Regan and the glass of Coke

Regan loved sodas as did most of the children in Room 623. During classroom parties, it was a certainty that Regan would announce to everyone that she wanted a coke. The teacher had found that having a small amount of coke as a reward would often get positive results from many of the students, especially with Regan.

Coke is one of those items considered as a food of minimal nutritional value (FMNV). The teacher used FMNV in the classroom to encourage children to complete tasks during academic time. Used sparingly, this type of reward often got good results along with a variety of other reinforcements such as positive comments, happy faces and choice time activities including computer and IPAD time.

With parents’ permission, FMNV, such as coke, were used in the classroom as incentives for children that did well on classroom activities. Some FMNV, such as soda, could also bring out the dark side of some of the children.

One day while working on “News 2 You” worksheets at the table, the teacher decided to give the children a small amount of soda for completing their work. Regan, for whatever reason, was being stubborn and refusing to do her work. The teacher reminded the child that only those that did their tasks would get a reward. She made sure each child understood that they had to finish their work to get that special item.

Across the room, unknown to the teacher, one of the newer students was watching the children at her table. Logan, the new boy in the room, was just beginning to learn how to communicate by pictures.

His table was busy too but the reward on that table that day was gummy bears and mini M&Ms.

Logan liked all kinds of FMNV including both candies at his table. He was doing his work but his eyes continued to concentrate on Regan.

As the time passed by, Regan still was not completing her work. She would whine and refused to do the tasks at hand. Then, as language arts finished, the teacher announced “Choice Time” for those done with their work.

The teacher immediately handed out small Dixie cups with a little soda in it. That sufficed for the children at her table. They were happy. Regan however, received nothing. She turned to the teacher and said, “Give me that coke, D****t!” The teacher was surprised as Regan had never said anything like that. She even became more surprised when Logan came running up to her with a soda picture in his hand.

Logan had shocked all the adults that day by opening up his communication board searching for a picture with soda on it. Out of several dozen pictures in his communication book, Logan had found the one with soda. Logan put the picture in the teacher’s hand with a big smile and waited. He must have figured that if Regan wasn’t going to get that soda, he would ask for it.

The teacher immediately gave the boy a small amount of coke and congratulated him for his surprise request. Regan on the other hand got a big red sad face and a social story on what words you do not say at home or in the classroom.

Pamela Gross Downing, a special education teacher can be reached at