But first, I am sure some people are wondering what is self-regulation. To put it in simple terms:
Self regulation is controlling ones own reactions, including inappropriate behaviors, and instead finding a more appropriate substitute behavior or activity to put in its place.
For example, lets pretend that I was walking on a crowded street in New York City and it was very loud with a lot of people. Since I don’t like either of these things and I still struggle at times to self regulate, I yelled at the people around me – “Shut up and get away from me!”
This is not considered to be an appropriate response. It will likely make surrounding people think bad thoughts about me. A response like that could also receive unwanted consequences.
Examples of a more appropriate response to this scenario would have been to:
- put on ear plugs or noise reducing headphones,
- listen to music via headphones to help block the loud city noises,
- sit down on a bench and take a break from the crowd, or
- take a few deep breaths.
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Those four suggestions are self-regulation strategies. They are a lot more socially appropriate than yelling at people. These are alternative behaviors that one may use to self regulate. Think about it this way, if your body feels funny and uncomfortable, you are going to do anything you can to make it feel better. If screaming makes you feel better again and you do not have any other strategies readily available in your brain, then you will probably use the one that is most familiar to you – screaming.
Self-Regulation is Hard Work!
Individuals who have autism or other “isms” do not automatically self-regulate like most people do. Individuals with various isms have to:
- think about self-regulating,
- then learn strategies to help them with self-regulation, and
- then use the strategies at the right time.
This can be a hard thing to do!
Self regulation is not something that is learned overnight. It takes a great amount of time and support for an individual to learn how to self-regulate. Once the skill is acquired, the individual with isms has to learn how to implement the skill and use it in the situation when they need it most.
Learning a skill to self regulate and practicing this skill when you are calm is one thing, but actually using it when you are beginning to feel uncomfortable, agitated, and upset is a whole different story!
My Own Journey with Self-Regulation
Over the years, I have been taught many different strategies and have used many different tools to self regulate. Again, knowing the strategies and tools and being able to recite them is very different from being able to use the strategy right there in the moment, without even thinking much about it.
This part has been hard for me. I know many different self-regulation strategies, but applying them and implementing them to my everyday life is tricky! It is something that I just learned how to successfully do ten months or so ago.
Using the strategies and tools that I have known for years has actually made a big difference in my everyday life. I am happier, calmer, and less agitated. When I do start to feel agitated, I know what to do to help myself feel better again. I still make mistakes and I still have my moments. Becoming an expert at self-regulating my own behavior is something that will take years to learn and with more and more experience in doing it, I am sure it will get easier.
What Dysregulation Feels Like
When I feel dysregulated, I feel very uncomfortable and agitated. Sometimes I feel like ants are crawling on my body or like I am crawling out of my skin. It feels like an energy surge of anxiety is going through my body. If one can feel safe anywhere, they should be able to feel safe in their own skin, but unfortunately for many with sensory differences or various isms this may not always be the case.
Sometimes the dysregulation seems to happen rather suddenly. I can be lying on my bed, perfectly fine. Then, suddenly, I can be moving my legs around on the bed just trying to feel regulated again. There is always a trigger, but sometimes it may be hard to determine the trigger. Self regulation and dysregulation can be a mystery at times. Sometimes, I feel like a detective trying to figure it all out!
Tools to Learn More about Self-Regulation
Final Thoughts on Self-Regulation
Next time your child or loved one with an ism acts out or has trouble controlling their response, think about if self-regulation and/or dysregulation could perhaps play a role in the situation. Happy self-regulating!
Moyer, Sherry. The Eclipse Model: Essential Cognitive Lessons to Improve Personal Engagement for Young People with Asperger Syndrome, PDD-NOS. US: Autism Asperger, 2009. 165-66. Print.