This is a question I’m asked often by school staff and parents alike. It can be very confusing when a person, child or adult, acts one way in one setting and another way in a different setting. However, this is a completely normal occurrence even for us as neurotypical individuals. For example, the way I act in a library, is very different than the way I might act at a Pittsburgh Steelers football game. This is a somewhat exaggerated example, but I mean it to help illustrate the point that there are different expectations across different environments which exhibit control over our behavior. Schools tend to be a more structured setting, with more consistent schedules, and also more expectations related to academic and social tasks. Home tends to be a more relaxed setting, with more unstructured time, and the expectations of social behavior are different and there is not much academic demand but rather daily living demands. Of course, this is a generalization as some educational environments are not very structured and some home environments are. The main idea is that there are different repertoires of behaviors that are required to be successful in each environment and it’s possible to have mastered cleaning one’s room while not yet having mastered reading comprehension. Further, the social demands in school are with same aged peers who may not be as understanding as family members and who may create anxiety in the individual because they are less predictable and when we are anxious, we act differently than when we are calm. School may have more environment stimuli such sounds, sights, smells which can be overwhelming and typically, homes are much less stimulating or the stimuli that are present are more familiar and therefore easier to manage. All of these differences across different environments help to explain why behavior may be different across those different settings.
So, next time you’re at a meeting and you hear someone else describing a child that sounds like the polar opposite of the one you see when the child is in your setting, think of it as an opportunity to learn what helps your child to be more successful. For example, if they are doing well at school, how can we make home a bit more like school? Can we add a schedule? Keep that schedule more consistent day-to-day? Or if the child is more successful at home, how can we make school more like home? Less environmental stimuli like breaks throughout the day? Shorter work sessions to keep him/her from getting overwhelmed by academic demands? More specially designed instruction?
Though open communication, we can learn what is working for each child and aim to replicate his/her most successful environment to help increase his/her success.