Did you know that meditation changes the structure of the brain in lasting, measurable ways? Simply sitting quietly and observing your own thoughts and emotions actually improves your health, because it increases emotional self-regulation.
Emotional regulation is the ability to sustain a kind of internal steadiness. It gives you the power to observe and analyze your emotions, rather than simply letting them toss you to and fro.
One essential benefit of our FirstPath Autism ABA videos is that they teach emotional management techniques. Why? Because the ability to regulate one’s own emotions is crucial to social, relational, and intellectual growth.
What else do you need to know about emotional self-management and autism? Read on to find out.
Fact #1: Emotional regulation is a teachable skill.
As we noted in our blog post, What We Can Learn About Autism and Emotional Regulation from Temple Grandin,
“[It] is the skill of managing feelings so that they don’t reach overwhelming levels and interfere with learning and development. Many people on the spectrum need support as they struggle to manage their emotions and mitigate their anxiety.”
So, if your child struggles with this, don’t assume that he lacks the capacity to master his emotions or that you’ve somehow failed as a parent. Instead, enlist the support of trained ABA clinicians, teachers, and other professionals, who can jump-start your child’s learning process.
Fact #2: Autism is a neurodevelopmental disorder that impacts emotional regulation.
Individuals on the spectrum often need extra support with regards to emotions. As Andrea Samson and her team point out,
“Problematic emotional responses, such as tantrums and anger outbursts, are surprisingly common in individuals with autism spectrum disorder ….”
The piece goes on to say that,
“Individuals with ASD … derive benefits when they are capable of generating a cognitive reappraisal strategy.”
Cognitive reappraisal involves looking ahead to the future and anticipating ‘triggering’ events, and then reframing them so as to reduce emotional impact.
For example, if your child is terrified of fire drills, you might mitigate her fear by helping him to understand that fire drills are a safety measure. In this effort, you could use social stories or role-playing to communicate.
Fact #3: There’s a strong connection between the ability to regulate emotions and social skills.
As one Centre for Autism Middletown presentation says, social communication is a challenge for many children with autism because they have “difficulty recognizing how emotions feel and expressing internal states”, as well as a tendency to “make semantic errors in labeling [their] own emotions”.
Plus, some techniques that children with autism use to regulate their emotions and sensory processes (such as hand-flapping and other stimming behaviors) can impact their social lives.
Fact #4: Labeling emotional states is a key piece of the self-management puzzle.
It’s unrealistic to expect your child to communicate his emotions if he doesn’t how to label them in the first place. With the help of an ABA clinician, you might use picture cards or an emotions chart to teach your child to identify various emotional states.
It helps to tie these lessons to your child’s current interests. For example, if your child loves the Disney movie Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, use Happy and Grumpy as part of the lesson.
Even if you’re on the go and pressed for time, you can still practice labeling emotions with your child. Check out our blog post 3 Emotional Regulation Skills That You Can Practice Anywhere for specific tips.
Fact #5: Emotional management skills (or lack thereof) impact relationships.
Imagine this: One day, your young daughter doesn’t want to wear her new snow boots. You insist, since sidewalks are icy and you’re concerned for her safety.
However, your daughter depends on being able to wear the same sneakers every day. The thought of not wearing them triggers feelings of instability and anger for her.
However, she doesn’t have the skills she needs to explain why she’s upset and discuss the issue with you. She struggles to recognize her own feelings, much less articulate them calmly.
As a result, she acts rashly, hurling her snow boots at you. After that, the focus of your conversation shifts to her inappropriate coping behavior. Her intended message (“I just want to feel safe and wear my sneakers!”) gets lost in translation.
ABA teaches both parents and children to look for the motivation behind behaviors. It emphasizes the idea that all behavior is a means of communication. Through ABA, you and your child can learn skills that will help you navigate (and prevent!) such stressful moments.
Fact #6: Learning to calm one’s physical body is a vital aspect of regulating emotions.
As noted above, heightened reactivity is common in individuals with autism. As a result, they’re more likely to experience a fight-or-flight reaction to stressful events. When fear arises, a physical response follows, complete with racing heart, sweating palms, shallow breaths.
But your child can learn to recognize the signs of panic and respond with de-escalation strategies. For example, children with autism who practice deep breathing as a relaxation technique can calm themselves effectively.
And when children learn to self-regulate and quiet their own bodies, it has a positive effect on their confidence.
Fact #7: Greater emotional self-control leads to greater personal independence.
Want your child to increase his or her independence? Then be sure to practice emotional management skills.
When a child can engage in cognitive reappraisal and self-govern, there’s less need for parental intervention. Greater personal empowerment and independence is the result.
If you’re a FirstPath member and you’re interested in working on emotional regulation skills, try these two helpful lessons with your child:
This lesson teaches students how to identify and recognize emotions in self, others, and pictures.
Video: Situation-based emotions
The focus of this lesson is to teach students how to identify and recognize how someone typically feels in common situations.