Learning Materials around Scenario Five

1. Identifying behaviors that may escalate into a challenging situation and dealing with such a situation

Children with disabilities often exhibit challenging behaviors that are difficult to handle. Such behaviors can cause frustration to the child and those around him, prevent the development of children’s full potential, restrain their participation in group activities and may even be destructive or harmful to the individual or others. However, such behaviors carry a function and serve as a way of communicating needs and difficulties that children with disabilities are unable to voice. Thus, challenging behavior unravels as a chain of behavioral events that lead to one another, resulting in the final challenging situation that is difficult to deal with.
The escalating sequence leading to a challenging behavior consists of distinct successive stages: a calm stage is interrupted by the introduction of a trigger, causing a stage of agitation that leads to the actual crisis or challenging situation, followed by a de-escalation phase resulting in recovery (Colvin & Scott, 2014. Myles & Soutwick, 2005). By means of careful observation and data collection of the antecedent and precedent events, one should be able to map the challenging situation into those sequencing phases. More specifically, during the calm stage, children are expected to follow their routine, engage in tasks and interact with objects and persons of their environment. The introduction of a trigger signifies the beginning of escalation. The trigger appears before the stage of agitation and is related to a change in the external environment (such as daily routines, presence or absence of people and sensory overload in case of children with autism) or internal environment (such as feelings of anger or sadness, hunger, tiredness). This leads to the phase of agitation, where early warning signs associated with increased anxiety and de-organized behavior can be observed (such as fidgeting, foot tapping, withdrawal from people and activities). Agitation often escalates to the actual crisis or challenging situation, where the individual acts impulsively, uncontrollably and sometimes explosively and aggressively. Once the challenging situation runs its course, difficult behaviors de-escalate, leading to the stage of recovery where physical and emotional energy decreases and behavioral control is gradually regained.
The identification of the course that a challenging situation follows is the key to successfully handling an escalating behavior. Intervention strategies vary depending of the stage of the escalating sequence, with the early phases focused on prevention, the middle stages focused on safety, and the final phases focused in regaining control and calmness (Colvin & Scott, 2014). During the early phase, once a trigger has been identified, the manipulation of the environment can result in its elimination. Similarly, distinguishing early signs of agitation can lead to the use of preventive measures (such as using a calming object or Assignment, engaging in an enjoyable task, or providing space for some time alone). If behavior is managed during those early stages, the challenging situation is prevented, as the escalating course is interrupted. However, if behavior is not extinguished during those stages, the actual challenging behavior may follow. Should the crisis begin, ensuring the safety of oneself, the individual, and others is a priority (for instance, by keeping other children at a safety distance, removing potentially harmful objects from the environment, restraining the individual in case of self-harm behavior). Once the challenging situation starts to de-escalate and the child enters the recovery stage, techniques that can help to regain self- control can be implemented (such as providing space and time for the child to calm down, and gradually re-establishing routines, structure and communication).
Identifying the escalating behavioral sequence that leads to a challenging behavior helps understanding the purpose of the behavior and, as follows, the wants and difficulties that children with disabilities face during their everyday life.   
Colvin, G. & Scott, T.M. (2014). Managing the cycle of acting-out behavior in the classroom. Calgary, AB: Corvin Publishing Group.
Myles, B.S. & Southwick, J. (2005). Asperger syndrome and difficult moments: Practical solutions for tantrums, rage, and meltdowns. Shawnee Mission, KS: Autism Asperger Publishing Co.
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