Behind every challenging behavior is an unsolved problem or a lagging skill (or both).
• Difficulty handling transitions, shifting from one mindset or task to another (shifting cognitive set).
• Difficulty mustering the energy to persist on tasks that are challenging, effortful, or tedious.
• Difficulty doing things in a logical sequence or prescribed order.
• Poor sense of time.
• Difficulty reflecting on multiple thoughts or ideas simultaneously.
• Difficulty maintaining focus for goal-directed problem solving.
• Difficulty considering the likely outcomes or consequences of actions (impulsive).
• Difficulty considering a range of solutions to a problem.
• Difficulty expressing concerns, needs, or thoughts in words.
• Difficulty understanding what is being said.
• Difficulty managing emotional response to frustration so as to think rationally (separation of affect).
• Chronic irritability and/or anxiety significantly impede capacity for problem solving.
• Difficulty seeing the “grays”; concrete, literal, black and- white thinking.
• Difficulty deviating from rules, routine, original plan.
• Difficulty handling unpredictability, ambiguity, uncertainty, novelty.
• Difficulty shifting from original idea or solution; difficulty adapting to changes in plan or new rules; possibly perseverative or obsessive.
• Difficulty taking into account situational factors thatf would require adjusting one’s plan of action.
• Inflexible, inaccurate interpretations; cognitive distortions or biases (e.g., “Everyone’s out to get me,”
“Nobody likes me,” “You always blame me,” “It’s not fair,” “I’m stupid,” “Things will never work out for me”).
• Difficulty attending to and/or accurately interpreting social cues; poor perception of social nuances.
• Difficulty starting a conversation, entering groups, connecting with people; lacking other basic social skills.
• Difficulty seeking attention in appropriate ways.
• Difficulty appreciating how one’s behavior is affecting other people; often surprised by others’ responses to his or her behavior.
• Difficulty empathizing with others, appreciating another person’s perspective or point of view.
• Difficulty appreciating how one is coming across or being perceived by others.
You may have noticed that this list contains no diagnoses. That’s because diagnoses don’t give us any information about the cognitive skills a kid may be lacking. All too often adults get caught up in the quest for the right diagnosis, assuming that a diagnosis will help them know what to do next. The reality is that diagnoses aren’t especially useful for understanding kids with behavioral challenges or for helping adults know what to do next. Plus, kids don’t generally exhibit challenging behavior in a vacuum. It usually takes two to tango: a kid who’s lacking skills and an environment (teachers, parents, peers) that demands those skills. Diagnoses don’t reflect that reality, they simply pathologize the child.
Try focusing on the lagging skill(s) rather than the diagnosis. There is a clear connection between lagging skills and how they can contribute to challenging behavior.
Ross Greene, Kids Do Well If They Can, Phi Delta Kappan, Vol. 90,
No. 03, November 2008, pp. 160-167.