Special Education

Study Shows Early Intervention Can Avert Spec. Ed. Needs

By Joetta L. Sack — February 09, 2000 3 min read

Using intervention strategies in early childhood is critical to preventing behavior problems and the need for special education services later, results released last week from a 25-year study on disruptive toddlers show.

The Department of Education, which has long promoted positive methods of addressing the misbehavior of troubled youngsters, held a one-day conference here that brought together representatives from school groups and researchers to discuss ways of preventing classroom disruptions.

For More Information

Details about the preschool strategies are available from the Regional Intervention Program. Information is also available from the Department of Education, Office of Special Education Programs, 330 C St. S.W., Washington, DC 20202; (202) 205-5507.

The department showcased research from the study of preschoolers, as well as programs supported by the Center on Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports at the University of Oregon, to make the case that a long-term strategy employing a positive approach— teaching a child correct behavior and rewarding him for it—works much better than referrals to administrators, suspensions, or other punishments. (“An Ounce of Prevention,” Oct. 27, 1999.)

“This is a very important subject—one that there should be more meetings, more discussion, more research about,” Secretary of Education Richard W. Riley said. “Traditional punishments are not as effective as positive, pro-active prevention.”

For the long-running study of preschoolers, researchers followed 40 families who had sought help from the Regional Intervention Program, or RIP, a federally subsidized program operated in facilities in Nashville, Tenn., and 27 other locations.


For More Information


More information about the research can be found at OSEP Center on Positive Behavioral Inteventions and Support. Information is also available from the Department of Education, Office of Special Education Programs, 330 C St. S.W., Washington, DC 20202; (202) 205-5507.

The families had sought help for their children, who displayed extreme behavior problems, such as outbursts, temper tantrums, screaming, and crying.

Hot Topic

The study, which began in the early ‘70s, comes at a time when preventing disruptive behavior has become one of the hottest issues in both special and general education.

The researchers found that educators and family members have little chance of correcting aggression and other anti-social behavior once a child reaches age 9. Those behaviors are likely to lead to problems with the law, rejection by peers and adults, and academic failure, said Phillip S. Strain, a researcher at the University of Colorado in Denver.

Through RIP, parents are taught to monitor their children’s behavior, state expectations and give choices, reward good behavior, and work with others to teach the children self-control and ways to interact with others.

By elementary school, the researchers found, the 40 children from the families studied were equal to their peers in such areas as responding positively to teachers’ requests, being appropriately engaged in structured and unstructured activities, and reacting positively to parents’ instructions. The best predictor of performance, the researchers found, was that the earlier a child enrolled in RIP, the better the results.

At the 25-year mark, all the students had completed high school, and about half had attended college, including four who were working on doctoral degrees. None had been placed in special education, and only one had a juvenile- justice offense—for smoking marijuana. None had shown aggressive behavior patterns during adolescence.

Two former clients of the RIP program in Nashville, Beth Kator and her mother, Rosemary Ragan, offered their praise for the strategy at last week’s conference.

Ms. Kator recalled having terrible temper tantrums as a child. But through intervention methods that helped her manage her behavior and make choices, she said, she excelled in some high school classes and later attended college. “I am standing here today as proof that [RIP] programs really work,” said Ms. Kator, a homemaker living in New Orleans.

School Strategies

The conference also highlighted strategies to help schools decrease the number of disciplinary referrals and improve the overall school climate.

Schools that have used positive approaches to improving behavior have seen dramatic declines in disruptions and better morale among students and teachers, according to Education Department- financed research.

The researchers, Robert Horner and George Sugai, both special education professors at the University of Oregon, stressed that the program requires educators to rethink and overhaul their current systems of discipline.

“We need to think about working smarter,” Mr. Sugai said.

A version of this article appeared in the February 09, 2000 edition of Education Week as Study Shows Early Intervention Can Avert Spec. Ed. Needs

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