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Strategies for Handling Specific Problem Behaviors

January 1, 1996
Related Topics: Disabilities, Featured Article
Not all employees who have learning disabilities are going to have the same problems on the job. Yet certain behavioral characteristics do tend to pop up more often among this labor group. In her booklet, "Supervising Employees with Learning Disabilities," Elaine Reisman offers advice on how to best manage specific problem behaviors often associated with learning disabilities. Here's an excerpt:

Insecurity about role on the job and low self-esteem.
Look for opportunities to give positive reinforcement for even small steps in improvement. Be specific about what you're praising. Don't just say, "You're doing a good job." Instead, say, "You handled the data entry well. The typing was neat and correct."

When suggesting changes in behavior, use the "sandwich technique." Start with a positive comment, then explain the criticism, and give a specific suggestion for a way to improve the behavior. For example, "I like the way you greet people who have an appointment with me. But when you come back late from your break, I feel annoyed because I depend on you to be there. Please be sure to stay close enough on break so you can return on time."

Memory problems and inability to follow directions.

  • Give step-by-step directions both verbally and in writing. Use illustrations if helpful. Post the instructions where the employee will be using them.
  • Ask the person to repeat the instructions to you or demonstrate the task. Encourage questions.
  • Be specific in giving directions: "Put these two boxes on the table next to the water cooler."
  • Use a checklist to facilitate self-monitoring.

Distractibility and short attention span.

  • Assign job tasks that allow for movement. If not possible, suggest the person take a stretch or a short walk after working a set amount of time.
  • Try to assign tasks that can be completed in a short period of time.
  • Assign the person work locations devoid of excess noise or activities.

Reluctance to ask for information or help.

  • Require the person to ask one question a day.
  • Praise the person when he or she voluntarily asks for information or help.

Lack of initiative.

  • Give the person a list of tasks that can be done without further help from the supervisor.

Perseveration and impulsivity.

  • Work out signals, such as a wink or a tap on the shoulder, to alert the person.
  • On the job, when these problems occur, immediately identify the behaviors and communicate using the agreed upon signal.
  • Suggest that when the person feels the urge to repeat or interrupt, he or she should write out the comment or say it to him or herself.
  • Suggest counting to 10 before acting. During that time, the person should assess whether he or she has already made the comment or if this is an appropriate time to interrupt.

Poor judgment in regard to safety issues.

  • Point out possible dangerous situations at work. Spell out appropriate responses.
  • Role play what steps the person would follow in an emergency.

Personnel Journal, January 1996, Vol. 75. No. 1, p. 80.

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