George Lucas Educational Foundation

Help! Student Cries Nonstop!

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Hi everyone, I have gotten some great advice on this site in the past and thought i would throw another dilemma in your direction to see if anyone can make a suggestion that could help!  

I am a TA in a SMI classroom. We have a student who is nonverbal and her only form of communication is crying. Sometimes her cries are without tears or emotion, and seems to be a type of high pitched "baby babble"  for lack of better terms. She is trying to communicate something, we just have no idea what it may be. She has a tablet with proloco communication software installed and we have been working on teaching her to use it, thus far to no avail. She doesn't seem to understand that the device is a tool for communication, and shows little to no intrest in it at all.

When the tearless babble goes without addressing, the tears start. She ramps up throughout the course of the day and is beet red, very high pitched distress crying. 

This is EVERY DAY. We continue to try the basics, check her brief,  give her a drink of water, offer a snack. (Generally to no avail) we then move on to walking with her. Sometimes she quiets while wandering the building, only to start again upon  return.  We recently installed a swing in the classroom hoping she would find some amusement or comfort in it. Nothing. We have marginal succesd with a bike, she seems to like it in the hallways. However, as soon as the ride is over, the crying starts again. We have tried ignoring her, letting her "cry it out" and self soothe...that also does not help. She will cry to a point of vomiting. we have tried games, songs, music, movies, ...we are at a loss.

The parent has produced a clean bill of health from her dr, assuring us that she is in no physical pain. 

Whie my heart breaks for her, her continual crying has put a serious strain on the classroom. Our students with sensory issues are unable to focus, and are melting down due to the constant noise level. Trying to follow through with a lesson of any kind requires shouting over her, causing more stress and more upset for staff and students as well. We have noise cancelling earphones for several students to help them to cope but they are not always well recieved. It has gotten so bad that a student with a hearing aide has removed it and thrown it across the room at her. 

I feel like i am trying to soothe a colicky 19 year old all day long. I wish nothing more than to see her smile or at the very least just be at peace. The parents claim she is "very happy at home". What are we doing wrong? We have tried to go without the flourescent lights, using lamps and dimmer lights. We have tried to give her a comfy chair and a soothing blanket from home. Nothing seems to help. 

the situation has forced us to dedicate one staff member to her alone and it makes things very hectic. The person with her has to count on coworkers to pick up the slack making it very stressful on all parties involved Since her "happy place" is outside  the classroom and we cannot let her wander the building alone. 

Please! We are going crazy! I am coming home so stressed out and upset EVERY day that this is carrying over to home which is very unfair to my own kids. Any suggestions would be appreciated! The biggest issue it seems is that we cannot find aanything of intrest to her. Baby toys, computer, ..she seems to have NO intrests! The parents are very little help in letting us know what she does at home that makes her happy.

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Margaret Shafer's picture
Margaret Shafer
Third grade teacher in the Midwest

Hi, Allison. I used to teach special education, although with a higher functioning population. I feel for you. For what it's worth, here are a few thoughts.
Does the crying start as soon as she gets to school or before that, possibly on the bus? Would it be possible for her parent to visit at school, both to see how she reacts and to see if they can figure out what might be wrong? I wonder how she spends her time at home, and whether a similar activity might possibly at school. Also, are the parents just used to the sound she makes or is she quieter at home?
Does the speech therapist work with her on communication? Even though she is nonverbal I would think that she could be resource. When you work with the communication system, I would start with something very simple, possibly a single word for something she wants. Or possibly just the word No! If she likes to go for walks, the first word might be guiding her to Walk on the device before you take her to the hall. If I were the teacher I would also want to communicate with previous teachers to see if this behavior is familiar or new.

ALLISON's picture

Thank you for your reply! In answer to your questions, first off, her mom drives her in to school daily. Mom walks her to the room and the crying starts within minutes of mom's departure. We have set up several meetings to have a q & a with the parents. However, they have yet to show up to any of the meetings. When asked what she likes to do at home, mom is very vague, stating "she likes tv". And has made the statement "she only cries when she wants something." Thanks mom, real helpful.
Our speech therapy dept has been working with her for years. From what i understand, when she was very young she learned to ask for water with her device. She has since had a series of damaging seizures which not only stopped her progress, but erased any progress she had made. Now, she pushes away the device when it is shown to her. We continue to show her things like "lunch" before we eat but she flatly refuses to look at it.
Previous teachers all report the same issues we are having. they also note that a place for her to sleep is going to be our only reprieve. Current admin has vetoed this.
We do use "tv" so to speak, in the classroom, for special movie days and as a teaching tool but in order for students to hear it, she has to be removed from the classroom to go for a walk.
We started today with a student buddy for her. Her buddy comes in from the more progressive classroom to walk with her a couple times a day. today went well, but seemed very brief. Lol.
We have a meeting set for next week with speech, ot, pt, and the ai consultant to try to brainstorm. Wish us luck!

ALLISON's picture

I forgot to add, we were hoping to gain intrest in her tablet, by trying different tv programs for her to watch being downloaded to it. the thought was that if she likes tv, she may feel drawn to her device if it had shows on it. Then eventually, she could learn to choose what she wanted to watch, then this could lead to further communication. We have tried all of the tv programs that mom has suggested, and she still continues to push it away or will grab it and throw it.

Margaret Shafer's picture
Margaret Shafer
Third grade teacher in the Midwest

Wow! You do have your hands full. It sounds like the seizures have been a real complicating factor. I wonder if her mom uses the TV at home as a babysitter for her. Obviously you wouldn't want to do that at school, but maybe some sort of video social story? TV reward for any sort cooperation? I hope you'll comment back here if you figure some things out.

ALLISON's picture

I have my fingers crossed! There HAS to be a way to reach her. i will certianly let you kknow what we ma age to come up with, and if it works! Thanks again for your ideas!

Lora's picture

Hi Allison,
It's just a suggestion but you might try headphones with her device so that she can listen to music. If she likes this, then you could use a switch to allow her to listen to the music when she pushes the switch...might get her interacting with her device. In the meantime, noise-canceling headphones can help the other students who are trying to work. :)

ALLISON's picture

Well, like a miracle, we have gone through an entire week with minimal crying. The crazy part is that we aren't sure why. We keep asking "what was different about this week?" We have been documenting what she is doing at what time and how she is reacting to it. We went through page by page all the way to the beginning of the year and Her schedule is the same, nothing has changed apart from her suddenly being happier. We are looking at even the smaller things like, well...she got a new coat? Maybe she just really hates winter? Seasonal mood disorder? The weather has gotten warmer. Her dad dropped her off on Monday, maybe she feels special to have one on one time with dad instead of mom all of the time? Whatever the cause, i hope it will continue. I absolutely LOVE her smile. :)

Margaret Shafer's picture
Margaret Shafer
Third grade teacher in the Midwest

That's great! Maybe you've turned the corner. Maybe whatever was bothering her before was completely outside your control. Hopefully the trend will continue. Those positives are what keep us all going when things are tough.

Dee's picture

Hello, I am a special ed teacher in an Intensive Life Skills classroom. We have a student that cries quite often. We are dealing with it behaviorally. Reinforce when they are being good, teaching some form of communication, and doing short 2-3 minute time blocks of ignoring and trying to teach self-soothing. The parents were sent home a copy of the protocol and agreed to it. Any discomfort or possible pain are addressed initially, with on the spot teaching communicating....then if the crying continues, she is turned away for 2-3 minutes, but kept within eyesight. It works with individuals that are consistent and follow it. You will have staff that respond differently. Good luck!

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