Students who periodically escalate have an unfair disadvantage as they transition to new teachers during the span of their education. Most often long before the educator actually meets the learner, they hear of the horror stories, they hear of the tales of disruption and destruction, and they hear of the struggles that they will soon be managing. These stories are often out of context, embellished, and are not an accurate representation of the present student. A child who escalates deserves the chance to be known for all of their attributes and not just the behaviors that they exhibit in times of crisis. They deserve to be approached and supported based on their valued strengths, not their feared weaknesses.
I believe that this needs to be a habit of mind for all of those that support children with autism. And it is for this reason that I am dedicating today’s blog to one special young man. His name is Kaleo. Tomorrow, I am going to show you a video of Kaleo during his freshman year in high school and how I successfully supported him through an escalation. I will not show you this for the unethical “wow” factor, rather I will be showing you this to share my learning in hopes of enhancing yours. But first to do right by him, let me tell you about Kaleo.
Kaleo is one of the kindest souls I have ever met. He loves his grandma and papa, he loves his computer games, and he loves his routines. And he absolutely loved going to school. However I was told when receiving him in high school that he had been having three to four escalations per day in middle school. These moments of crisis often involved what is known as “chin grinding”, where the student will seek out intense pressure for their chin. With Kaleo, this could only be satisfied by the sensation of a person’s arm. This often meant him wrestling staff to the floor in effort to get this extreme sensory need met. Chin grinding was not who he was, but at the time it’s what defined him.
Upon receiving Kaleo I implemented many of the same strategies I have discussed in this blog series. I created an escalation cycle and communicated it to staff. I created an extremely detailed schedule that followed him around everywhere so he knew exactly what to expect at what time.
For those moments in which he needed chin pressure, I put on my thinking cap and made something that worked. Because he lost every ball I tried to keep near him to get that pressure from, I purchased a retractable key ring for him to wear on his pants. Attached to the ring was a ball he could get pressure from. This replacement behavior worked for him because he wore it everywhere. In a moment of needing pressure, the ball was always closer than a person’s arm.
The changes didn’t all happen overnight, but because Kaleo’s educational team functioned as a collaborative and supportive one he was able to make dramatic gains. The three years I had him, not once did he exceed ten escalations in a year. The years to follow, even better. He was finally comfortable in his learning. He was able to let his true personality and happiness show. Of all of the lessons we went through, I will never forget experiencing his joy when I spent the time to teach him how to do the chicken dance in preparation for a school dance.
Kaleo eventually graduated and lives today with grandma and papa and is doing well. While the family strives to find appropriate adult services, they are pleased to report that he has been escalation free for quite some time. He is a grown man now, but he will always be their boy.
As much as we were able to teach Kaleo, he was able to teach us. He taught us the value of predictability, the value of a clean whiteboard, and how horrifying it can be to have a stapler break. He taught us that you can read every book and blog on de-escalation, but until you come to learn how it applies to the specific learner you will not be successful. And that only comes when you allow yourself to be taught by the student.