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Professor Andrew McDonnell
Author, Professor, International Speaker,  Autism Consultant and Clinical Psychologist 
Andrew McDonnell Low Arousal.jpg
Prof. Andrew McDonnell

Author, International Speaker, Professor, Autism Consultant and Clinical Psychologist 

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In this session, the originator of the Low Arousal Approach to managing distressed behaviour, Professor Andrew McDonnell, will discuss stress management, empathy and Low Arousal as key tools to enable autistic people and their supporters to flourish.


Professor McDonnell will address key topics such as stress, emotional contagion and threat appraisal with a view to understanding why life can often be distressing for autistic individuals and their supporters.


Looking at the causes of distress enables supporters to see behaviour within the context of the whole person on an emotional, environmental, and social level.


In addition to gaining a greater insight into why crisis situations can occur when supporting someone who is distressed, Professor McDonnell will go on to give 8 practical solutions for de-escalating stressful moments within a Low Arousal framework.

In this presentation with Professor McDonnell you will learn: 

  • Practical solutions for reducing stress for supporters and individuals

  • Low Arousal Approaches for supporting autistic individuals

  • The PERMA model for enabling individuals to flourish

  • De-escalation strategies for moments of high stress 

  • The importance of having compassion, empathy and understanding with distressed behaviour and not punishing it

You will learn:


  • What is the Low Arousal Approach?

  • How can the Low Arousal Approach be practically applied in the context of supporting autistic individuals? 

  • Why does ‘challenging’ or distressed behaviour occur? 

  • What role does stress play in physiological arousal? 

  • How can your own stress as a supporter impact an individual you support?

  • How can you learn to recognise and regulate your own stress?

  • What in-the-moment steps can you take to reduce stress and move away from a crisis situation?

  • The role model of being a calm and reflective practitioner

  • How to stop catastrophising aggression in care contexts

  • How highly stressed people need to be given more control over their lives, and thus become empowered to make decisions and live a flourishing life. Give people more choices instead of setting boundaries. 

  • How to recognise your own and other people’s stress, thus avoiding emotional contagion 

  • How to focus more on your own behaviour/the behaviour of supporters, not the behaviour of the distressed individual

  • How to see the person, not the behaviour.

There are always complex reasons why people behave in the way that they do, and it is important for us to be empathic and try to understand why a person acts the way they do. 

This presentation would benefit:


  • Parents, carers and supporters of children, teenagers or adults with autism. 

  • Professionals and practitioners working with a range of individuals with additional support needs or distressed behaviour. 

  • Teachers/educators working with autistic children, teenagers and adults. 





BSc., MSc., PhD. Consultant Clinical Psychologist to and Director of Studio III Clinical Services; Director, clinical consultant and Team Leader to Studio III Training; formerly Clinical Psychologist to Monyhull Hospital Birmingham. Andrew has particular interest in the design of community settings for people who challenge. He has extensive experience of working with service users with a learning disability and/or an ASD who self-harm.

Professor McDonnell is a Professor of Autism Studies at Birmingham City University, and has a particular interest and expertise in autistic individuals and severe behaviour of concern. Professor McDonnell developed the Low Arousal Approach to managing distressed behaviour for individuals with autism and other additional support needs. He has spoken at many international conferences across the globe, including SIKON, and has also spoken many times in Ireland, for example at the last AsIAm conference. 

Andrew has written 2 books on using the Low Arousal Approach to supporting individuals who are distressed;


The Reflective Journey: A Practitioner’s Guide to the Low Arousal Approach (2019)


Managing Aggressive Behaviour in Care Settings: Understanding and Applying Low Arousal Approaches (2010). 


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