At the height of the escalation, when everything completely falls apart, our learners need heroes. They are unable to independently self calm and they need someone to jump in to help. This is where a team’s planning, or lack there of, can shine through. Unprepared staff will be more concerned about not getting hit by the falling blocks, while seasoned staff will be more concerned about how to keep the blocks standing. It is here where safety is optimized in the least intrusive manner. It is here that we find the moment of truth.
As disruptive as the behaviors can be, this is when our students need to feel the safest and most supported. If staff try to intervene by swarming around the individual, the learner can feel trapped and the escalation can be prolonged.
Alternatively, much greater success can be seen if there is just one lead who is the sole communicator and point of focus for the learner. Remember that children with autism are not great at multi-tasking even when they are at their baseline. Paying attention to the actions and words of multiple people at the same time during an escalation will be too much for the student with autism to handle.
Having a separate person as backup can help divide up roles and responsibilities. The lead is the one who gets down at the student’s level, uses calm and simple directives, and points other adults on what to do. The backup is the one off to the side who is waiting quietly in case extra help is needed. They can direct other learners who might be in the environment, keep an eye out for what the lead may not be seeing, and can jump in in case the lead asks to be tagged out.
Prearranging the specific roles for de-escalation with a child can help create better outcomes. Staff can feel prepared and supported themselves while students can be left to focus on the calming presence of just one. A school’s ability to safely de-escalate a learner with autism will rise and fall on their ability to have well thought out plans implemented in a simple manner.