The tangled web of communication, self regulation and behavior in young children with autism


Hi teachers of little learners!

I wanted to throw this idea out there...it's kind of a "chicken or the egg" sort of thought.  With young children with autism and other special needs, what comes first... delayed communication, reduced self regulation or maladaptive behavior?  I have always maintained that "behavior is communication".  It doesn't matter if a child is engaging in self injury, is aggressive toward others, runs away to avoid something or a whole host of other scenarios.  It all comes down to the inability to effectively communicate with the people around them.  Imagine the stress they must feel when they are unable to communicate and express themselves.  No doubt this stress and frustration leads to difficulty with self regulation.  In addition, some children have sensory differences that can affect their self regulation.  But, if they could communicate to others what their sensory experience is like, or what their preferences are, would it lead to reduced behaviors?  I may be biased, but as a speech/language pathologist, I feel strongly that it all comes down to communication.  If we can teach effective communication skills, we can help improve behavior and self regulation.  That being said, we will have even better outcomes if we involve our talented occupational therapists to help us address the unique sensory needs in our little ones.  Behavior absolutely does not occur in isolation, as an island of its own.  How many times do we hear, "what should I do for a student who spits" or "Does anyone have a social story for a student who is hitting"?  How on earth can a one size fits all approach even begin to answer those questions?!  If anyone is dealing with "behaviors", I beg of you to first ask yourself and your team "does this child have an effective communication system"?  Then ask "are their sensory needs being met"?  If you haven't asked those questions and looked at them closely, whatever advice that someone gives you for what to do with your student who spits is just not going to work.

Another thought on communication.  Sometimes, little ones are verbal, may lose the ability to communicate that way during stressful moments.  This bodes true to all children.  So, using visual supports can help non-verbal children, semi-verbal children and little ones who do have verbal speech.  Check out this freebie I have available, as it may help when there is a breakdown in communication.  It incorporates sensory and motivating choices for students and helps teach basic emotions.  Remember to teach this type of visual support during calm, happy moments first.  Once a student has learned how to use it, it can be used when there are signs of stress or dysregulation.  Most supports are not as effective in the midst of a major meltdown.  That is why catching signals on the front end and being proactive is going to be the best.

Good luck and let me know if you have any success using this resource!

Click her for the Self Regulation Freebie



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