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MEASURING THE IMPACT OF PREFERRED ACTIVITIES IN RESIDENTIAL PROGRAMMING ON CHILDREN’S BEHAVIORAL FUNCTIONING

Purpose

To measure the impact of participation in preferred extracurricular activities that focus on each child’s strengths and interests. 

Methods

Participants
Participants were the population of children and adolescents enrolled in the residential treatment program at Devereux Glenholme between January 1 and April 15, 2005.  The data from 82 participants who remained enrolled in the program throughout the duration of the time period are included in this study.

Variables
Type of Activity- Children enrolled in activities that were of interest to them, (as opposed to being assigned to specific locations or activities).  The following activities were included:

  • Music (includes Barber Shop Quartet, Drumming, Keyboarding, and Voice Lessons)
  • Sports (includes Cheerleading, Basketball, and Volleyball)
  • Technology (includes Website Design and Technology Group)
  • Art
  • Drama
  • Equestrian
  • Cooking
  • Glee Club
  • Ropes Course
  • Chess Club
  • Odyssey of the Mind
  • Yearbook

The variables to be compared will be time periods where children are engaged in the above preferred activities versus time periods where they are not.

Number of Activities - The number of extracurricular activities in which each child enrolled.

Total Number of Problem Behaviors - Problem behaviors were recorded by direct care staff.  In order to be included in the study, these behaviors had to require intervention by a staff member beyond the token economy (e.g., settling in a non-exclusionary time-out or anything more intensive).

Relative Number of Problem Behaviors During Activities - The rate of problematic behaviors, adjusted to account for the amount of time spent in activities.  This yielded an average rate of problematic behaviors per hour.

Relative Number of Problem Behaviors During Programming other than Activities - The rate of problematic behaviors, adjusted to account for the amount of time spent outside of extracurricular activities.  This yielded an average rate of problematic behaviors per hour.

Results

It was hypothesized that engagement in preferred extracurricular activities would result in less frequent problematic behavior.  First a correlation was used to assess the relationship between the number of activities in which a child is engaged and their total frequency of problematic behaviors.  The direction of this correlation occurred as predicted, with children who enrolled in more activities displaying less problematic behavior overall.  This correlation was weak, however, noting only a trend (r=-.178, p=10).  It is noteworthy that the strength of this correlation may have been impacted by a restricted range which affects the ability to find a significant correlation.  The restricted range would result from the fact that children enrolled in a minimum of 1 activity, with a maximum of 11 (mean=3.74, sd=1.99).

Next, a paired sample t-tests was used to compare the relative frequency of problematic behavior during self-selected activities versus the remainder of the time that the child participates in the program.  Relative frequencies were determined by dividing the actual frequency of problematic behaviors by the number of hours spent in each condition.  This yielded an hourly rate of problematic behaviors in each condition; time in preferred activities versus time in general programming.  As predicted, children displayed significantly fewer problematic behaviors during the times where they participated in self-selected activities as compared to the remainder of time in the program (t(81 )= 5.175, p<.001).  The reader is referred to Graph 1 for a visual depiction of the relative frequency of problematic behavior during each time period.

Graph 1

The most impressive finding of this study, however, did not require statistical analysis to appreciate.  Over the 3 ½ months that data were collected for the current study, including a total of 82 children who participated in an average of 3.74 activities per week (totaling 4600 hours of care), a total of only 4 disruptive behaviors were displayed, with none of these requiring removal from the activity.

Discussion

Outcome studies from prior years at Devereux Glenholme have demonstrated that the use of Special Treatment Procedures can be reduced by creatively engaging children in instructional extracurricular activities (Glenholme Outcome study, May 2000).  Glenholme has continued to focus on positive programming for children and providing a high density of preferred activities.  To that effort, the scope of extracurricular activities has been broadened over the course of the past several years.  The activities studied in the current outcome study differ from those studied previously by focusing solely on those activities for which children selected to participate.  These activities involved the artistic, athletic, technological, and intellectual strengths and interests of the children that we serve.

The current study indicates that when children are positively engaged in activities of high interest, they exhibit more consistent and on task behavior.  Therefore, facilities such as Devereux Glenholme that work with children who display disruptive behaviors can reduce the frequency of these behaviors and the need for negative or corrective behavior techniques by involving children in these types of activities.  By doing so, the adults in the treatment environment can find more opportunities to reinforce positive behaviors, which research has consistently shown to be the most effective means of modifying behavior. 

This information, along with knowledge from prior studies has already been incorporated in the planning of future activities for the children in our care.  Open enrollment into extracurricular activities for the summer season has recently occurred, with staff presenting the curriculum for activities that they will lead based on the staff’s own strengths and interests.  Children then selected the activities that best matched their own preferences.  Upcoming goals and objectives retreats will focus on further expanding the scope of programming opportunities afforded to the children, while ensuring that these activities continue to include planned opportunities for development of the skill sets targeted by the children’s individual treatment plan objectives.