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Preventing Antisocial Behavior

Antisocial behavior involves "...recurring violations of socially prescribed patterns of behavior," such as aggression, hostility, defiance, and destructiveness (Walker, Colvin, and Ramsey, 1995). Currently, between four and six million children and youth in schools have been identified as antisocial (only some of whom are identified as having an educational disability), and the numbers are increasing (Kazdin, 1993). Research suggests that:

  • Aggressive, antisocial behavior among children is not "just a phase" to be outgrown;
  • Antisocial behavior in early childhood is the most accurate predictor of delinquency in adolescence;
  • Antisocial children can be accurately identified as early as three or four years of age;
  • If an antisocial behavior pattern is not altered by the end of third grade, it can become chronic, only to be "managed" through supports and interventions; and
  • Prevention and early intervention are the best hopes we have of diverting children from this path (Walker et al., 1995).

Coordinated school system efforts can help divert most children from antisocial behavior, keeping them in school and out of the juvenile justice system.

In every school, three types of students can be identified: typical students not at risk, students with an elevated risk, and students who have already developed antisocial behavior patterns. A three-tiered strategy of prevention and intervention is the most efficient way to head off potential problems and address existing ones.

Prevention of Antisocial Behavior

Primary Prevention: School-wide activities to
prevent risk of developing antisocial patterns.

Secondary Prevention: Targeting at-risk students
for more individualized prevention activities.

Tertiary Prevention: Long-term, intensive services
for students with persistent patterns of antisocial
behavior, delinquency, violence, and destructiveness.

School-wide primary prevention activities may include teaching conflict resolution, emotional literacy, and anger management skills on a schoolwide, or universal basis. Such interventions have the potential not only to establish a positive school climate, but to divert students mildly at risk of antisocial behaviors. Primary prevention can prevent 75 percent to 85 percent of student adjustment problems.

A majority of students who do not respond to primary prevention will respond to more individualized secondary prevention efforts, including behavioral or academic support, mentoring, and skill development. Secondary prevention strategies also include small-group social-skills lessons, behavioral contracting, specialized tutoring, remedial programs, counseling, and mentoring.

Students with persistent patterns of antisocial behavior require more intensive interventions, and can benefit from intensive individualized services that involve families, community agency personnel, educators, administrators, and support staff. These strategies require comprehensive assessments of the problem, and involve flexible, comprehensive, and sustained interventions (Walker, Horner, Sugai, Bullis, Sprague, Bricker, and Kaufman, 1996).

Antisocial children and youth are at serious risk for a number of negative outcomes: school dropout, vocational maladjustment, drug and alcohol abuse, relationship problems, and higher hospitalization and mortality rates. The severity of antisocial behavior patterns also is associated with an increased risk for police contacts and arrests. The best that can be done for children and youth with behavioral problems is to keep them engaged in school, where educators can develop their skills, maintain a positive influence, and prevent involvement with disruptive groups during school hours (Walker et al., 1995).


References

Kazdin, A. (1993). Treatment of conduct disorder: Progress and directions in psychotherapy research. Development and psychotherapy, 5,277-310.

Walker, H., Colvin, G., & Ramsey, E. (1995). Antisocial behavior in school: Strategies and best practices. Pacific Grove, CA: Brooks/Cole Publishing Company.

Walker, H.M., Horner, R.H., Sugai, G., Bullis, M., Sprague, J.R., Bricker, D., & Kaufman, M.J. (1996, October). Integrated approaches to preventing antisocial behavior patterns among school-age children and youth. Journal of Emotional and Behavioral Disorders, 4(4), 194-209.

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