Responsive Communication with individuals who present with distress behaviour

This series of short films shows an extended conversation  between Phoebe Caldwell (DSc, Expert Responsive Communication Practitioner who has worked with autistic people for 45 years) and Janet Gurney (BA, PGCT, Director of Training for Us in a Bus, a service based in Surrey that supports adults and children with profound and multiple learning difficulties and autism).

  • It is a mistake to label “difficult to manage” behaviour as “challenging behaviour”. Think of it, rather, as distress behaviour triggered by sensory overload. In an effort to reduce the sensory overload they are experiencing, the person may direct their distress behaviour at you, because they (rightly or wrongly) see you as the cause of their sensory overload.
  • Try to establish contact with the person by using their sounds before moving into their personal space.
  • Let the person know (by gesture or simple language or both) what you are going to do before you do it. Make sure you present it in a way that the person can take on board.
  • If you sit down, you present less of a threat.  Do not be judgemental.
  • Aim to lower the person’s anxiety by engaging with how they feel by means of an exchange of body language (Intensive Interaction).
  • Think about the sensory trigger(s) that may underpin the person’s distress behaviour. Aim to meet their sensory needs rather than attempting to contain their behaviour.
  • At the same time as being totally open to the person, monitor your own “gut reactions”.