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A Guide to 8 Powerful De-Escalation Strategies

In any special education setting, we often find ourselves faced with challenging situations that require quick and effective responses. Whether you’re a dedicated special education teacher, a BCBA, or an ABA therapist, having a solid toolkit for de-escalation strategies is crucial. Today I’m sharing a comprehensive guide I’ve crafted, offering eight practical tips as well as a crisis intervention checklist. While there is no foolproof solution, this free resource aims to empower you as much as possible with the knowledge and strategies to help navigate crises successfully.


It is common for any child to become upset or agitated when things do not go their way. Students with autism or other developmental disabilities may be more likely to become emotionally heightened, however, if they have not yet acquired emotional regulation strategies that their peers have picked up along the way naturally. For this reason, it is important to explicitly teach social skills and coping strategies as you would academic skills, by contriving frequent practice opportunities, and providing positive reinforcement for increased success! As our learners are working toward mastery of these skills, it is also important for us as educators to be skilled in de-escalation strategies in the meantime.


  1. Understand Triggers:
    The first step in effective de-escalation is understanding triggers. Common triggers could possibly include: changes in routine or schedule, being told “no,” loud noises, demands, etc. One learner’s trigger may be different from the next, so knowing and understanding your learner is key!

  2. Use Preventative Strategies:
    Prevention is key. Use practical strategies to anticipate and avoid potential triggers such as implementing routines, visual schedules, and clear expectations. This consistency can proactively reduce your learner’s anxiety.

  3. Build Positive Relationships:
    Building strong connections with students is at the heart of effective teaching and behavior management. Create frequent opportunities for positive feedback, as well as peer to peer social interactions!

  4. Use Thoughtful Communication:
    Communication is a powerful tool in de-escalation. It’s not always what you say, but how you say it. Thus, maintaining a neutral and calm voice is vital in these situations, as well as showing patience and empathy. Use clear and concise language and avoid vague, unrealistic demands. Validate your learner’s feelings (e.g., “I can see that you’re upset and that’s ok..”).

  5. Be Aware of the Environment:
    The environment plays a crucial role in behavior. If you’re anticipating potential crises, routinely remove any large or unsafe objects from the immediate vicinity. Use non-confrontational body language and try not to invade your learner’s personal space. Promote your learner’s dignity by not creating an “audience” of staff or other students.

  6. Seek Support:
    No one should navigate behavior challenges alone. Seek additional staff to support you as soon as possible. Request assistance from colleagues who are trained in consistent de-escalation strategies and physical prevention methods if necessary. De-escalation takes time and can take an emotional toll on anyone. Even if the situation doesn’t escalate physically, it’s perfectly acceptable to request another staff member to step in if you find yourself mentally or emotionally drained and need to take a brief break from a tense situation.

  7. Have a Crisis Plan:
    Work with your team to develop an individualized crisis plan for your specific learner. Outline elements such as a safe location to take the student to (if necessary), which specific team members will be involved, and who will communicate incidents to parents and guardians.

  8. Follow-Up:
    Debriefing and follow-up are often overlooked but are essential components of crisis management. Recognize that a crisis event can be traumatic to any learner. Ensure the student feels safe immediately afterward by offering emotional support, reassurance, and a calming environment. In follow-up meetings, focus on rebuilding trust by actively listening to the student’s perspective and addressing any concerns they may have, in addition to teaching them alternative, safer coping mechanisms.


In addition to de-escalation strategies, this free guide includes a crisis intervention checklist. Despite our best efforts to defuse any emotional incident, no strategy is foolproof and it is possible that a student may escalate to physical behaviors as their form of communication in the moment. A crisis plan should be specific to each learner and can include: their specific triggers, preventative measures that should be consistently in place, de-escalation strategies tailored to this learner, specific emergency crisis protocols utilized in your district or practice, what staff members will be involved, and what follow-up protocols are in place. An example is included so that you can have a visual to refer to when crafting your future plans.


In any special education setting, having a reliable guide for de-escalation strategies and crisis management is a game-changer. Download your free resource today when you sign up for my weekly email list with helpful tips and resources for ABA, autism, or special education classrooms.


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