As promised today I am showing you a video of a high school student with autism being supported through an escalation. If you have not read yesterday’s post here, I ask that you do so before proceeding. Out of respect for students with autism and in particular for this student, I ask that you not share this with others for the purpose of shock value. On the same token, out of respect for all individuals with autism who are needing a world that will accept them for all of their challenges, I do ask you to share this with anyone who is willing to learn how to better support someone with autism in a time of crisis.
It was September of 2006 and Kaleo was two weeks and two escalations into the school year. Due to the high probability of Kaleo escalating again during this time of transition, with family’s permission I set up my camera in my classroom. I wanted to get the escalation on film so that I could watch and critique myself supporting Kaleo. I also wanted to share it with other staff to help coach them on how to support in my absence. By all means I was not looking to provoke Kaleo to get this on video, but I had a hunch we would run into another challenge somehow.
That challenge came on Tuesday morning when on Kaleo’s schedule it said to go work on the computer. I didn’t know until it was too late, but the computers were not functioning day. I quickly made an adjustment on Kaleo’s schedule indicating that he would just move onto his reading, but this unexpected change triggered Kaleo. Despite our efforts to calm him, he escalated to what we considered a level three and we evacuated the room and dimmed the lights. And that is where the video begins.
What went well? Limiting the number of people supporting Kaleo in the room to just myself allowed for his focused attention to be just on me. I used a calm voice, I kept my language simple and to the point, and I kept on redirecting him to the replacement behavior.
What didn’t go well? Kaleo still was able to get a hold of me despite my efforts to block. Though I was trying to be supportive with my close proximity, it was too easy for Kaleo then to lunge out me.
What did I learn? Hugs were not going to work. Though I truly believe he was looking for a hug because he was sad, it was too difficult for him to not then reach for my arm.
How did I change my practice? From here on I supported Kaleo in a very similar way, but from the other side of the room whenever possible. We also established a place for him to go where he could ride out the escalation instead of just remaining in the classroom. So in future escalations Kaleo chased me around the classroom for a few laps while I verbally directed him toward using his ball and for him to walk to his “dark spot”. We had greater success and continued to evolve our practice.
What I want you to take from this? An escalation to a student with autism is a hurricane of unmanaged emotions and experiences. It is horrible, it is traumatic, and it can get dangerous. Escalations require staff with only the highest level of training, professionalism, and work ethic. They call for staff who are positive, prepared, and fully present. The behavior change process calls for people who are respectful, reassuring, and reflective. And your students who escalate are calling for you to be one of those people. They are calling for you by name to never stop improving, to never stop caring, and to never stop trying. Much like with Kaleo, work so that escalations are not the story of your learner’s life, but rather just a chapter.