Supporting a learner with difficult behaviour

Part Two – Environmental Influences

Where do we start first – the individual or the environment? Well, I would always start with the easiest first, look at the environment. In school,

in a residential setting or in someone’s private home there will always be a clash of needs and a demand for a compromise.  

Good classrooms are meant to be bright and stimulating, displaying examples of students’ work. They also need to meet a range of needs and

abilities. The first thing to do is to assess that environment. Film it on video – video captures all sound without discrimination. We can hear just how noisy that environment may be. We can look at the surroundings with a detached view. Are there shiny surfaces reflecting light? Do the displays create a lack a focus? A crucial point here is that we must not use this assessment to simply strip away stimuli from the environment.

Consider whether you can alter the room in any other way. Can we provide distraction-free zones, or can we provide temporary covers for displays? Think about dark curtaining over wall displays, which can be pulled back when we use the displays.  

Consider the surroundings. Whilst the shrubs outside may look beautiful in summer, in winter the low sunlight through the tracery of branches causes disturbing flickering light. Roller blinds can be used to reduce the impact. Noise from other learners working can be distracting or confusing. Maybe we could place the learner in a safe zone like a corner, so they can locate most of the sources of sensory input. It may be possible to wear ear protectors or headphones with some single source of sound or it may be enough to place sound deadening screens against the walls.

Remember that, at the end of the day, we are teaching those we support to cope with the real world, and we cannot achieve that by taking away all sensory stimuli that causes stress. We must teach the learner to manage their fears and we do that by facing one fear at a time, not all at once.

Richard Hirstwood


Need to know more about innovative ways to manage difficult behaviour within your classroom?

Have a look at Mind that Meltdown! with Chris Barson, Carol Allen & Richard Hirstwood.

29 November – London

4 December – Manchester

9 December – Birmingham

What it’s like living with ADHD?

Have a look at this really interesting video about ADHD – it’s very thought provoking!