When little ones start growing up, they’re not just learning about the things around them – they’re also figuring out how to control their feelings and actions. This is so important because regulation is the foundation for learning. In this post, we will talk about why supporting regulation is so crucial for autistic children, and what self-regulation and co-regulation mean. I’ll also share some easy tips for parents and teachers who want to work proactively to prevent dysregulation.
The start of a new school year is an opportune time to reflect on how we support our students self-regulation in the classroom. Self-regulation involves a set of skills and techniques that enable individuals to manage their emotions and behaviors consciously, as noted by McClelland & Tominey (2014). Understanding these principles is crucial for creating a conducive learning environment, especially for children in their early developmental stages.
Understanding Self-Regulation in Preschoolers
In the preschool setting, self-regulation manifests in various ways:
- Focusing attention for short periods
- Beginning to label feelings
- Briefly delaying gratification
- Seeking help from adults when dealing with strong emotions
- Recognizing and understanding a range of feelings in oneself and others
- Identifying solutions to simple problems
- Utilizing strategies like deep breaths and self-talk, with support, to calm down
- Developing perspective-taking and early empathy
- Focusing attention and persisting on challenging tasks for extended periods
However, for autistic children, the ability to regulate feelings lays a critical foundation for learning. Challenges in self-regulation can lead to heightened emotional responses, difficulty paying attention, and ultimately hinder the learning process.
Co-Regulation and Self-Regulation for Autistic Children
For many non-speaking autistic children aged 3 and 4, self-regulation can be challenging. Co-regulation, or mutual regulation, becomes vital. Co-regulation involves receiving support from parents or teachers to manage emotions effectively. The OT Toolbox defines co-regulation as the ability to regulate emotions with the support of a connecting individual.
Practical strategies for supporting regulation in the classroom include:
- Collaborating with parents to understand existing strategies and tools used at home.
- Incorporating sensory tools such as sensory balls, fidget toys, and sensory-friendly textures.
- Implementing visual supports like schedules, cue cards, and calming kits.
- Creating clearly defined areas in the classroom, including a designated calming corner.
- Integrating mindfulness activities like deep breathing and focusing on calming objects.
- Modeling and teaching regulation skills throughout the day, in various settings.
Sensory Tools and Children’s Book Recommendations
- Simpl Dimpl: A versatile sensory tool that can be attached to a lanyard for easy access.
- Bubbles: Useful for redirecting attention and bringing children out of meltdowns.
- Noise-reducing headphones: Helpful for children sensitive to sounds.
- Weighted lap pads: Provide grounding for children who struggle to sit still.
- Chewy necklaces: Offer oral input for children who seek it.
Additionally, recommended children’s books include:
- “Wiggles Stomps and Squeezes Calm My Jitters Down” by Lindsay Rowe Parker
- “Sensory Seeking Sloth” by Jennifer Jones
- “Headphones” by Kira Elbeyli
- “A Boy And A Bear Children’s Relaxation Book” by Lori Lite
- “Breathe Like A Bear” by Kira Willey
By implementing these strategies and utilizing recommended tools, educators can create an inclusive and supportive environment, fostering self-regulation in all students, including those with unique needs.
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If you use visual supports in your classroom or home, you are going to want to sign up for this free Visual Supports Starter Set ASAP! Click here to have one sent to your inbox. Also, be sure to read more about visual supports and how they can help autistic children here.