At Inspire, a major feature of the therapeutic and educational programmes offered is to support those whose behaviour may present as a challenge.

The specialized programmes (STEP Intensive Early Intervention, SOP and LinC) are committed to addressing behaviour challenges by implementing a low arousal and non-aversive approach in a positive and supportive environment.

In order to enable a positive and supportive environment, the Inspire programmes apply the SPELL framework, designed to support individuals with autism to develop the skills needed to actively participate in the community and to promote independence. SPELL represents:

  • Structure
  • Positive approaches
  • Empathy
  • Low Arousal
  • Links

In practice, the necessary features that enable a positive supportive environment include placing emphasis on adopting a low arousal approach. This does not mean ‘no arousal’, as there must be a balance in the environment when looking at how this may impact the child who may have sensory difficulty. The lack of sensory stimulating elements may have just as much of a negative impact on the child as a room with an excessive amount of sensory stimulation. For example, the hyposensitive child may need certain stimulation in an attempt to enhance his attention and focus. Therefore, being in an under-stimulating environment may have a negative impact on the child resulting in episodes of challenging behaviour.

The importance of teaching a child how to recognise his own sensory reactions is another strategy that empowers the child to be able to prevent a behaviour meltdown rather than attempting to deal with a full-blown tantrum. ‘Quiet’ rooms are available should a child be feeling anxious or stressed. The child may opt to make use of this calm, relaxing room where different sorts of equipment (such as soft floor mats, bean bags, sensory equipment) can easily be accessed in an attempt to assist the child in regulating hypo or hyper-sensory responses that may very well trigger episodes of challenging behaviour.

Although autism is most commonly characterised by the presence of impairments in communication and social interaction along with stereotyped patterns of behaviour, sensory processing difficulties have been linked to this condition. In view that studies have found that up to 80% of children on the autism spectrum have sensory difficulties, it is paramount that the triggers found in the environment are identified and addressed. Besides being a possible reason for stereotypical and self-stimulatory behaviours that interfere with daily life, environmental sensory stressors may be the cause of challenging behaviour.

Unfortunately, many times children displaying challenging behaviour may be reacting to the environment and this is often misunderstood as ‘bad’ behaviour. The specialised design of the environment at Inspire, ensures that the setting is not a source of sensory violations that may trigger challenging responses. We promote awareness to parents and external stakeholders regarding the importance of the recognition of the sensory and physical environment with reference to challenging behaviour through training and support groups.

At Inspire, we strive to maintain an organised, clutter-free environment to provide a calm, low arousal educational setting for the children. Although importance has been given to the low arousal design of this environment, this setting may not necessarily address the range of sensory difficulties experienced by both the hyposensitive and hypersensitive children in view of their different sensory processing responses. Attempting to cater to the range of sensory responses cannot be tackled in a ‘one size fits all’ environment. Through the use of visual communication supports, children are able to choose to remove themselves from an area should they wish to make use of a ‘quiet’ room where the environment can be adapted to meet their specific sensory needs. The provides a setting where the child may self-regulate thereby avoiding the escalation of a negative sensory response which may result in an incident of challenging behaviour.

A number of pro-active strategies are implemented in order to avoid the escalation of challenging behaviour. These include but are not limited to:

  • Providing consistency in approaches and strategies used, such as establishing routines, predictability and a physically structured setting;
  • The provision of positive reinforcement and other useful strategies such as redirecting behaviour, teaching alternative augmentative communication skills;
  • Staff members are provided with training in order to ensure that they are knowledgeable about the care and education of individuals who may display challenging behaviour;
  • Students can be helped to release tension in an appropriate manner such as through music, art and sensory, physical and leisure activities. Inspire offers complementary therapies such as the therapeutic horseback riding, the state-of-the-art multi-sensory room and the hydrotherapeutic pool;
  • Positive individualized programming that creatively uses the curriculum supportively to arrive at relevant and realistic goals and individual educational plans;
  • Staff build constructive and supportive relationships with the students and their families in their care to work in mutual support and trust.