Studio III – Low Arousal Approach – Canada

Low arousal approaches were developed in the late 80s by Dr Andrew McDonnell BSc MSc PhD. The approaches are unashamedly non-aversive in nature. A central theme throughout this philosophy is the encouragement of carers to constantly question their own behaviour when working in care settings. Low arousal approaches are research-based and have been clinically tested by Studio III Training Systems, European leaders in the field of behaviour management.

The Studio III Low Arousal Approach

Autism Awareness Centre Inc. is pleased to announce a new training in Canada  – the Low Arousal Approach from Studio III UK. Created in 1990 by clinical director Dr. Andrew McDonnell, this training is for managing aggressive and challenging behaviour.

Low arousal approaches were developed in the late 80s by Dr Andrew McDonnell BSc MSc PhD. The approaches are unashamedly non-aversive in nature. A central theme throughout this philosophy is the encouragement of carers to constantly question their own behaviour when working in care settings. Low arousal approaches are research-based and have been clinically tested by Studio III Training Systems, European leaders in the field of behaviour management. Low arousal is the key to the philosophies and practices which underpin the Studio III training. These are now the chosen approaches of many services throughout the UK and Ireland.

Since the development of Studio III Training Systems in 1989, over 50,000 staff working in the statutory, private and voluntary sectors have been trained in the Studio III model of managing challenging behaviour. The Company’s courses have been developed and clinically tested to give staff the skills they require to meet the particular needs of the service user within a broad base of client populations. Topics covered in the training: working within the law; policy development, understanding the causes of challenging behaviour; the use of the “Low-arousal” approaches including interaction, defusion and distraction strategies; coping with challenging behaviours including debriefing – why it is necessary and how to do it, managing versus changing behaviours, physical avoidance skills and physical intervention strategies, are just a few.

Studio III Canada Training Systems provides a non-aversive approach to challenging behaviour. Studio III offers criterion-based training, working with staff to develop specific skills to meet the particular needs of the service user. It is essential that the background to the service user’s problems is understood by all staff and that this understanding is used to define the direction in which these problems may be addressed. Studio III is not a provider of generic physical intervention strategies as the majority of our work is designed to promote the management of challenging behaviour in a totally non-violent, gentle and dignified way by the use of “low-arousal” techniques and gentle physical skills.

The Studio III has developed a unique approach to managing challenging behavior – person-centred crisis management training.

Person centred crisis management training has five key elements:

Reflective Practice

Our training emphasises Reflective Practices. Staff/carers are often inadvertently causing challenging behaviours. If people realise they are part of the problem they can then accept that THEY are part of the solution.

Demand Reduction in Crisis

Our Low Arousal Philosophy often recommends the short term reduction of demands (sometimes including elements of behavioural programmes) on services users by staff. This allows for a ‘ cooling off’ period. We train staff that this approach is both realistic and humane although it often challenges their own behaviour and attitudes.

Restrictive Practices

Studio 3 trainers aim to use the least restrictive physical interventions. Part of this philosophy involves actively Restricting a number of physical interventions. (especially ‘face down’ and ‘face up’ restraint holds). This does not make us the easiest system to employ as the approach challenges services providers to avoid ‘quick fix’ physical techniques. Please read the Studio III position on physical interventions.

Service User Consultation

Applied research has been conducted into the physical restraint system developed by Studio 3 staff to ascertain the viewpoint of service users (Cunningham, McDonnell, Sturmey & Easton, 2002). We actively canvass the views of service users about physical interventions.

An Organizational Approach

Studio 3 provides Training Systems, not training courses. Services that adopt our training philosophy often have to alter policies and encourage a culture of openness and honesty about behaviour management practices. Most importantly, the behaviour management philosophy needs to be reinforced both by frontline and senior decision makers.

Training Staff

andrew_mcdonnellDr. Andrew McDonnell

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, UK. 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.

Dr. McDonnell has been presented at several Autism Awareness Centre Conferences in 2013 in Victoria, BC, Edmonton, AB, Ottawa, ON and Halifax, NS. He is the author of Managing Aggressive Behaviour in Care Settings: Understanding and Applying Low Arousal Approaches


Michael McCreadie

Michael is a Health Psychologist with specialist knowledge and experience in Neuro-Developmental conditions and Acquired Brain Injury. Michael provides clinical support, advice and consultancy to Statutory and Non-Governmental Organizations in Scotland, England, Ireland and Scandinavia. Along with Andrew McDonnell and others Michael has been involved in promoting the notion of well-being in service delivery as a means of meeting the holistic needs of people with neurological issues and their families.


Family Training


Linda Woodcook

BSc. (Hons) Applied Social Sciences. PG Cert. Adults with Intellectual Disabilities with Severe and Complex Needs. Before joining Studio III, Linda worked for Autism West Midlands as Family Services Manager. For some years Linda worked in the field of mental health and counselling psychology during which time she became very aware of the needs of families and informal carers. She worked for several years in Gloucestershire managing the advice and advocacy team at the Princess Royal Trust for Carers.

Over the past four years Linda has been involved in the development and delivery of the management of challenging behaviour courses, including physical interventions, to families. She is a qualified Studio III trainer and is also the parent of a young man with ASD and challenging behaviours.

Linda Woodcook is the author of Managing Family Meltdown: The Low Arousal Approach and Autism

Training Cost

3 Day Workshop

Fees to be determined based on what the needs and requirements are. Fees will be sent to Autism Awareness Centre Inc.

Maximum attendees in a workshop – 16 – 20


Organization requesting the training can provide the space or Autism Awareness Centre can assist with this. Venue cost is the responsibility of the organization requesting the training.

Autism Awareness Centre Inc. will make arrangement for the trainer which includes their fee, travel expenses, and accommodation.

Training completion certificates will be provided upon completion of the 3 day training.

Parent Training can also be provided. Fee structure will vary based on number of attendees, length of training and topic.


Ever since I participated in a Studio III course in Managing Challenging Behaviour, I have been totally convinced about the importance of low arousal and person-centred approaches, and to focus on providing positive skills and attitudes among the staff and carers who support the individual. Since qualifying as a trainer, I have brought this philosophy to literally thousands of residential staff, teachers, volunteers, special needs assistants and families, and I never get tired of delivering this simple but very powerful message. The physical skills aspect of the Studio III course is, in fact, secondary to the low arousal theory and the main focus is really on trying to get each person to reflect more on their own thoughts, beliefs and behaviours and to develop greater empathy and understanding of the person they support.

However, it is acknowledged that there are times when staff/carers might need to use some physical skills to ensure safety for all and to encourage greater confidence and less stress if someone presents with physically challenging behaviours. In my experience the Studio III physical skills are the least aversive I have come across, and I have first-hand experience of other approaches, including Crisis Prevention Intervention (CPI).

Paul Phillips, Staff Development Officer with the Brothers of Charity Galway, specializing in the area of Challenging Behaviour for the past 12 years

Dr. Andrew McDonnell was an outstanding presenter. I enjoyed his sense of humour. His presentation was practical and will help me to apply a more person-centered approach with clients, students and families.

Educational Assistant, Halifax, Nova Scotia

This conference (with Andrew McDonnell) has given us hope. I’ve been dealing with staff who are persistent in calling/labeling everything as behavioural. This conference affirms to me my thoughts that it’s not behavioural all the time. There are many other reasons. Thank you!

Residential Worker, Small Options Homes, Truro, Nova Scotia

Loved Andrew’s wonderful sense of humour and human approach.

Teacher, Edmonton, Alberta

Studio III Launches in Canada

By Maureen Bennie, Director,
Autism Awareness Centre Inc.

Studio III UK has partnered with Autism Awareness Centre Inc. in Calgary, Alberta, Canada to begin offering Low Arousal Approach training to Canadians. Autism Awareness Centre (AACI) has been organizing conferences and workshops across Canada for 11 years; introducing the Low Arousal Approach was a natural evolution in training for the Centre.

AACI has been receiving requests for new and innovative ways to manage challenging behavior. Since the launch of Studio III Canada this spring, requests for information about training have been coming in weekly. There is a great deal of interest in this approach which is new for Canadians.

Studio III Canada ran their first 3 day course July 30 – August 1st at the Horizon School in Olds, Alberta. Horizon is a special needs school catering to students ages 4 – 20. Their students face a variety of challenges including communication difficulties, physical disabilities, cognitive development delays and independent life skills. Principal Heather Linski was looking for a new way to address the challenging behavior of some of her students.

UK trainer Kit Howe made his first trip to Canada and spent 5 days with the Horizon team; 3 of those days were dedicated to teaching the Low Arousal Approach to staff. The staff worked well together and spoke openly, asked excellent questions, and gave it their all when working on the physical skills section. There were many “ah-ha” moments and a shift in attitude as the days went on. The environment was one of nurturing, caring and respect for students and staff. Kit worked well with the group, creating a relaxed and safe atmosphere in which to practice new skills. We will continue to support Horizon School with their growth and quest for positive change.

Studio III Canada organized an Eastern Canada tour September 16 – 22nd for UK Director Dr. Andrew McDonnell and Swedish trainer Bo Elvén. The pair began their trip in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada’s capital city, and spoke to a large group of educators from various schools and post-secondary institutions. Their talk was very well received and the interest was high for training.

Next was a 4 day stop in Sydney, Nova Scotia in the Maritimes. Andrew and Bo delivered a 3 day training for the Breton Ability Centre (BAC) which serves individuals who are coping with complex challenges due to severe developmental disabilities, mental health challenges and/or complicating physical disabilities. They also gave a two hour evening talk for the larger community to introduce people to the Low Arousal Approach concepts. BAC’s director, Harman Singh, is eager to implement this new knowledge and she sees changes in the near future that will enhance the quality of life for her service users.

The last stop of the tour was Toronto, ON for a talk to the York ASD Partnership. The York ASD Partnership was formed to improve the current system of supports for people with an ASD and their families in York Region. While many services exist in York Region, access and coordination is confusing and frustrating for families. A variety of representatives from various organizations came to listen to the Low Arousal Approach overview. Andrew McDonnell captivated the participants and they are already buzzing about adopting the training in Ontario.

Studio III Canada is off to a strong start and the word is spreading. Autism Awareness Centre’s motto is “Believe in Change” and we believe it will happen in a positive way through this collaboration with Studio III UK.

To request more information about the Low Arousal Approach (articles, research papers, past training clients), please contact us using the form below.

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Autism Awareness Centre Inc.

56 Sussex Cr. SW
Calgary, Alberta T2W 0L5
Toll Free: 1-866-724-2224 or (403) 640-2710

Last updated: December 21, 2015