Your room looks like a small tornado just ran through it. The chairs are tipped over, books and paper clutter the floor, and your ears are still ringing from the screaming. The well planned lesson you had put together was ruined by another escalation and now the rest of your class is waiting out in the hall. Something must be done. Your student has to know that this is not okay. There needs to be a consequence.
This is the thought pattern we can easily fall into after experiencing an escalation at its worst. It is here where our convictions to change the student’s behavior are at their highest, and it is here where our decision making needs to come from a place of logic and not emotion. If it truly was an escalation and if the student truly had lost control, a harsh punishment may not bring out the outcomes we wish. When a child with autism goes from a frightful trigger to a traumatic escalation to a horrible punishment, they can become quicker to escalate in the future because of the fear they now live in while at school.
But they still do need to know that this is not okay. They can still help with the cleaning up of furniture and supplies and apologize to others who may have been hit or scratched. We can still work with them on recognizing how their behavior affected others. All of this is just good social skills. But beyond that, we really have to consider if our punishment will truly help decrease the behavior. Is this going to be something that they are going to be able to remember the next time they encounter a similar trigger and they begin to lose it? Will they have the mental capacity to make the connection with a previous punishment when encountering the trigger again and when they are in crisis? If not, then this may not be the time for the perfect consequence.
The time for the perfect consequence will come when the de-escalation strategies that have been rehearsed, role played, and reinforced with the student are finally used to some degree during an escalation. When their window of processing is so small and yet something has stuck from what they have been taught and they act on it, that is the time to reinforce the behavior. Even if a few pencils were thrown but the learner still remembered to use their stress ball, that was progress!!! That was success and that needs to be celebrated.
Students with autism will have fewer escalations because of what we have taught them about the world, their triggers, and their calming strategies, not because of what we taught them to fear. There may be times where punishment is warranted, but it will not be the hill where the battle is won. Apply consequences in ways that will help your student put all of the pieces together. Help them see the big picture with self calming.