Families impacted by the behavior of children with special needs commonly deal with potentially dangerous scenarios. For some, the behaviors can quickly become aggressive and very serious. Autism, in particular, can present “meltdowns” which can explode like a volcanic eruption of uncontrollable behavior. There are strategies to help a caregiver determine what the possible triggers are and how to potentially avoid them, but for purposes of this article, we will concentrate on the possibility that an aggressive situation might happen and what strategies can be used to defuse the danger until the behavior eventually subsides.
Explosive behavior can include hitting, kicking, scratching, hair pulling, biting, throwing objects, pinching, head butting and more. While each behavior is unique, the following strategies have been shown helpful with all of them.
Before covering the suggested strategies, remember this mantra while dealing with dangerous behavior: AVOID and EVADE. Avoid direct confrontation with the individual during this behavior and evade the dangerous behavior.
8 Great Strategies to Create a Safe Environment during Explosive Behaviors & Risky Meltdowns
Clear the Scene & Create Safe Zone for Aggressor
When the “volcanic eruption” of behavior begins, immediately usher other children, students and extra staff members to another room or area. If available, request assistance from other caregivers, parents or staff to help with these children or the explosive situation. If mats or other barriers are available, keep them within reach. Sometimes simply blocking yourself from the aggressor will buy you time.
While clearing the scene, keep your eye out for immediate items in this individual’s environment which might be hazardous. Sharp objects (like knives or cutting devices) should be quickly safe guarded. Any potentially dangerous projectiles should be rapidly hidden or relocated. Remove any glass or breakable items from the area. Do not bring much attention to this action. Just calmly and swiftly relocate them. If this explosive behavior is common, you may want to consider keeping some of these items under lock and key.
Block with Furniture
Using large furniture (like desks or tables) to create a physical space cushion between you and the individual. Gymnastic mats and cardboard voting booths can be great for this. With larger individuals who are aggressive, you need to be aware of any furniture that can become a projectile. In working with a small individual, a school-type desk might be perfect, but for an adult in a rage, this item could easily become a flying projectile.
During the aggressive behavior is not the time to have a conversation with the individual. Avoid talking, and only if necessary, use a low and calm voice. If communication is required, consider visuals not paired with talking. Ignore the behavior as much as possible and avoid engaging the individual. Keep your demeanor calm. You are setting the tone. As much as you might feel under attack, typically, none of this behavior is personal at all.
Do not leave the aggressor unattended. This can be very dangerous for this individual and others. Keep a safe distance, but keep the individual within visual sight. This might be a good time to use a cell phone or classroom phone to call for further assistance.
Wait it Out – Time Is Your Friend
Waiting out the aggressive behavior can (sometimes) defuse the situation on its own. Any engagement with the individual (verbal, physical or facial) can increase the duration. Remember, behavior might continue to escalate BEFORE it calms down – beware – don’t “go in” to early!
Physical interaction can escalate the behavior and restraint can be dangerous for all involved. Avoid this if there are ANY other alternatives. Avoid physical interaction – if at all possible. You, the individuals and others can be seriously injured during untrained restraint procedures. If some restraint becomes necessary, try to restrain using clothing instead of body parts. Physical restraint situations can quickly become dangerous for all parties involved and should be avoided if at all possible.
Create a Recovery Environment
Explosive behavior is exhaustive and frightening for the individual. The child might even need a nap. Once the situation is calm, provide a quiet and comfortable location. If appropriate, offer weighted vest or mat for deep pressure. If at all possible, the caregiver involved should be relieved by another caregiver to allow a break. Only once the recovery is completed, the individual and caregiver might discuss and “debrief.”
If aggressive behaviors and risky meltdowns are common, perhaps you should seek the help of a specialist or medical professional who can support these situations in a variety of ways. Remember to avoid and evade. Avoid direct confrontation with the individual during this behavior and evade the dangerous behavior.
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