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Friday, September 01, 2006

Types, Explanations and Effects of Disruptive Behaviour

Point 1: Hyperkinetic Disorders

Hyperkinetic disorders always arise early in development (usually in the first 5 years of life). Their chief characteristics are lack of persistence in activities that require cognitive involvement, and a tendency to move from one activity to another without completing any one, together with disorganized, ill-regulated, and excessive activity. These problems usually persist through school years and even into adult life, but many affected individuals show a gradual improvement in activity and attention.

Several other abnormalities may be associated with these disorders. Hyperkinetic children are often reckless and impulsive, prone to accidents, and find themselves in disciplinary trouble because of unthinking (rather than deliberately defiant) breaches of rules. Their relationships with adults are often socially disinhibited, with a lack of normal caution and reserve; they are unpopular with other children and may become isolated. Cognitive impairment is common, and specific delays in motor and language development are disproportionately frequent.

One well known example is Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), sometimes inaccurately referred to as ADD (There is no clinical term by this name) is a disorder usually first diagnosed in infancy, childhood or adolescence. There are 4 recognized types of ADHD. They are: Predominantly inattentive type; Predominantly hyperactive-impulsive type; Combined type (inattention and hyperactivity-impulsivity); and ADHD - Not otherwise specified. There is a high level of correlation between children with ADHD and other psychiatric illnesses.

Point 2: Conduct Disorders

These are essentially disorders where the person violates the social norms and rights of others. Those with these types of disorder are habitually in trouble, either with parents, teachers or peers. Despite presenting a tough image to those around them, they have a low self-esteem. Their frustration tolerance, irritability, temper outbursts and recklessness are hallmarks. Conduct Disorder may lead to adult antisocial personality disorder.

A specific example is Unsocialised Conduct Disorder. This type of conduct disorder is characterized by the combination of persistent dissocial or aggressive behaviour, with a significant pervasive abnormality in the individual's relationships with other children.

The lack of effective integration into a peer group constitutes the key distinction from "socialized" conduct disorders and this has precedence over all other differentiations. Disturbed peer relationships are evidenced chiefly by isolation from and/or rejection by or unpopularity with other children, and by a lack of close friends or of lasting empathic, reciprocal relationships with others in the same age group. Relationships with adults tend to be marked by discord, hostility, and resentment. Good relationships with adults can occur (although usually they lack a close, confiding quality) and, if present, do not rule out the diagnosis. Offending is characteristically (but not necessarily) solitary. Typical behaviours comprise: bullying, excessive fighting, and (in older children) extortion or violent assault; excessive levels of disobedience, rudeness, uncooperativeness, and resistance to authority; severe temper tantrums and uncontrolled rages; destructiveness to property, fire-setting, and cruelty to animals and other children. Some isolated children, however, become involved in group offending. The nature of the offence is therefore less important in making the diagnosis than the quality of personal relationships.

Point 3: Explanations for disruptive behaviours

Cognitive level of explanation. Irrational thought processes and poor information processing skills. For example, a student who takes a great deal of time to assimilate and accommodate information may give up or not be allowed enough time and therefore may become frustrated which can lead to anti-social behaviours. Another factor may the phenomenon of psychological reactance in which the individual responds to perceived threats to their autonomy by asserting their individuality through refusing to co-operate. Given that the years between 11-16 are about identity and role resolution (Erikson) it would be expected that some students may have difficulty dealing with perceived threats to their identity.

Social level of explanation. Sub-cultures of disruptive behaviours can develop in schools in which the values of the education system are replaced by others which will allow those who can not gain status through conventional means to do so.

Behavioural level of explanation. Learnt habits and conditioned responses for reinforcement can lead to disruptive behaviour. The classic example is that a boy who consistently disrupts their class is showing attention seeking behaviour, the attention acting as a positive reinforcer. (Skinner)

Social Learning level of explanation. Observed behaviours of significant role models whether in school or outside will be learnt from and demonstrated in class if deemed to be appropriate. If the role models are of a dubious nature then this could lead to difficulties for both the teacher and the student. (Bandura)

Environmental level of explanation. Excessive noise and heat have been correlated with frustration and aggressive behaviour. A school/classroom that has these features may elicit disruptive behaviours from students. Studies by Green and O'Neal (1969), Donnerstein and Wilson (1976) and Konecni (1975) suggest that under circumstances in which noise would be expected to increase arousal (like the use of whitenoise) or when there is a predisposition to aggress, aggression is increased. However when the noise does not appreciably increase arousal (as when the individual has control over it) or when the individual is not already predisposed to aggress, noise appears to have little, if any, effect on aggression. Thus we can conclude that noise strengthens or increases aggression but does not provoke it.

Causes and Effects of One Disruptive Behaviour

Point 4: AD(H)D

In general there are three categories under which the most common ADHD behaviours fall: inattention, hyperactivity, and impulsivity.


People who are inattentive typically have trouble keeping their mind on any one thing. They get bored easily, are often distracted by irrelevant stimuli, and don't seem to listen when someone is talking directly to them. Capable of devoting effortless attention to things they do enjoy, they find it extremely difficult to focus deliberate, conscious attention when it comes to other activities or to learning something new. This can lead to careless mistakes in schoolwork, failure to complete chores at home, or missed deadlines at work.


Hyperactive children always seem to be in motion physically or verbally. They may dash about, touch everything within reach, squirm in their seat, tap their toes, or chatter incessantly. They seem incapable of sitting through a lesson or a movie that doesn't captivate them with every scene. Hyperactive teens and adults may feel intensely restless most of the time.


People who are overly impulsive seem unable look before they leap. As children, they may dart into a street without watching for cars. Overly impulsive youngsters tend to find it very difficult to take turns or wait in line. They may grab a toy from another child or physically lash out when they are upset. As teens and adults, these individuals tend to interrupt what other people are saying or blurt out whatever springs to mind, even inappropriate comments.

Possible Causes-

Over the years, ADHD was thought to have been caused by diet, environmental toxins, food allergies, parenting practices, and prenatal or birth injuries. However more recent evidence indicates that for the most part, ADHD is caused by inherited factors which are manifest in abnormal brain morphology, and associated with an underlying neurological dysregulation and underarousal of the frontal lobes. One school of thought says that the cause of AD(H)D lies in a chronically over-aroused central nervous system resulting in the continual switching of attention. Other theorists suggest that, in fact, the opposite is true - chronic under-arousal results in the inability to maintain attention. The fact that AD(H)D is currently most successfully 3lled by the use of stimulant drugs such as Ritalin suggests that the latter explanation is the most plausible.

1) Family and environmental factors.

The behavioural view might suggest that ADHD results from poor parenting practices that reinforce inappropriate behaviours. Indeed some intervention therapies have assumed from the outset that ADHD is caused by dysfunctional family dynamics (Burte & Burte, 1994). The reverse could be argued, namely that ADHD behaviour causes the inappropriate parental responses. There is evidence for this argument in studies of the dynamics of families with ADHD children. Mothers for example, interact more dysfunctionally with their ADHD children than with their other children (Gomez & Sanson, 1994).

A 12 year follow-up study of ADHD children, who had received individual and residential treatment for their behaviours, showed that core deficits of the disorder persisted in more than half of the ADHD group. The ADHD group also experienced significantly more behavioural and academic problems in high school than did controls (Claude & Firestone, 1995). Other studies have shown that 75-80% of children with ADHD continue to experience academic difficulties and psychiatric problems into adolescence and adulthood.

Despite the existence of several intervention programs (Burte & Burte, 1994), it appears that there is a lack of evidence on the impact and effectiveness of behavioural treatments for ADHD, and substantial intervention outcome studies are scarce (Australian Psychological Society, 1997; Jarman, 1996). Hence, research does not appear to provide support for either a behavioural cause for ADHD, or for the long term effectiveness of behavioural intervention for ADHD.

2) Genetic evidence

In a study of 570 twins using objective measures of attentiveness and hyperactivity, genetic effects accounted for 50% of the observed variance, and the heritability for ADHD was estimated at 64% (Goodman & Stevenson, 1989). Although no specific gene has been identified as yet, there is strong evidence of a genetic involvement in ADHD (Hechtman, 1994).

Corrective and Preventive Strategies

The assertive discipline approach developed by Canter (1976; 1981)

The assertive discipline model is focused on changing student behavior by altering the balance of negative and positive consequences to promote appropriate classroom behavior. Although the term assertive discipline tends to connote behavior control through punishment, Canter (1989) points out that many applications of assertive discipline do include rewards for on-task and socially appropriate behavior. Canter prefers that teachers put most of their emphasis on noticing students in good behavior. The best way to begin an assertive discipline plan is to send a letter to each student's parents or guardians on the first day of school. The letter should begin with a short statement of the teacher's philosophy about discipline, expectations of students, classroom rules, consequences for breaking classroom rules, and rewards for appropriate behavior. The letter can take the form of a proclamation or nonnegotiable contract if the teacher prefers. Parents are asked to read the contract letter and to sign and return the bottom portion indicating that they have read and understand the discipline plan for their child's classroom.

Evertson and Harris (1992), in a review of the research literature on classroom management, found considerable support for approaches such as assertive discipline, which communicate clearly the classroom rules and which are implemented at the beginning of the school year. Both strategies are focused on problem prevention.

Although assertive discipline plans have helped many teachers, nevertheless, they are ofen received with mixed emotions from other teachers and some parents. Some teachers are opposed to writing the names of misbehaving students on the board. Although writing names on the board facilitates record keeping and allows the teacher to continue teaching, it could be humiliating to students. Canter (1989) proposes that teachers use a clipboard or roll book for check marks and give the students a short, verbal warning or notification of a penalty.