Learners in Context: Module 10- Working with Children Who Suffer from Early-Onset Conduct Disorder

 E1 – Exemplify professionally-informed, growth-centered practice.

Conduct disorder (CD) is defined as, “a persistent pattern of unacceptable social behavior that violates the rights of others and basic societal norms and rules” (Pressley & McCormick, 2007, p.380).  According to the authors, when a child under the age of ten exhibits this kind of behavior in the classroom for more than six months they may be diagnosed with early-onset conduct disorder (EOCD).  To my knowledge, I have never worked with a child in the classroom who has been diagnosed with EOCD.  However, in my five years of experience in the classroom I have known children who struggled with a disruptive behavior disorder consistently for more than six months.  Strategies for intervention that I have employed, or seen enacted by other teachers for these children are consistent with those recommended to help children with an EOCD diagnoses.  Therefore, I will share a few steps that I have observed to help preK through 1st grade age children who exhibit chronic disruptive behaviors.

There is a three pronged strategy I have seen to be successful that is consistent with Pressley and McCormick’s recommended intervention for CD.  First and foremost, the teacher must be committed to working as a team with the child’s family, and other treatment professionals to share information; and implement an intervention that is communicated with the child at home and school.  A key role for the teacher in this communication is recording careful observations of the child’s behaviors in hopes of recognizing a pattern, and the overall need that this child is trying to assert.  The second component is a positive approach to helping this child that acknowledges this child’s positive target behaviors with an activity-based reward system.  One practical expression of this strategy is a system of “practice cards” that are given to the child so that they have the opportunity to engage in an educational activity that they find pleasurable when they earn a certain number of cards.  The practice cards can be rewarded for two or three social/emotional goals that the teacher and the student agree upon.  One example of a reward activity is a ten-minute chess game with a teacher that the child invites to play.  Third, it is important to reinforce with a child who struggles with EOCD that their role in the classroom community is essential.  A teacher can firmly and positively assert the goal of having the child participate in all of the classroom activities.  The teacher can be intentional about complementing the child for their comments and questions during group lessons.  However, this child is likely to need breaks more often than others in the classroom, and a plan for this can be arranged between the teacher and the child.

Ultimately, best practices for instruction will be beneficial for a student who suffers with EOCD, or a long-standing behavioral disruption.  These practices are: providing clear and consistent expectations; setting up predictable daily routines and clearly communicating when there is a change in the schedule; teaching social/emotional skills; making transitions as quick and fun; and keeping distractions minimal.  Finally, it is crucial to see the child as an individual, through a lens of respect and compassion.  This may be a high test of a teacher’s compassion, but it is important for this individual to know that you will be there for them regardless of their acting out.  The end goal is to see a child with EOCD be happy and successful and this requires getting to know the child, building trust, and helping them to recognize and assert their needs in a healthy way.


Pressley, M. & McCormick, C. B. (2007). Child and adolescent development for educators. New York, NY: Guilford Press.


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