For Flinders lecturer in education Leigh Burrows, one of the most complex and intractable cases of child behaviour management in her professional life has since become a source of inspiration, a PhD thesis and, most recently, a book.
In Feeling Real, Dr Burrows describes the course of her involvement in the case of a boy with autism whose violent behavioural problems had traumatised his teachers and fellow pupils, leading to a ban from school and pushing his parents into depression.
Adding to the difficulties was the regional location, and the consequent lack of access to expertise and resources.
“Some pretty heavy-handed approaches were used with him because people didn’t really know what else to do,” Dr Burrows said.
“Anger is often a self-protective mechanism. In the midst of all the trouble, no-one had really connected with him and his abilities.”
Dr Burrows’ strategy was to involve the artistically gifted boy and his mother in creating an illustrated book, which was eventually published and launched in the town.
“From that point on, a different image of the child began to emerge. While it was difficult, over time he became more trusting of authority figures again and his mother also began to regain her confidence as a parent as we worked to get this child reconnected with school,” she said.
Dr Burrows, who sits on the Management Assessment Panel in the Exceptional Needs Unit of the SA Department of Communities and Social Inclusion, says a co-ordinated response is imperative.
“What I’ve learned when I work on other cases is that you have to go back to the child’s needs, and then try to find a strengths-based approach with the professionals and the family involved, so that everyone has a coherent sense of direction.”
Feeling Real is published by Post Pressed, Brisbane, and had its launch on campus at this week’s 2011 conference of the Flinders Educational Futures Research Institute.