Gareth D Morewood

Strategies for responding to stress

Gareth Morewood examines self-control and stress models that can influence how you manage challenging behaviour.

Two weeks ago I attended a three day International Health and Wellbeing Conference, hosted by Studio III, with one of our speech and language therapists. The event focused on taking a positive psychological approach to supporting people who sometimes present with challenging behaviours. The key emphasis was on promoting wellbeing and safe practice. Day 1: promoting wellbeing - keeping people safe Day 2: developing positive coping strategies for people and their supporters Day 3: reducing stress and promoting happiness

Understanding responses to stress

Bo Hejlskov Elven Bo Hejlskov Elven, Clinical Psychologist

There were many sessions and addresses that were extremely interesting and useful; one that I found particularly interesting was the keynote address by Bo Hejlskov Elven on understanding the stress response. Bo’s unique perspective, from a care and special education background coupled with extensive work in the psychiatric field and in juvenile correction facilities, provided a rich keynote framed by his experience, developmental neuropsychology and stress and affect theory methodology. The methods form part of an increasing knowledge base in the tradition often named the Low Arousal Approach. There were significant parallels to strategies we raised in our paper, Mainstreaming autism: making it work (Morewood, Humphrey & Symes, 2011), which has influenced our whole school approach at Priestnall School. Some of the key messages I took away for consideration were:

  • an evidence base isn’t always vital; something that works with only 5% of the school population can still be incredibly useful – personalisation
  • organisational changes cannot be affected in a zero tolerance policy – flexibility and reasonable adjustments
  • you need the appropriate tools to do the job.

Tools to consider

The Affect Regulation Model is based around solutions and strategies in order to keep self-control; you need to have self-control in order to lend someone else control of a situation. Bo also stressed the importance of assessing presenting behavior as the best behaviour available to that person in order to deal with stress response.

This resonated clearly with our approach of being pro-active and not reactive, and confirmed our understanding that all behaviour is meaningful. The Affect Regulation Model aims to help the person regain self-control and uses methods to support the person in lending control to us. The Stress Model considers how sleeping disorders mean increased stress factors right from the start of the day, and that it is vital to address root stressors as part of the support.

This is often the case with young people on the autistic spectrum at school. Acute Chaos = High Stress It is also important to understand that special interests can be an important part of being able to deal with stress; some of our young people have very clear and specific interests that are vital in supporting their own regulation and self-control. When I start to reflect and make parallels with our existing work I considered the sessions delivered by our SALT and specialist teacher last year. Stress has a purpose, and positive coping strategies are important.

What this means in practice

I suppose SENCology readers may be thinking, ‘OK this is all very interesting but what does this mean in my school, or in my home?’ A good summary would be to read Dr Andy McDonnell’s presentation on stress, behaviour and low arousal. Consider our language; ‘behaviours of concern’ as opposed to challenging behaviour (Chan et al, 2012) and that the vast majority of challenging situations are inadvertently triggered by supporters (McDonnell, 2011). Maybe we can reflect on our relationships and reflect, whilst considering our responses to stress in our schools and homes?

References

  • Chan, Michael, et al. 'Microblogging, online expression, and political efficacy among young Chinese citizens: the moderating role of information and entertainment needs in the use of Weibo.' Cyberpsychology, Behavior, and Social Networking 15.7 (2012): 345-349.
  • McDonnell, Andrew A. Managing aggressive behaviour in care settings: Understanding and applying low arousal approaches. John Wiley & Sons, 2011.
  • Morewood, G. D., Humphrey, N. & Symes, W. (2011) Mainstreaming autism: making it work. Good Autism Practice Journal 02.12.11, 62-68

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