De-escalation Strategies to Support Autism Spectrum Disorders

James Hourihan, Author

Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD) is a complex condition with a range of symptoms that affects each individual differently. In fact, it is estimated that there are 700,000 autistic adults and children in the UK and Autism can be difficult to understand and diagnose, especially in women as a result of ‘masking’ their difficulties to conform to societal expectations (Buckley, 2017; National Autistic Society, 2018). 

People with autism experience challenges with communication, social interaction and behaviour, among other things. Sometimes, in the face of  overwhelming situations, an autistic individual encounters heightened levels of anxiety which can lead to intense emotional outbursts or aggression (commonly referred to as autistic meltdowns). 

To be able to effectively calm a situation before reaching a potential crisis point, staff need to be equipped with de-escalation strategies tailored to the needs of the individual on the autism spectrum in order to provide meaningful support. 

What Causes Escalating Behaviour in ASD? 

One of the most common causes of escalating behaviour in Autistic Spectrum Disorders is sensory overload. This can occur when a person is exposed to too much stimulation at once due to loud noises or bright lights, demands on their time / energy, and unfamiliar environments or people. Other triggers include changes in routine, fatigue, and not having access to appropriate coping mechanisms. 

Another key factor that can contribute to meltdowns is difficulty communicating. If an individual doesn’t have the necessary communication tools or language skills needed to express their feelings and needs, this can lead to escalating behaviours

De-escalation Strategies to Support Autism Spectrum Disorders

Here are some effective ways to de-escalate a situation involving an individual with ASD experiencing a meltdown: 

 – Antecedent-based interventions: The first step is to identify the causes and modify the environment (if possible) or remove triggering elements that may be increasing challenging behaviour. These antecedent-based interventions could involve using a pair of noise-cancelling headphones, adjusting the lighting, or introducing activities that they prefer such as a puzzle or reading exercise. You could also provide visual schedules or cues so that expectations are clear and reinforced. 

– Be calm and consistent: During meltdowns involving someone with ASD, it is important to not get frustrated and appear calm, so as not to further escalate the situation. This means speaking in a slow and gentle manner, with positive facial and physical body language. Try not to make demands; instead focus on listening carefully and showing empathy towards what they’re feeling — remember, they cannot control their reactions and need patience and understanding instead of judgement. 

 – Create a safe space: When working with individuals on the autism spectrum, it is essential to create a space where they feel safe and comfortable, without added stimuli or pressure. Create a quiet corner or separate room where they can have some privacy and time to process their emotions. Additionally, using calming objects such as weighted blankets or sensory toys can help to reduce anxiety, and make sure to give lots of positive reinforcement when they exhibit desired behaviours. 

 – De-brief: Having a debrief after any incident provides an opportunity for those involved to reflect and find solutions together that will help prevent future problems. By discussing what has transpired, teams can forge ahead in collaboration with greater clarity of how best to address similar issues should they arise again — creating more positive outcomes when it comes to supporting Autism Spectrum Disorders. 

Learn De-escalation Strategies for Autism Spectrum Disorders
Our tailored positive behaviour management training equips you with the skills and knowledge to successfully support those on the autism spectrum. We will put together a programme specifically designed to meet your organisation’s needs, ensuring all examples are relevant and applicable. So don’t hesitate, give us a call today at 0800 987 4075 for more information.

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