Behavior Management Strategies: The Crisis Cycle

Whether you have autism or not, we all go through the crisis cycle to some degree or another.  It may look a little different for me than it does for you, but it’s just kind of part of life.  In the crisis cycle, we may not go through every phase, but these are the basic phases.
I first learned about the crisis cycle when I went through a training called The MANDT System.  This system was used in the group homes, care centers, and schools that I worked in over the years.  Some people think that MANDT is doing restraints and that’s all that it is, however they’re wrong.  The majority of the MANDT System is learning how to build positive healthy relationships.  As I talk about the Crisis Cycle, most of my information comes from what I learned from MANDT.
So let’s talk a little bit about the crisis cycle and a few things that might be of importance.
First, if someone you are working with is going through the crisis cycle, chances are that you are also going through the crisis cycle.  Be aware of where you are in the cycle when you are dealing with difficult behaviors.  If you’ve ever been stressed, then you’ve gone through the cycle before.  If you haven’t ever been stressed before, please contact me, I’d like to know your secret 🙂
  • The individual is at their personal best.  Things are good.
  • Response: Keep doing whatever it is you’re doing.  This is the best time to be building relationships of trust.
  • Something happened.  There are many things that can be triggers including being asked to do something or to stop something, being teased, transitions, receiving a consequence, not getting attention, wanting something but not being able to get it or do it, needing sensory input, etc.
  • Response: Remove them from the stimuli or stress, or remove the stimuli from them.
  • The individual starts to get more upset, you can feel the tension rising.
  • Response: Offer options, give them choices, then set limits and boundaries
  • It’s important to try to be able to distinguish whether your child is escalating because they want something and they think this is the best way to get it, or if your child wants something because it helps them self regulate.
  • It can get tricky sometimes because you don’t necessarily want to reinforce that this is the appropriate way to get what you want, but you also want your child to learn self-regulation and sometimes what they’re asking for is actually a tool that helps them self-regulate so you don’t want to take that option away. 
PHASE 3: CRISIS (Very Hot)
  • This is the point where you just let things run it’s course and keep everyone as safe as you can.  The risk of harm is the greatest at this phase.  Safety is priority.  
  • Response: Least Amount of Interaction Necessary
  • For some reason we always feel the need to talk things out even when the other person is obviously not listening.  Something that I learned early on, and has helped a ton is to STOP TALKING!  This phase is not the time to be telling the individual why what they’re doing is not appropriate.  It is not the time to be making deals.  The louder they get, the quieter you should get.  During the crisis phase, language skills tend to decrease and they’re not hearing you anyways, you’re just extra noise and extra stimulus that they don’t need at this point.
  • The individual has reached his/her peak, and you can see them start to calm down.  Be careful at this stage, they can easily go back to crisis phase if they’re pushed too hard.
  • Response: Structured Cooling-Off.
  • This would be a good time to compliment them (even though it may be really hard to do, especially since you’re likely just cooling off as well) and offer them some options like going to a quiet place, giving them a comfort item like a blanket or chewy toy.
  • This is NOT a time to lecture.
  • The individual seems like he/she is back with you.  They are starting to return to a state where their reasoning skills, compromising skills, and language skills are getting back to normal.
  • Response: Active Listening.  This means YOU are actively listening, once again this is not the best time to be lecturing.  You can help the individual problem solve ways that he/she can get her needs met in ways that don’t hurt themselves or others.
PHASE 6: POST-CRISI (I Feel Drained)
  • It is expected that the individual will be tired and possibly lethargic at this point before getting back to their usual behavior.
  • Response: Observation and Support

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