Self-Regulation & Movement

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(Our make-shift obstacle course on the way to school!)

In life in general but especially in the autism world, self-regulation is an important practice for adjusting and controlling emotions, behaviors and attention as it relates to change, transition, sensory overload and new and / or unexpected situations.

I have learned so much by watching my daughter find ways to cope through the various ups and downs of life; and I am overwhelmed with gratitude for the therapists and professionals along the way who have helped shape (and encourage) these various practices for her.

One of the biggest ways that Arizona self-regulates is through physical movement. When she was younger, she would constantly be in motion. She would also find every possible higher surface to climb up and jump off of. I was initially alarmed when my child would climb on the dining room table and jump off, repeating this pattern over and over. My first thought was, “Ouch, that can’t be good for her knees,” and my next thought (which was also something I expressed out loud, and not kindly) was, “You’re not supposed to be jumping off of furniture. Stop it!” But when I understood that she was seeking proprioceptive input, I began to understand that her unique physical behavior was actually a very important regulatory activity for assisting in controlling her responses to overwhelming sensory stimuli around her. Okay, that was a very big sentence for me to basically say that she was regulating herself so that she could then be able to take in and be available to the world around her.

At 12 years old, Arizona doesn’t jump off of furniture anymore, but she does skip, hop, run and jump everywhere outside and given every opportunity to do so. We walk to school daily, and she has created an obstacle course for herself during that 10 minute jaunt. She is on and off walls, skipping down hills, bouncing through the neighborhood. She is releasing energy and getting her body ready to sit in a classroom for the next 5-6 hours. Note: the heavy winter rains we’ve had in Southern California have been absolutely torturous for her!

My coaching for other parents with children like mine are to take a minute when observing your child’s behavior, especially when it doesn’t seem to make any sense to you. If it’s not causing anyone harm, try to look deeper into what your child is doing. How is this helping them? What is the positive feedback they are getting from this behavior? Is there purpose behind it?

I have learned to find a balance in both teaching my child what’s appropriate and safe and to not sweat the small stuff.

What have been the ways in which your children self-regulate? How do you guide or advocate for them in these moments?

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