Through 2018 and 2019, I worked at a Special-Education school. The students, age 3 to 18 years, were in the mild-severe range on the autism spectrum. They were grouped as per age and level of functioning. On a good day, we would have three behavior cases reported to us. A bad day would mean seven or even ten cases. All staff in this school are trained in nonviolent crisis prevention (CPI) which is a step-by-step process to help the students through the challenging behavior and de-escalate both, students and staff. While the child is the most vulnerable, witnessing a challenging behavior is not easy for the teacher either. The supervising adult in the situation has a lot riding on him to make sure the child is safe, unhurt.
My job description as a behavior specialist came with many roles, one of which was to take note of presenting behaviors, understand patterns and intervene to relegate the maladaptive behaviors and foster more functional and appropriate choices.
Collecting data and recognizing patterns allow me to pre-empt episodes, I know it is coming. We need to be observant and deductive. One day, a student stepped out of the school bus, exhibiting unusual behaviour. Probably a fight over breakfast at home or lack of sleep from last night. He was pouting, stomping with hands folded across his chest. His face, as red as an apple. The teachers braced themselves for the day. We knew it was not a good day to introduce new routines or skills. We needed to keep demands low, give him as much one-on-one as possible to keep him motivated, hoping his demeanor changed at some point during the day. On that day, thankfully, we arrested the behavior in its precursor stage where the student was showing very mild signs of distress. If not, it may have triggered a full blown behavior.
But everyday isn’t the same and every child has varying demeanor. On days of unforeseen episodes, we follow a four-step protocol.
- Clear the room
- Make sure you have enough staff for help and the other students are moved to a safe space.
- Block any and every self-injurious behavior using least restrictive methods. The students’ safety is very important as he is currently not in control of his body and is not thinking rationally.
- Look for release- crying, screaming, rocking. This is usually the last stage of de-escalating and back to their rational selves. This stage looks different for each child- loud crying, rocking back and forth or curling up like an infant. And It is okay! Everyone has their own way of de-escalating.
Children understand and remember what they have been through. I have had students apologize after getting into behaviors and thanking staff for being there for them. It is not a very proud moment for them but knowing that they have a safe space gives us, the teachers, an opportunity to help them find and learn better and safer ways to communicate when in distress.
Good day or a bad one, it shall pass. And we must persevere.