Low Arousal Approach

The Low Arousal Approach has evolved from an original definition (McDonnell, McEvoy & Dearden1994) to a cognitive reconceptualisation (McDonnell, Waters & Jones 2002). In his recent book titled “Managing Aggressive Behaviour In Care Setting : Understanding And Applying Low Arousal Approaches” the definition has been further redefined (McDonnell 2011).

Given that stress is an ever present part of the lives of people with autism. How should we manage crisis situations where the individuals we support may be experiencing ‘meltdown’?

McDonnell (2010) identified four key components considered central to low arousal approaches, these include both cognitive and behavioural elements.

Decreasing staff demands and requests to reduce potential points of conflict around an individual.

Avoidance of potentially arousing triggers e.g. direct eye contact, touch and removal of spectators to the incident.

Avoidance of non-verbal behaviours that may lead to conflict e.g. aggressive postures and stances.

Challenging staff beliefs about the short-term management of challenging behaviours. These apparently simple behaviour management strategies often are difficult to apply in practice as they involve changing our own level of arousal and this requires a practitioner to reflect on their own approach.


low arousal approach - calmness

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