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What is the Low Arousal approach?

The Low Arousal approach has evolved from its original definition (McDonnell, McEvoy & Dearden1994) to a cognitive re-conceptualisation (McDonnell, Waters & Jones 2002). In his recent book titled “Managing Aggressive Behaviour In Care Settings: 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, which 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. avoiding direct eye contact, touch and removing 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 seemingly simple behaviour management strategies are often difficult to apply in practice, as they involve changing and moderating our own levels of arousal. This means that each practitioner must reflect on their own behaviour and how it may contribute towards instances of challenging behaviour in the people they support. If we are part of the solution, we can also be part of the problem. 

Professor Andrew McDonnell
'Managing Aggressive Behaviour in Care Settings' by Andy McDonnell
Stress ball
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