fundamental to well-being
What is Self-Regulation?
"A child's reactivity to stimuli (sounds, light, touch etc) and ability to disengage from stressful stimuli has a profound effect on her emotional regulation and, in turn their ability to regulate the emotional response has an impact on their ability to focus or shift attention and inhibit distractions, resolve attention conflicts, inhibit impulses, delay gratification and tolerate frustration." (Casenhiser, Shanker & Stieben 2012).
adapted from Children's Services Central
Put simply, self-regulation is the ability to regulate our responses to external circumstances. As infants, we are conditioned to react to stressors in our environment by the responses we receive from our primary caregivers. For the most part, stressors are either sensory or emotional and the manner in which the caregiver responds is the impetus for the development of self-regulatory skills. For example, when an infant is distressed about something, a caregiver with an empathetic response who makes eye contact, speaks in a soothing voice and helps calm the infant is practicing co-regulatory skills; a precursor to learning how to self-regulate.
On the contrary, if a caregiver does not co-regulate to help assist the infant in reducing the overall level of emotional arousal, the infant misses the opportunity to learn self-soothing skills.
How it looks on the spectrum
"Though all children have the ability to develop self-regulation, to do this they must experience supportive environments."
Self-regulation is not something that is inherent from birth; We must learn how to regulate our affective states by first co-regulating with a trusted partner. Over time, once we have established familiar patterns of soothing via co-reguation, we are better equipped to self-regulate when left to deal with challenging circumstances on our own.
Poor self-regulatory skills is not something that is limited to those on the spectrum. Virtually anyone can have limited skills when it comes to regulating affective state and emotional control. People with ASD tend to have poor self-regulatory skills which can manifest for individuals on the spectrum in a variety of ways and it's more than just the ability to regulate emotions. Those with ASD have not developed a sense of self and have poor self-regulation because they have not sufficient experience in co-regulatory relationships. Poor self-regulation on the spectrum can create issues with day-to-day functioning and may include:
- struggling to plan ahead or leaving too little time to complete a task (procrastination)
- difficulty in solving problems and breaking things into small chunks
- difficulty in inhibiting impulses; often acting without thinking
- struggling to transition from one thing to the next; inability to shift gears from one frame of mind to another
- struggling to self-monitor both their personal behavior and workload
- struggling to shift attention between task at hand and active memory
- difficulty in remembering directions once a task has been started