Pathways

Several times a week, I go through the Pathways.

It’s an intervention I cobbled together for helping my students grapple with circumstances in which their behavior deviated significantly from the norm, situations in which their response to something in their environment was, er, pretty damn dysfunctional and should not be repeated.  It’s most useful for situations which I can easily imagining recurring in their lives: the point of the Pathways is to stave off a Groundhog Day/Mummy Hand experience where the same ineffective response (or a variation of it) plays out again and again in the absence of a skilled alternative.

I have most definitely stood on the shoulders of giants when designing my Pathways intervention.  One of the first resources I discovered as a new teacher was the work of Rick Lavoie, an author and speaker on learning disabilities.  His “Social Skill Autopsy” method stuck with me first and foremost because of its utterly humane approach. Lavoie argues that methods of social skills instruction that are rooted in the need to “punish misbehavior” are fundamentally ineffectual and even cruel because they are missing the key teaching piece of the puzzle.

Most social skill errors are unintentional. It is universally accepted that a primary need of all human beings is to be liked and accepted by other human beings. Therefore, if a child conducts himself in a manner that causes others to dislike or reject him, can we not assume that these behaviors are unintentional and far beyond the child’s control?

Instead of making an already miserable child more miserable by adding another layer of superimposed consequence, Lavoie advocates for a joint investigation–an autopsy, if you will–into what went wrong and how to learn from it to prevent another fatal error down the road.  Most salient for me as I learned about and applied the process was the key points of difference between three steps that seemed, at first glance, to be almost identical: ask the child what happened, ask the child to identify his or her mistake, help the child identify the “actual social error” being committed.  So often, we expect children to know exactly what their offense was–so often, when we check, they only know they made us angry.  In my work with children on the autism spectrum, I often find their understandings of social errors to be initially limited to the “letter of the law”–I may think I’m in trouble because I talked when I wasn’t supposed to be talking, but the actual problem was the words that I said; I don’t think I should be in trouble for getting up to sharpen my pencil, but my teacher’s stacking that alongside my previous 3 trips to the drinking fountain and 2 to the bathroom.  Going from, “What happened?” to “What was the mistake?” to “What was the expectation I didn’t quite manage?” gives students the contexts to do differently next time.

Michelle Garcia Winner’s Think Social model for working with students who have pragmatic challenges has deeply shaped the work I do.  I use her Social Behavior Map for many of my students: it’s a flowchart template that you can fill in with information about what’s “expected” and “unexpected” in various school and social situations, with intentional space to connect specific behaviors with the results they bring (tangibly as well as emotionally) about both in the target student and the people around her.

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My students and I use the blank ones, because I like to start by filling in what they already know about social situations and the expectations thereof.  The filled-in ones are helpful to consult in advance, though, especially because I tend to draw a blank when it comes to the myriad positive consequences of, say, chewing food quietly in the cafeteria.  It’s important to identify as many positive consequences for NOT doing a behavior as it is negative consequences for doing it, but it’s easy for me to fall into the “just do it cuz you’re supposed to” trap.

The Pathways intervention takes elements of Social Behavior Mapping and the Social Skills Autopsy, then wads them all together with a smidge of ABC analysis and an eye towards next time.  I specifically take the Expected/Unexpected stuff from a child’s real-time experience of behavioral dysfunction, then back it up a few steps to find the triggering event, then play it forward to delineate the fallout from the child’s actions, then draw out a new pathway, with the same triggering event but a different possible response for next ti time:

Pathways

Basically, like so, for a situation in which Finn decided that math was an Enemy to be Defeated, rather than a demand to be faced:

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The structure works for non-literate kids as well, with caveat that the person doing it might need to be better at drawing stick figures than I am.  I confess that the following is an after-the-fact recreation of an actual Pathway, which I’m not willing to share with anyone but Charles (he’s six, and draws worse than me):

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Okay, full disclosure.  The other one is also a recreation, because initial Pathway documents are pretty darn messy:

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This one is color-coded with the Zones of Regulation, to point out to young Finn that the whole lose-your-mind/red zone thing can be avoided altogether if one takes the right steps in the antecedent/yellow stages.

Does it work?  Well, not always.  Finn, for example, tends to need to make the same mistake or a permutation thereof several times before he’s utterly convinced that the wrong path is Dead End.  But even then, it’s useful to have these little pathway papers, because he can look through them and notice the common threads that play out.

Absolute full disclosure: I, er, use them myself, sometimes, when I find myself getting stuck in patterns that don’t work for me.  And over time, I do find myself able to change direction a bit more in the antecedent stages, able to recognize another way stuff could get done.

Pathways and choices and ripples down the road.  They’re among the most important things to make clearer for my students.  And among the biggest lessons for adults sometimes, too.

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