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Q&A: What to Do for Aggressive Behavior Toward Adults?


I have a student who will forcefully charge at adults by scratching and/or trying to bite for 15 minutes at a time during escalations. We see him seeking bodily input during escalations in the form of climbing, jumping, hitting his own face, and kneeing wall. He also seeks input from others, such as taking off his pants and peeing or directly going at adults by lunging at them to engage in physically aggressive behavior. Our hypothesis is that he wants an adult to intervene, which then amps him up more.

Two-arm holds were used in the past, but those never helped de-escalate the situation and put adults at risk of getting bitten or headbutted. Now we use mats to confine the student to a smaller area of the room away from objects, other kids, or hard walls, but then all we can do is keep him in there till he rides it out.

The student responds very well to sensory things like squish balls, sand hour glass, and kids song videos. But those are only effective when the student is in a lower level state. When escalated, they are just things to throw.

What sensory input can teachers provide in the middle of an escalation? Or is the only thing we can really do is ride it out?


Sounds like a tough kid! I know it’s easier said than done, but the best approach is to make every attempt to avoid the escalations in the first place. To that end, here are some suggestions:

  • Implement a sensory diet to meet his needs proactively. I recommend using the Sensory Symptoms Checklist available in our FORMS sections to find out what he is over-responsive to and what he is under-responsive to, so you can design a sensory program to meet his needs. If you are new to all of this, you may want to take our webinar titled “Sensory Diets 101.”
  • Use the Antecedent-Behavior-Consequences (ABC) method of behavior analysis to determine antecedents for his escalations and develop a plan to minimize or eliminate them as much as possible. This is discussed in our “Sensory AND Behavior” courses, either the 2-hour or the 6-hour version, both available in view-on-demand format.
  • Implement rewards for increments of time in which he uses sensory strategies to stay in the “just right” zone. You may want to use the BrainWorks tachometer or Zones of Regulation to help him understand the “just right” zone.
  • In spite of your best proactive efforts, he may continue to escalate from time to time. Once that occurs, I think letting him ride it out behind the mats is probably the safest bet for everyone.

Please keep me posted if you find success in addressing this child’s needs.

Best Wishes,