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Fragile Learner Model

A child can be considered fragile when there are certain events that are causing or contributing to that child feeling extraordinarily stressed, in turn leading to the child experiencing difficulty effectively managing his/her day (sometimes referred to as “Setting Events”; for the purpose of this model, these events will be labeled “Context Events”). Context Events can have happened further back in time but continue to affect the present and/or can be situations that children “bring with” them.

Positive Context Events can set the stage for success. Adverse Context Events can negatively affect a child’s ability to cope with educational programming, social relationships and behavioral management.

The following strategies need to be crafted specifically for the individual child in accord with the child’s personal learning experience:

  • Structure: Structure is increased for the fragile child.
  • Demands: Demands are decreased whenever possible.
  • Reinforcement: Levels of reinforcement for work and appropriate behaving should be increased.

The full Fragile Learner Model, as well as a video explanation, can be found on the FirstPath Autism site’s video library. Examples of Context Events that can negatively impact children are:

• Physiological Variables
• Learning History Variables
• Emotional Variables
• Extraordinary Transition Variables

Typically, children feel helpless over Context Events because they have little-to-no control over them (and, frequently the adults involved don’t either). An adult who has tried to get through a work day while suffering a migraine or after having received a less-than-favorable job evaluation that day has probably felt a sense of fragility similar to what a fragile child feels.

IMPORTANT NOTE: One important consideration when implementing a Fragile Learning Model is to do so without the child “catching on” that it is being done based on the child’s behavior — in other words, we don’t want the child to know that we are decreasing demands, increasing structure, and increasing reinforcement based on the child’s behavior. We don’t want a child with a legitimate stomachache one day who has his/her workload decreased because of the stomachache, to then fake a stomachache every day after to keep getting out of work.

By: Amalie Holly, BCBA

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