I assume you’re reading this blog because you are at yourwit’s end and searching for answers. Perhaps you have a teenager with autismspectrum disorder who still has meltdowns and acts inappropriate ly in publicand with others. Despite years of OT, speech, ABA and special educationservices, your child still cannot wrangle their emotions. When your child wasyounger, their behavior was accepted as a part of the diagnosis. However,acceptance for angry outbursts from peers, employers, and other adults diminishesas your child gets older.
Your child will be expected to successfully manage emotionsand behaviors as they become adults. Failure to master this important skill canhave a serious impact on their future success. This blog explains whyself-regulation is an important executive function skill that your child needsfor their future.
1. Managingbehavior opens doors. Not managing behavior closes doors.
Society expects all of us to behave a certain way,regardless of whether we have a disability. Behaving according to society’srules is not conforming or changing who we are. Society’s rules create orderand help us navigate different situations. If your child developsself-management skills to control emotions and behavior, doors will open. Yourchild will have access to learning opportunities, job possibilities, anddifferent types of friends. People who are polite, well-mannered, andrespectful are accepted into different aspects of society.
Alternatively, if your child cannot manage emotions, theywill be excluded from many opportunities. Unpredictable outbursts, angrymeltdowns, screaming, and saying mean things out of anger will not be accepted.No matter how tolerant or accepting the other person is initially, they willeventually grow tired of this behavior and exclude your child. Employers willnot be able to hire your child for public-facing roles. Employers will also notbe able to keep your child employed if other employees are affected by inappropriate behavior. While federaldisability laws protect your child’s right to have certain accommodations inthe workplace, the law does not protect inappropriate or violent behavior.
2. Being pleasant and likable buildsrelationships. Yelling, hitting, and lashing out in rage destroy relationships.
Social relationships can be hard for children with ASD. Managingemotions and adapting to change can add complicated layers to navigatingdifferent social situations. However, if your child learns basic manners, and ispolite and likeable, they can learn to build relationships. Relationships cangrow and develop in the workplace, as friendships, at school, and as romanticrelationships. Many people are tolerant of differences in others and do notexpect everyone to conform or be exactly the same. This is especially true asyour child gets older and deals with more mature people.
Building relationships takes time and work. Destroyingrelationships can happen in just one ugly outburst. If your child reacts inrage, says mean things out of anger, or turns on a dime when provoked, otherpeople will not trust them. If your child does not learn how to manage theirown emotions, they may always be excluded from different types of socialsituations. They will not understand the reason for not being accepted, whichwill lead to confusion and hopelessness about their life situation.
3. Society expects everyone to manage theirbehavior. Society punishes people who cannot manage their behavior.
When children are young, adults may be more forgiving aboutcertain behaviors. However, tolerance about meltdowns and emotional outbursts diminishesas a child gets older and is held accountable. Older children with ASD areexpected to know how to manage their behavior and their emotions. Olderchildren who lose their temper and hit others can face serious legal charges,such as assault. Screaming or having meltdowns in the workplace may lead totermination from jobs. Society has implemented laws to protect disabilityrights. However, the law does not protect inappropriate or violent behavior.
4. Managing behavior builds confidence. Notmanaging behavior makes your child a victim to anger and rage.
As I mentioned before, children with ASD struggle withsocial situations. However, mastering the skill of self-regulation will helpthem become a part of different social situations and will dispel the mysteriesof making friends and finding love. Learning to control emotions and regulatebehavior responses is very empowering and builds self-confidence. Learningthese skills will develop a strong foundation for developing other executivefunction skills (e.g., resilience, and perseverance).
On the flip side, letting the brain hijack behavior withpowerful emotions will make your child a victim. If your child succumbs to meltdowns,they will always remain in the immature state of a young child. Others willavoid them and treat them as incapable of controlling themselves.
Learning how to master the skill of self-regulation isdifficult. It will take time, planning, effort, and consistency. It is likelythat no therapist nor teacher spent considerable time with your child teachingthis skill on a consistent basis. Now is the time to work on self-regulationfor your child’s future success. For a framework on tackling this importantgoal, please download “5 Strategies for Teaching Your Child Self-Regulation” atip sheet for parents on how to get started.