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Katherine Lopez Walker Patterson Rhiannon Adams Jeannette Rodriguez The Dynamics of Interpersonal Relationships: How teachers and students with intellectual disabilities form positive relationships Introduction Research has shown that individuals with intellectual disabilities (or ID) have difficulty with certain communication aspects. These setbacks include receptive, expressive, and written domains. Expressive communication is the ability to communicate ones needs to others. Receptive communication is the ability to understand and respond to communication of another individual. Written communication involves both receptive and expressive communication, but is specifically adhered to reading and writing (Belva, Matson, Sipes, Bamburg, 2011). In addition, it is perceived that individuals with an ID are lacking proper communication skills, which ultimately affects the validity of their interpersonal relationships. Any misconceptions concerning the communication domains can affect a teachers approach and/or enthusiasm towards developing a connection with the student. There are certain steps that a teacher must take in order to develop a connection with a student. These steps could potentially differ when teaching students with intellectual disabilities. This study is meant to explore those steps and observe the outcomes, which ultimately would result in a positive teacher student relationship. This study offers an interpretive understanding of how teachers approach the formation of relationships between themselves and their students, and how their students portray their relationship with the teacher.


Review of Literature A Needed Solution Students with intellectual disabilities have a hard time communicating with their parents and friends. They also have a difficult time communicating with their teachers, but this is a different kind of communication. When communicating with someone who has a disability, a person has to decide how he or she is going to direct and guide the conversation and what methods will be used to help the student access the material being taught. In the study “Where are teacher’s voices? A research agenda to enhance the communicative interactions of students with multiple and severe disabilities at school” the researchers look at how the “frequencies of communication between teachers and students with multiple and severe disabilities” (MSD) is low (De Bortoli 2010). Little is known about the reason for these low frequencies. But with such severe disabilities as sensory impairments and everyday living troubles like eating, drinking and hygiene care, there are many challenges to overcome in daily living (De Bortoli 2010). They found that “involvement in communicative interactions has been shown to have a positive effect on the ability of students with MSD to engage with activities in the classroom”(De Bortoli 2010). This means that the lack of communicative interactions could reduce participation and educational opportunities for the students. They also found that “functional communication within natural contexts” like regular day activities in the classroom is a really good way of helping students with MSD (De Bortoli 2010). Teachers play the main role in all of this, if they aren’t communicating effectively with the students with MSD then they are providing less of an opportunity for the students to learn and communicate more effectively. Butterfield (2005) wanted to see if providing teachers with more information about the disabilities of their students would increase the communication between them. A total of 158


special education teachers participated in the studies and went through the educational training. Butterfield, “Acknowledged that they did not include any measures of changes in teachers’ practice in the classroom” (Butterfield 97-115). On the other hand the teachers said that the inservice program was “effective in increasing their knowledge and skills and reducing their concerns about gaining access to needed, relevant knowledge” (Butterfield 97-115). A second study was conducted where in they researched teachers who taught students with augmentative and alternative communication systems (ACC) and teachers who taught MSD students. The results were the same: the difference in teaching styles wasn’t helping the communication between teacher and students with mental disabilities, no matter which one was used. The conclusion to this study found that overall students with MSD had low frequencies of communicative behavior in the classroom. Although they tried to educate the teachers on the disabilities of their students, nothing seemed to improve communication within the classroom. The results looked similar to that reported almost two decades ago. Still little is known about the reasons for the “low frequencies of communication for students with MSD in the classroom” or why the teacher educational programs had little impact (Butterfield 97-115). Communication is so important in the classroom for the purpose in learning and life in general. Taking a closer look as to how we communicate and the styles we use could bring a clearer meaning to how to instruct and positively impact someone struggling with a mental disability. Teaching Misconceptions and Directions Teaching in a classroom full of students with ID can be intimidating. Many special education teachers would assume that a mainstream classroom, full of non-ID students, would be easier to manage in comparison with a classroom full of ID students. There is an assumption that these special education teachers have to put more effort into their work. However, “by the time a


child with intellectual disability is placed in a mainstream or special class, a great deal of assessment will already have taken place” (Foreman, 2009). In other words, these students would have already taken copious amounts of government testing, both academic and social tests, to diagnose their intellectual disability. “For some students, educational assessment will require an evaluation of their skills in literacy, numeracy, and other academic areas. For others, it will involve an assessment of the stage they have reached in feeding themselves or communicating their needs to others.” In addition, the parents’ roles seem to be crucial to the success of the student, according to Foreman’s research. Parents are typically much more involved and provide the teacher with personal and academic information. Parents help the teacher understand the students better. By law, the parents have a right to know how their child is doing; not just in academics but in other life skills. This can affect the relationship between student and teacher in both positive and negative ways. If the teacher and parent relationship is positive, the relationship between student and teacher is beneficial; the teacher might feel that they know the student on a personal level, before they actually get there themselves. If the parent is overwhelmingly protective, it is likely that the teacher wouldn’t feel comfortable to use their own creativity, but would rather feel obligated to follow through with the parents every wish. As a professional in the educational field, one often follows a specific set of rules. According to Foreman, there is no universal methodology in approaching an ID student, just as there is none for a non-ID student. “The fact that there is such a wide diversity of students with an intellectual disability means that educational assessment will vary greatly depending on the child’s current functional level (Foreman, 2009).” More often than not, having a set standard method to teach every student would not be as successful as evaluating each individual student


and having a main goal of gaining their trust, connecting with them, and going from there. With ID students, gaining trust is essential to establishing a successful relationship. Early Education Overview A child’s early school experience can place many demands on their social, academic and self-regulatory skills. A child’s ability to adjust to this new environment can have many longterm effects on the child’s behavioral adjustment, social skills used at school and their academic success. While all of these factors play a definite role in the child’s current and long-term success in school, the student-teacher relationship plays a particularly important role in the student’s long-term success in school (Edward, Baker and Blacher). The student-teacher relationship (STR) has been thoroughly researched in typically developed students while little research has been done on STRs of children with intellectual disability (ID). By definition, children with ID have limited cognitive and developmental skills. It is important to gain a better understanding of STRs of children with ID because of the increased risk that the student will not be as well-adjusted, poor social-acceptance, competence and behavioral problems. A better understanding of how to form and maintain better STRs among children with ID can improve the development of interventions with the purpose of better preparing these children for school and increasing the likelihood that they will succeed in school. Eisenhower, Baker and Blacher (2005) examined the STR quality among 6 year-old children both with and without ID, while considering certain characteristics that may predict STR quality for these children, using current data and data from when the children were at age 3. Participants of the study were 140 children with intellectual disability or typical development, including their parents and teachers. The families first joined the study when the children were 3 years old. The data was obtained through lab sessions of children aged 3 and 5, questionnaires


completed by the parents when the children were aged 3 and 6 and at home observation when the children were 6. At age 5, the children were given the Stanford-Binet intelligence scale (4th edition) as well as the Vineland adaptive behavior scales. Finally, at age 6, the experimenters observed behavior and parent-child interactions, did the child behavior checklist for ages 4-18 and the teachers and parents completed the Social Skills Rating System (SSRS). The results indicated that students with ID experienced poorer STRs than students without ID. These relationships were characterized by increased conflict and dependency and less closeness between the students and teachers. The study found out that the differences in behavioral and emotional regulation between the two groups of children was more important than the IQ differences between the two groups of students in determining STR quality. Post-Secondary Overview Educational opportunities, such as post-secondary education (PSE), have risen over the years for students with intellectual disabilities. Studies have shown that PSE is associated with long-term benefits such as better health and longevity, higher reported happiness, and more participation in civic, charitable and democratic institutions (McMahon, 2009). Not only that, but post-secondary education has also been associated with the development of independence, lifelong friendships, professional relationships and last but not least, higher self-esteem. These are all benefits that a post-secondary education can provide to an individual, yet individuals with disabilities, especially intellectual disabilities lag behind in such critical adult outcomes. According to the National Longitudinal Transition Study-2 (2003), this group of individuals are more likely to be unemployed, work at lower wages, and be isolated from their communities and friends once they exit high school (Thoma, Lakin, Carlson, Domzal, Austin, & Boyd). With strong evidence suggesting that PSE is generally associated with improvement in those outcomes


for other groups of students, there has been a growing strong commitment in providing access to PSE to students with intellectual disabilities (Thoma, Lakin, Carlson, Domzal, Austin, & Boyd). Although these educational opportunities have risen, giving students with intellectual disabilities the chance to grow as individuals and become more independent, other factors come into play in order for these opportunities to truly assist these students. Before we can even approach these PSE options, we must first evaluate a very important influential factor, the dynamics of the interpersonal relationship between a teacher and a student with intellectual disabilities in the K-12 as well as the PSE setting. In order to better understand the dynamics in a teacher-student relationship, we must first understand the current structure of the educational system of K-12. Initially, students with intellectual disabilities have had separate classrooms in which consists of ID students only, causing ID students to be secluded from the remaining student population. However, that is no longer the case, currently the K-12 classroom setting is mainstreaming ID students into regular classrooms, mixing ID students with non-ID students. Although they are ID students included with the regular student population, they are still able to learn beside them with additional help from their teachers. Given the importance of the dynamics between a teacher and a student with intellectual disabilities and how they form positive relationships, the present study seeks to explore how gaining trust and establishing connection occurs through communicative interaction in the student-teacher relationship (STR).

Research Question We propose the following RQ: RQ1: What types and forms of communication help establish trust and connection in the STR in the K-12 setting?


-METHODSParticipants The participants were two students and three teachers that are part of a post-secondary program. The program is a community based transition program for students with disabilities who are 18-22 years of age. The student participants represent various intellectual disabilities and the teacher participants varied in experience and classifications. In order to ensure confidentiality, demographics were not observed nor collected for this particular study. Procedures An interpretive, convenience sampling was conducted to interview members of a postsecondary program and their teachers. Participants were presented with several interview questions regarding how long they had been working with students with ID as well as how the members related to their teachers and how they thought they had improved since joining the program. We interviewed the subjects on topics regarding their time spent working with individuals with ID. We also interviewed a couple of members of the program to ask them about their life and how it has changed since their joining the program. Observations will be conducted in order to have a better understanding of the nonverbal communication and interactions between teachers an students. Analysis & Interpretation All participants were interviewed with their permission and on a volunteer basis. They will be referred to as Kate (teacher), Gina (teacher), Amanda (teacher), Pricilla (student), and Kyle (student) through this study. As each participant was being interviewed, notes were being made by the researchers during the interviews. All notes and interpretations from each research


conductor were compiled and reviewed for further analysis. The responses that each participant gave will be used are “raw data”. The notes taken through the interviews were transcribed. This process will allow the researchers to compile and correlate their earlier findings with the new findings. Our main goal in the interview process is to have a personal account of their experience and to relate their experience back to other studies to further exam the relationships between student and teacher. Results
From the observations and interactions between STR that Susan, Molly, and Teresa have with their students, it was seen that teachers who employ the strict but fair mentality with their ID students make much more progress with their students in comparison to that of a teacher that does not push or treat their students as independent adults. The idea of “being independent” was constantly repeated over and over again with words and teaching methods to the students which made them highly embrace the need and want to be independent. This need and want to be independent by the students helped in the efforts they would put in their daily tasks, helping them excel in their job training and the overall quality of their lives. Also, the students are able to function on their own by getting their own jobs and using public transportation which shows how these ID students are able to incorporate what they learned in the GO project classroom and apply in their daily lives. We also found that the best interpersonal relationships with the students were formed when the teachers and their peers treated them as equals by finding similar interests the two could have a connection over. This treatment of equality was a strong foundation in the communication styles used when it came to the instruction of these ID students. It showed that by treating every student as equals in the classroom by not “babying” or “pampering” them and using their ID as an excuse in justifying their behaviors, the students managed to learn more and attain both better job and interpersonal skills. The

10 teachers were very invested in the success of their students; students were very invested in achieving the highest level of independence. Overall, it was noticeable that the communication and connection between STR have a strong commitment, respect, and love for one another that provided a rich, positive, and nurturing environment which helped ID students continue to grow into more independent adults.

Working with the GO project on campus was a fun and opinion changing experience. Before interviewing the students and teachers few of us had experience with intellectually disabled students. After interviewing the students, our opinions and attitudes changed from looking at them simply as people with limited abilities to having great respect for the teachers and students. Listening to the students talk about how much they wanted to learn everyday life skills and to hold a steady job was very fulfilling. We started by giving most of the credit to their teachers but then we realized how hard the students worked to achieve their goals. Our study was well organized and the way we set it up ran very smoothly. We didn’t encounter any problems along the way in trying to set up meeting times and then in compiling all of our information together. We had several strengths in our study. Katharine and Janette both have had personal connections to the GO project prior to this course. This helped establish easy communication between both the teachers and students. Another strength was how open and passionate the teachers and students were about participating in our interviews. The friendly environment we created helped calm the nerves of the two students we interviewed. The limitations we encountered within our study was scheduling times and trying to coordinate between our group and the GO project. Besides scheduling issues there were no other limitations for our research study. Future research can be conducted in several ways. We could have spent a day with the students and helped volunteer our time, allowing us to see more of the everyday activities and communication between the teachers and students. Another avenue for further research is observing different programs in

11 Austin. For example we could visit the high schools special needs classes and compare the two programs. One of the potential ethical problems we encountered while working with the program was the distribution of power. We have to be careful with the way we talk to and interact with students with intellectual disabilities, not in ways that build barriers but in ways the help to even out the power differential. They might take what we say as an offense but in reality we are simply trying to have a conversation or we might not realize the potential they have within them to communicate and accomplish their personal goals. The barriers are different, especially through communication, but talking to them in a way that we both can understand causes less miscommunication and builds understanding.


References Arthur M, Butterfield B, McKinnon DH. Communication intervention for students with severe disability: results of a partner training program. Int J Disabil Dev Educ 2005; 45:97-115 Avramidis, E., & Norwich, B. (2002). Teachers' attitudes towards integration/inclusion: A review of the literature. European Journal of Special Needs Education, 17(2), 129-147. Belva, Brain C., Johnny L. Matson, Megan Sipes, and Jay W. Bamburg. "An Examination of Specific Communication Deficits in Adults with Profound Intellectual Disabilities."Research in Developmental Disabilities (2011): 525-29. Web. De Bortoli, T., Arthur-Kelly, M., Mathisen, B., Foreman, P., & Balandin, S. (2010). Where are teachers' voices? A research agenda to enhance the communicative interactions of students with multiple and severe disabilities at school. Disability & Rehabilitation, 32(13), 1059-1072. doi:10.3109/09638280903410730 Eisenhower S., A., Baker L., B., & Blacher, J. (n.d). Early student-teacher relationships of children with and without intellectual disability: Contributions of behavioral, social, and self-regulatory competence. Journal Of School Psychology, 45365-383. Foreman, P. (2009). Education of Students with an Intellectual Disability : Research and Practice. Information Age Pub. Thoma, C. A., Lakin, K. C., Carlson, D., Domzal, C., Austin, K., & Boyd, K. (2011). Participation in Postsecondary Education for Students with Intellectual Disabilities: A Review of the Literature 2001-2010. Journal of Postsecondary Education and Disability, 24(3), 175-191.