Lately the autism “buzz word” is “self regulation”. I see constant reference to self regulation in articles, in comments, on blogs, and in discussions in groups. Time to update my autism vocabulary. What is self regulation???
When we talk about self regulation, we are talking about self control. This is not as simple as it might seem.
In order to have self control we must recognize our emotions, acknowledge them, and decide on an action to take or decide to do nothing.
This is actually a form of executive function where one must know one is angry, sad, upset, unhappy, jealous, insulted, afraid, etc. We first must learn to recognize our own feelings. This is very difficult for many autistic individuals for many reasons!
When we have our most powerful emotions, those that overwhelm us, our reactions often come in the form of response to trauma. Fight, Flight, Freeze, and sometimes those of us with long term adaption to trauma also fawn or appease.
In order to avoid disruptive interactions, melt downs, or confrontations, it is good to be able to recognize our emotions first, before they overwhelm us.
In many cases this is a skill we can learn.
We can learn to overcome poor interoception through counseling, therapy, and perhaps through self examination and becoming aware of our neurology.
We can also control our physical surroundings by changing them, by leaving them, by doing something different within those surroundings in times of stress or distress. (listening to music, wearing headphones, meditating, exercising, etc).
All of these things are part of self regulation.
We regulate our responses our own bodies have to our emotions… when we get angry, we don’t have to beat ourselves or somebody else up, we can go for a walk, take a hot shower, remove ourselves from the company of those who are upsetting us, choose to ignore the upsetting thing or confront it in a healthy manner instead of allowing ourselves to get overwhelmed, have a melt down or a shut down. WE can change our environment, we can change the way we do things. First we have to recognize that we are upset.
If meltdowns are common, or shutdowns, if we have rages or self injure while we are upset or over stimulated, we can many times learn to recognize that we are in distress before we reach that point of absolute overwhelm. This might require professional help.
When we recognize the very first signs of upset or overwhelm, a change in breathing patterns, general anxiety, tension in the body, agitation, restlessness, we can take steps to acknowledge we are becoming upset or over stimulated, and we can take steps to prevent losing control.
That is self regulation.
If you have struggles with meltdown and overwhelm, read up on how to recognize your own emotions, learn your body’s response to distress and stress. Talk to a counselor or therapist (some occupational therapists specialize in emotional recognition and self control techniques). Some people report that the use of biofeedback helps!
We can learn to recognize our emotions and we can find ways to help ourselves regulate emotions.
We can avoid outbursts of physical responses and change our environment to avoid rages, meltdowns, shut downs, or similar behavior/trauma response struggles.
If you have trouble recognizing your emotions before they build to being overwhelmed, ask for help. You don’t have to do this alone!