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PositiveBehavioral Support
Research Connections
Winter 1999

Views From the Field



For More Information

Check out the National Association of School Psychologists' website for information on topics related to PBS and assessing students from different cultures:
www.naspweb.org/center.html.


PBS is a relatively new concept. We are only beginning to understand its implications for effecting positive change in children, youth, and adults. Following are perspectives from the field.

Understanding the "Why" of Behaviors in Children from Different Cultures

Cultural sensitivity is critical when working with children— when children are from families that have recently immigrated to the United States. "As a school psychologist, I always consider cultural reasons for the behavior," Daniel Valdes-Agrait tells us. "Otherwise, you run the risk of not seeing the true meaning of the behavior, which can lead to misdiagnosis and misguided treatment approaches."

Behaviors can differ from culture to culture. Valdes-Agrait shares the following example. A child of Puerto Rican background was referred for acting out behaviors. The child was described as irritable and said to report having psychotic hallucinations and visions in which he prayed with deceased Indians.

Valdes-Agrait set up an interview with the child and family in their home. "It is very important to visit the home to note any cultural signs." As it turned out, Valdes-Agrait, who has expertise in Puerto Rican folk culture and religious traditions, immediately noticed that a piece of bread had been tacked to the front door and an altar placed in the hallway. He interviewed the child and family, only to confirm what he suspected— child's mother was involved in what her culture calls entierro, praying to wandering souls to help them rest in peace. "The important thing to remember is that in Puerto Rico, entierro is considered normal and a sign of spirituality, Valdes-Agrait stresses. His intervention? In the absence of other significant symptoms, which must always be considered, Valdes-Agrait recommended accepting the child's report of praying with a dead Indian as real and encourage the mother to select prayer times during normal waking hours.

Belief systems can exist after people have left their home countries. "We must always ask how much the belief system is affecting the child so that we do not impose our own value judgments about the behavior," Valdes-Agrait points out. "It is important to consult with professionals familiar with the culture."

Working with Families

"We have documented proof of the effectiveness of PBS strategies— what's more, we know that these non-punitive approaches can improve the quality of life for the entire family, "Ursula Markey, a parent of a child with challenging behaviors asserts. "We must get this information into the hands of families in responsive and respectful ways."

With support from OSEP, Markey is disseminating information about PBS to families in underserved areas. As part of her community-based parent resource center in New Orleans, Markey is providing families with workshops, one-on-one consultations, and trainer of trainers programs on PBS. "The first thing we do is to get families thinking differently about their child and ways that they can impact the child's environment to make a positive difference."

Markey describes the following components of a typical training workshop:

  • Families start thinking about behavior as a function of something. They are encouraged to observe their child to get a sense of the purpose or function of the behavior and to hypothesize about the pay-offs to the child's behaviors.

  • Families learn positive strategies, such as redirection, positive reinforcement, how to teach new skills or replacement behaviors, and ways to change the environment.

"An essential part of all workshops is to give families an opportunity to rejoice in their child and share those positive reflections with others," Markey explains. "I know as a parent myself, it can be overwhelming to have a child with challenging behaviors—'s amazing how sharing something positive with others can change one's entire attitude from seeing the child as a burden to a blessing!"

Markey's program, Pyramid Parent Training, is part of the Grassroots Consortium on Disabilities, which represents over 150,000 families from diverse cultures. She edits their magazine, Tapestry. (Contact Special Kids, Inc., PO Box 266958, Houston, TX77207.)

Next: State Perspectives


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