understand themselves in a social way
  • Repetitive and restricted patterns of behaviors

There are also several difficulties that appear in classrooms for students diagnosed. Those can include:
  • Difficulties in making friends
  • Difficulties in nonverbal social cues
  • Narrow areas of interest
  • Poor motor skills
  • Inflexible in routine change
  • Inability to understand another's perspective
  • Difficulty in reading and writing (although sometimes learning the words can be easy, comprehension of what they read is difficult)

It is also interesting to note that those with Asperger's Syndrome can have above-average intelligence, they often have more difficulties in the classroom due to troubles with comprehension and with thinking abstractly.

3.3 Asperger's in the Classroom

Students that are diagnosed with high functioning autism and Asperger's are now normally integrated into classrooms. Here are some helpful strategies for classroom management:

  • Peer tutoring helps not only with academics, but with social learning as well. This also helps with creating a positive learning environment within your classroom. Remember, it isn't just the student with the behavioural or learning disability within the classroom, but all the students.
  • It can also be very beneficial to set up classroom activities that demonstrate good social behavior among students. Often a well thought out list of rules can help solve future problems.
  • Priming background knowledge is also very effective in classroom management. If the student knows a lot about the subject being taught, they are better prepared to learn. Pre-reading questions, visuals, and even discussions can help prepare a student for a lesson.
  • Computer assisted instruction has also been extremely beneficial for students with autism. Being able to focus on a screen with minimal distractions can help them focus on learning targets. This also allows students to be more in control of their decisions, instead of having someone tell them what to do.

It is also very important for strong collaboration between teachers, support staff, and the parents to discover the best way to work with the student.

Using support teachers within your classroom seems to be a fantastic way of helping kids with Asperger's work within your class. Aids have the unique ability to focus on one student, and can adapt your lessons to suit the student. It also brings in some consistency and routines for the student which can help keep them calm and interested. The language that they use can be beneficial in helping a student understand what tasks need to be completed.

3.4 Assessing Asperger's Syndrome

Individualized Program Plans (IPP) are key to assessing a student with Asperger's within your classroom. IPP's are:

  • Collaborations that take place between students, parents and resource personnel in order to determine what is best for the student
  • They are developed to address the specific needs of individual learners.
  • They also work for teachers as instructional guides and ways to monitor and evaluate students.

Because students with Asperger's tend to have difficulty in comprehension and abstract thought, it is advisable to assess them in other ways. Visuals, oral communication and observations are all good methods. In order to be successful with any behavior or learning disability, you need to learn to adapt to the students needs.

4. Anxiety Disorders

4.1 What is Anxiety?

Anxiety is a normal emotional state that everyone experiences. It is associated with the anticipation of fear of something happening in the future (Eugster, 2007). It becomes a disorder when the feeling of anxiety is so excessive that it prevents someone from living a normal life. The anxiety becomes a distraction and does not allow other mental processes to occur without using extra energy to focus on normal life.
Students with disabilities, as well as, students from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds often see higher levels of anxiety disorders (Salend, 2011). Anxiety disorders are also among the most common psychiatric disorder affecting children and adolescents with up to 10% of children and 20% of adolescents being effected (Essau et al., 2012).

There are several different types of anxiety disorders. The most common found in children are:

Separation Anxiety Disorder – characterized by developmentally inappropriate anxiety about separation from a caregiver. It may cause great distress and impairment and may cause issues in the child’s later psychopathology (Allen et al., 2010).
General Anxiety Disorder – characterized by excessive and uncontrollable worries concerning different areas of daily living (Turgeon, Kirouac, and Denis, 2005).
Specific Phobias – characterized by excessive fear of a specific object or situation.

Other anxiety disorders also include:
Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder – (see Section 5)
Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder – occurs after one is exposed to a traumatic event, such as the death of a family member (Turgeon, Kirouac, and Denis, 2005).

4.2 Causes of Anxiety Disorders

There is no one single cause of anxiety disorders. It has been found that they can develop through different situations.

  • Biological predisposition – born from parents who have anxiety disorders.
  • Family environment – relationships with parents or child rearing practices.
  • Traumatic event – divorce or death of a family member.

4.3 Anxiety Disorders in the Classroom

Some students become excessively anxious in social settings. These students are afraid to speak and interact with their classmates and teachers in fear of being incorrect or made fun of. These students will often daydream and be worrying about other things (Cowden, 2010).
Anxiety occurs most when students are being evaluated. Many students are unable to perform well on tests due to the fear of the evaluative measure. The anxiety becomes a distraction and they cannot focus or concentrate on completing a task causing their performance to fall. Their thoughts are preoccupying which leads to their negative results academically (Cowden, 2010).

Here is a great program teachers can implement at their schools to decrease the anxiety of their students:

  • FRIENDS – is an Australian Cognitive Behavioral Therapy early intervention and prevention program for childhood anxiety. Children are taught strategies to handle anxiety and troubling situations (Essau et al., 2012). Using this program at any school will give students the tools they need to keep their anxiety in check.

4.4 Assessment of Students with Anxiety Disorders

“Assessment should measure what a student has learned and should not upset students to the point that they cannot demonstrate their newly gained knowledge (Cowden, 2010).”

It can be difficult for a teacher to accurately assess students with anxiety. A student with an anxiety disorder cannot effectively prove what they know or if learning has occurred if they fear evaluation. It is the teacher’s responsibility to provide these students different ways to show their level of learning. Some ways in which a teacher can accommodate and assess students with anxiety disorders are listed below:

  • Clear learning targets – most students prefer teachers who are clear, interesting, and organized. Using an ‘outside in’ assessment technique would allow the students to tell the teacher what their expectations and preferences are on learning (Birenbaum, 2007). Therefore, if a teacher sets clear learning targets and is aware of the way their students learn best, students will feel less anxious as they know what is expected of them.
  • Immediate Feedback Assessment Technique (IFAT) – this is a multiple choice tool for tests. Students scratch away the block in which they believe is correct. A star is underneath the correct answer providing immediate feedback on the test. This immediate feedback will give anxious students piece of mind and will possibly calm them down as they move along the test. It has been found that immediate feedback has been more effective than delayed feedback (DiBattista and Gosse, 2006).
  • Games as assessment – if a test is seen as a game, it will calm anxious students down allowing them to focus more on proving their knowledge (Smits and Charlier, 2011).
  • Use more formative assessment – summative assessment has been seen to induce high levels of anxiety. If a teacher provided students with more formative feedback throughout the learning period it may decrease the amount of anxiety students have towards summative assessment.
  • Technology based testing – allowing anxious students to take tests on a computer lessens the anxiety they feel when writing it (Salend, 2011).

5. Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD)

5.1 What is OCD?

Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder is a medical disorder which causes repetitive, unpleasant thoughts (obsessions) or behaviors (compulsions) that are difficult to manage. It is often the case that people develop compulsions in order to deal with the obsessions; they use the behaviors to try and make the thoughts go away. For a person with OCD, these obsessions and compulsions may interfere with their daily schedule, and might cause them very large amounts of stress (which can in turn bring up the level of the obsessions/compulsions). This life altering disorder affects about 1% of children and adolescents. For someone to develop this disorder, it involves complex genetic and environmental factors.

5.2 Causes of OCD

As research into Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder is still ongoing, nobody knows yet exactly how and why some people get OCD. Scientists are just beginning to uncover some of the mysteries of the disorder. Experts know a few things currently:

  • OCD very often will run in families. Large numbers of children with OCD have another person in their family who has OCD or sometimes even another type of anxiety disorder. It is not yet known how the disorder is passed on, but scientists are currently trying to learn about genes that may get passed on that make people more sensitive to worry problems.
  • In people with OCD, there is a problem with the way the mind handles messages about fear and doubt. This problem has something to do with chemicals that carry the messages to nerve cells in the brain. In a person with OCD, the flow of these chemicals gets blocked, or there are not enough of them, and messages about doubts and worry seem to get stuck on replay in their minds. This leaves the person with a feeling that something is not right and creates lots of worry thoughts and then compulsions develop to help them try and cope with the feelings.

About 1 in every 100 children and teens has OCD, so it is more than likely that someone you know has OCD and you may not even realize it.

5.3 Characteristics of OCD and What OCD Can Look Like

OCD is a type of anxiety that arises when there is a problem with the manner in which the brain deals with worrying and doubts. Children with OCD will worry a lot. There are many common or typical obsessions that we hear about and those include (both technical and kid-friendly terms):

  • Concern about germs and contamination (“germaphobics”)
  • Persistent worry about a family member(s) may become sick or die (“worry warts”)
  • Excessive fixation with perfection or tidiness (“perfectionists” and “neat freaks”)
  • Coming across unlucky numbers or words
  • Things being even or straight
  • Making mistakes or being unsure

Those are only the most common obsessions, but they are most certainly not the only ones you may encounter; anything can become an obsession to someone with this disorder.

Compulsions, which are also called rituals, are repetitive behaviors (such as hand washing, checking locks, touching certain objects) and repetitive thoughts (such as silently counting, praying, or repeating words) that the person feels must be completed. A person who has compulsions believes that performing these rituals are the only thing that can prevent a frightening event from occurring. For example a student may believe "If I tap on my pencil 3 times and then spin in a circle before writing my test, I won’t fail." Lots of people have rituals they do for luck (such as needing lucky socks to write a test) but OCD compulsions are much more than doing something just for luck. Kids with OCD feel they have to do certain things over and over to feel protected or make the anxiety go away. It is also important to note that kids with OCD don't really want to be doing rituals, but something in their brains tell them they must; sometimes this can get frustrating. For someone with OCD, performing their rituals seem like the only way for them to feel safe from bad things happening and to make the anxiety go away.

Someone with OCD may try to ignore their obsessions and compulsions, but are generally not successful in their attempts. A difficulty in this disorder is that it is easier (although at times still very difficult) for adults with OCD to recognize that their obsessions or compulsions are not rational (their sister will not die if they do not count to 7 before answering her phone calls), a child may not yet be able to comprehend the rational. That can become difficult in the classroom with young children trying to explain they cannot wash their hands every 5 minutes, or that it is okay if they do not receive a perfect grade on everything.

Like many disorders, OCD has a wide spectrum from those who are affected but family and friends may not even know to those who cannot function in society. It is also possible for someone to ‘grow out of’ OCD, have it managed with therapy or learn to function with it. For some however, they will never grow out of it and may not even learn to handle it. As a teacher, it is your job to try and help students cope as much as possible.

Characteristics of OCD are listed under the 'What is OCD?' heading and more information can be found in the Reference section below.

5.4 OCD in the Classroom

A child’s symptoms can be very different at home than at school because students can often be successful in suppressing symptoms (out of fear of friends finding out or being teased), while the symptoms may be to over powering to do so at home. Once OCD starts to affect schooling, parents often decide to start looking at treatments.

At school, a child with OCD may have a combination of these symptoms (as well as others):

  • Difficulty concentrating. This may affect many different aspects of schooling; anything from following directions and completing assignments to trying to paying attention in classes. It will often be difficult for OCD students to concentrate while they are plagued by persistent, repetitive thoughts that they are trying to keep inside so others do not see. These types of students often find that finishing work in the appropriate time period can be difficult, as can just starting schoolwork.
  • Social isolation or withdrawal from interactions with peers in an effort to keep their thoughts hidden.
  • Low self-esteem in social and academic activities.
  • Problem behaviors, such as fights or arguments, resulting from misunderstandings between the child and peers or staff. Unusual behaviors may be distressing to the child or peers and lead to clashes.
  • Other conditions, such as Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), which also may be present, compounding any learning challenges.

It is important for teachers to note that learning disorders and cognitive problems should not be overlooked in children with OCD. One should not assumes that an OCD child’s problems and difficulties in learning and school are only due to their OCD; if the child still has academic difficulty after OCD symptoms are treated it is important that an educational evaluation for learning disabilities should be considered.

As a teacher in a class with one or more OCD students, it is important to make sure the rest of the class has an understanding of the disorder. It is good for students to learn about the disorder in general, but also to avoid stereotypes about the disorder in your classroom. Some students may joke or make comments about how they “have OCD so bad” (such as “I washed my hands so many times last night it was like I had OCD!”). Some students will not realize what they are saying is hurtful, and it is your job to make sure every student feels safe and welcome in class.

5.5 Assessing Students with OCD

There are many ways that schools can help a child with obsessive-compulsive disorder succeed in the classroom, including modified assessment behaviours. Some students may need particular changes (accommodations or modifications) within a classroom, some examples are:

  • Check in with the student upon arrival to see which classes they can succeed in that day
  • Allow more time to complete certain types of assignments
  • Accommodate late arrival due to symptoms at home
  • Ask the child ways in which you can help them succeed in breaking out of an obsession or compulsion, or in school in general
  • Offer strategies for the child to resist uncomfortable thoughts, and to help with focus and learning
  • Allow the child to tape record homework if the child has compulsions that deal with not being able touch writing materials or having to have every letter perfect (takes a lot of time and energy)
  • Give the child a choice of projects if the child has difficulty beginning a task
  • Suggest that the child change the sequence of homework problems or projects. This will come in handy if a child has fears related to odd-numbers. You can get them to start with even-numbered problems instead.
  • Adjust the homework load to prevent the child from becoming overwhelmed. Academic stressors, along with other stresses, aggravate symptoms.
  • If the student insists on performing certain OCD rituals at school, work with them to identify less intrusive rituals (such as tapping one desk rather than tapping every desk)
  • Assist with peer interactions in order to alleviate concerns for both the child and peers
  • Be aware that transitions may be particularly difficult for the child. Negotiate reasonable expectations for transitions within school hours. When a child with obsessive-compulsive disorder refuses to follow directions or to transition to the next task, for example, the reason may be anxiety rather than intentional opposition.

Flexibility and a supportive environment are essential for a student with obsessive-compulsive disorder to achieve success in school. As a teacher to an OCD student, you may have to adjust your assessments, but make sure they are still covering the same outcomes and that they do not give them an advantage (or disadvantage) over other students.

Although students with OCD typically have average to above average intelligence levels, they may be unable to learn the same way a typical child or adolescent does. The focus of students with this disorder is frequently on their obsessions or compulsions instead of the task at hand. Although the OCD student wants to be like other students they feel compelled to respond to the obsessions or urges caused by the OCD. As a result, they may need more time to do their presentations, homework and tests.

When evaluating a student with OCD, especially one that struggles with perfection, it is important to always give feedback on work in a very positive way so they do not become discouraged or have compulsions increase because they think they did a bad job.

6. Oppositional Defiant Disorder (ODD)

6.1 What is ODD?

Oppositional Defiant Disorder is a condition often associated with anger and aggressive behavior. Students with ODD tend to have patterns of defiant behavior and the need to annoy others. Students with ODD can often have other disabilities such as ADHD, depression, learning disabilities and are also at risk for developing a more serious conduct disorder.

6.2 Causes of ODD

ODD is usually visible by the age of eight years with symptoms being witnessed as early as the age of three. It can develop as a way to deal with depression, inconsistent rules or standards, or a traumatic event such as divorce or a conflict.

6.3 Characteristics of ODD

Characteristics of Oppositional Defiant Disorder include:external image Oppositional-defiant-disorder2-300x210.jpg
  • Frequent temper tantrums
  • Intentionally annoying others
  • Arguing with both peers and adults
  • Blaming others for their own mistakes
  • Appearing angry and vindictive

6.4 ODD in the Classroom

There are different ways of helping students deal with Oppositional Defiant Disorder, these treatments include:

  • Counselling
  • Behaviour therapy
  • Parent education
  • Medication

It is key that symptoms of ODD are recognized early on or else the student's patterns will be more resistant to treatment.

Be sure to meet with parents of students with ODD early on in the school year to discuss how you can support the student and help them succeed. Important information to find out includes:

  • The students strengths, interests and areas of need (good teachers do this with every student).
  • The students specific symptoms
  • Any successful strategies that have been used at home or in the community that could benefit the student.
  • Other disorders that are associated with ODD that the student might have as well as any medication the student might be taking and scheduled dosage times.

Other information to be aware of:
  • Other staff members that work with the student. You can then collaborate with these staff members and implement successful teaching strategies.
  • Your own triggers, so as to avoid being drawn into a negative pattern with the student
  • Knowledge of crisis management and non-violent crisis intervention is an asset
  • The physical placement of a student with ODD is very important. Be aware of who they are sitting beside and do not let them become isolated or they will have no chance for positive interaction with others.

6.5 Assessing Students with ODD

Here are some ways to provide successful assessment to students with ODD:

  • To avoid unnecessary conflict, provide students with a basic structure of examinations and ask them to make some practice test questions that could potentially be on their tests.
  • Give students a choice in how they want to complete their assessments (Ie: verbal, computer, written).
  • Allow students to redo assignments to increase their scores/final grades.
  • Incorporate their interests into the work, engaging them to complete tasks will gauge a more accurate assessment.
  • Feedback needs to be carefully designed as to not upset the student.
  • To avoid frustration, create assessment opportunities that are age appropriate and within the student's zone of proximal development.

7. References

  • Allen, J.L., Blatter-Meunier, J., Ursprung, A., Schneider, S. (2010). Maternal daily diary report in the assessment of childhood separation anxiety. Journal of Clinical Child & Adolescent Psychology, 39(2), 252-259. DOI: 10.1080/15374410903532619.
  • Birenbaum, M., (2007). Assessment and instruction preferences and their relationship with test anxiety and learning strategies. Higher Education, 53: 749-768. DOI 10.1007/s10734-005-4843-4.
  • Cowden, P., (2010). Communication and conflict: anxiety and learning, Research in Higher Education Journal, 1-9.
  • DiBattista, D., Gosse, L. (2006). Test anxiety and the immediate feedback assessment technique. The Journal of Experimental Education, 74(4), 311-327.
  • Essau, C., Conradt, J., Sasagawa, S., Ollendick, T.H. (2012). Prevention of anxiety symptoms in children: Results from a universal school-based trial. Behaviour Therapy, 43, 450-464.
  • Eugster, K. (2007). Anxiety in children: How parents can help. Retrieved from:
  • Salend, S.J., (2011). Addressing test anxiety. Teaching Exceptional Children, 44 (2), 58-68.
  • Smits, J., Charlier, N. (2011, October). Game-based assessment and the effect on test anxiety: A case study. Paper presented at the European Conference on Games Based Learning, Athens, Greece. 562-566.
  • Turgeoun, L., Kirouac, C., Denis, I. (2005). Anxiety disorders in children and adolescents. [Brochure]. Retrieved from:

Understanding and Facilitating Reading Comprehension in Children With Autism.
Kathy Gira. Illinois Reading Council Journal. Vol. 38 No. 2 (Spring 2010) Pg 27-34.

Educational Strategies to Address the Educational Needs of Students with Asperger Syndrome in the Mainstream Classroom

Leire Darretxe & Lucy Sepulveda. Electronic Journal of Research in Educational Psychology. No 24. (2011). Pg 869-892

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