At Spring Common we understand that behaviour is a form of communication. We never believe challenging behaviour from the child is a personality trait but perceive it as providing us with a message about the young person’s understanding of the world they are struggling to engage with. When we determine that any particular behaviour is impacting negatively on the student’s ability to learn, the student’s safety or well-being, the learning or safety of other students, the safety of staff or the smooth running of the school then we will plan an intervention to support change.
Children with ASC who experience challenging behaviour have a behaviour profile drawn up by the ASC team in liaison with classroom staff and parents. This describes the circumstances that may lead to behavioural challenge from the student and the responses that must be deployed by staff. Consistency of approach, including in some cases the exact symbols or language to be used, is essential in helping young people with ASC to re-establish their emotional equilibrium at times of stress and so all staff working with a particular child need to be familiar with and have easy access to a child’s behaviour profile. This will be contained within their blue folder, which should be with the student at all times.
In order to support behavioural change and the development of increasingly pro-social behaviour patterns we operate a simple ‘plan-do-review’ hypothesis testing model:
1. What do we believe is causing the behaviour we are observing?
- Is this behaviour related to something in the environment?
- Is this behaviour arising from a difficulty in social comprehension?
- Does this behaviour arise from a communication difficulty, either receptive or expressive?
- Is the young person being asked to cope with too many changes without adequate warning or preparation?
2. Based on our responses to the questions above we may seek to implement changes and introduce these into the behaviour profile. Such changes related to the hypotheses above may include:
- changes to the environment, sensory programmes to support the young person in managing the environment, direct teaching of a new skill such as relaxation to support self regulation
- the use of a social story, changes in adult interaction style, direct teaching of social approach skills or support for other students in changing their approach towards the young person concerned
- changes to adult communication methods including curriculum delivery and inter-personal exchanges, the use of communication aids to support the young person in expressing their emotions and wishes in socially acceptable ways
- review the timetable that the young person is following, revise the scheduling system in place for the young person to ensure that it is sufficiently clear and supportive
- introduce a behaviour plan with a clear target, recording mechanism and reward system
- teach a new skill, for example: relaxation, removal to a quiet area, a new communication system, social approach skills. Where a new skill is being taught ensure that adequate tuition and positive reinforcement of successful use is in place
3. Review progress after an agreed period of not more than 6 weeks. Repeat the cycle of steps above, making further changes to the behaviour profile based on what has been learnt through the previous plan – do – review cycle.
Some of our young people may, at times, be quite overwhelmed and display behaviour that can be distressing and extremely challenging to those who are new to it. Such behaviour may include spitting, biting or uncontrolled lashing out.
Episodes of challenging behaviour can be extremely emotionally charged for adults. Such episodes may impact on staff in unexpected ways, particularly those who are new or inexperienced. It is very important that staff remain self-aware in challenging situations to support our vulnerable students through them. Staff anxiety or upset can easily communicate itself to vulnerable students heightening their concern and behavioural challenge.
Specific management techniques will be found in each child’s behaviour profile, but in general terms:
- keep speech clear and calm. In general, less is better
- maintain a composed facial expression
- maintain a relaxed body posture that is not confrontational
- be directive and positive, communicating what you wish to happen rather than what is unacceptable
- hand over to another member of staff if feeling overwhelmed or losing personal control
- be prepared to accept help from another member of staff who may notice heightened stress levels in you
- use agreed interventions
After such an episode we understand that members of staff may require a break from direct contact with young people to recover their equilibrium. Senior managers will typically take the responsibility for offering such a break but staff should also request this themselves if required. Subject to the immediate needs of the whole school community such requests will be granted wherever possible.
Following a significant incident, including those involving physical aggression, a formal debrief will be conducted with all staff who have been involved and led by a member of the senior management team. Staff report these debriefs to be very supportive and an excellent opportunity for reflection and moving on. There is a formal written protocol for such debriefs which is available to all staff.
All staff at Spring Common are trained in Team Teach; an accredited approach to de-escalation and planned physical intervention. Whilst physical intervention is used as the last stage of a hierarchy of interventions there are times when it can provide security for young people with ASC and allow for the recovery of emotional equilibrium. When age and level of understanding allows, physical intervention plans are discussed and agreed with children.