Monthly Archives: May 2015

We Can’t Teach What we Don’t Own

The post entitled Cultivating Self Regulation left me feeling like I had more to say. Now, those who know me, might be thinking that I always have more to say. True. But, this time, I was unsettled.

It was in the midst of one of those embarrassing, “less than my best – self moments,” that I stressedfigured out what needed to be said. Once again, I must sheepishly admit that in dealing with my hormonal,’ preteen daughter I may have “lost my $#@$” one evening. Our day had been a series of small collisions of minds. In my mind, she was being selfish and ultra sensitive and in her mind I was being just plain, MEAN. The storm clouds had been brewing all day and by the time bedtime was within reach her frustration and anger bubbled up from some dark place within and she unleashed the beast of preteen fury!

I wish I could report to my readers that I responded to her outburst with the love and patience of a gentle mother. No. That mother had left our home hours before. The one that was remained sensed a sudden surge of anger, exhaustion and irritation rising to a boiling point.  With blood racing from my brain to my extremities I roared into my daughter’s room. Every ounce of emotional control was silenced as I allowed myself to “lose it.”

Thankfully, in a split second of sanity, I heard myself. I was a raving lunatic. And then, it dawned on me. How can I teach self-regulation skills and emotional control to my child if I am out of control?

It’s not that this was some new concept that suddenly came to me. I know that I have to model what I teach and preach.  We can know something on an intellectual level, but, we need to live what we know in our own actions, if we want to authentically teach our children and our students.

Once again, it is through my child, that I learn the power of embracing my own vulnerability; my own humanness is a great place to begin leading my child. And so, in the very moment that I heard the high pitch of my “other self,”  I knew I had to own it. I stopped, looked my kid in the eye and said out loud, “Wow, I am acting like an ass.” She allowed herself to crack a smile at my foul mouth. I went on to explain that I could hear my own voice and feel my heart race. I didn’t defend myself. I explained that I was feeling exasperated (which is okay) but, I allowed my emotions to take over my brain. She knew how I felt. She asked me what I could have done to stop it. She really wanted to know. And that is when the mother I love to be came back on the scene.

I explained that once I recognized the physical symptoms of anger brewing, I would have been better off to stay in my room. I needed to keep the lion in the cage. I needed to use that time to breath deeply so that oxygen could send blood to my brain to keep my brain thinking positively and productively. Once my thinker shut down, my emotions had a field day! A productive thinking brain  sends soothing thoughts and it does not allow ‘stewing in one’s own juice’ of negativity. My thinking brain needed to take control of my emotional brain. She snuggled in and told me that her thinking brain had been silenced too. My daughter needed me to be calm so I could help her to regain her ‘thinker.’

The point of my story – in case I get carried away in my story – is that  as parents and educators we need to honestly take our own emotional ‘temperature’ if we want to teach our children how to regulate theirs! Being owning our own emotions and openly sharing how we cope (or want to cope) with our feelings is necessary. We can’t demand controlled behaviour when we are unable to control our own actions! Letting kids hear us talk ourselves through our potential meltdowns will go a long way to making the lesson authentic and life long.

Recognizing our own emotions and owning our responses to those emotions is difficult. It’s not easy to admit when we mess up. But, it’s the only way create an environment where your child is safe to make mistakes and learn from them.

Wishing you a rich journey growing with your children and students,

😀 Jenn

Cultivating the Seeds of Self Regulation

Kids with autism cannot be expected to self regulate emotions until we teach the skills needed to do so. But don’t get too excited. Our work is not over once the “content has been covered.” I suppose that it true for all teaching. Deep learning needs far more than coverage of skills. To learn a skill well enough to be able to use it under stress and in different situations, we have to have a whole lot of guided practice, support and then a gradual release of the skill into our own hands without the direct support of another human being.

The process seems to be a lot like garden work. It’s not enough to dig a hole, throw a seed in and then rest with a cold beverage while the seed ‘does its thing.’ I am no expert gardener, but, I am quite sure that we need to provide that seed with sunshine, water and we have to keep those nutrient sucking weeds away from our little seed. We may even need to throw in some fertilizer to give it an extra edge in the growth department.

Our students and children with autism are desperately in need of some gardening in terms of teaching the of those pesky emotions, high anxiety and sensory challenges that can sneak up on them and attack like a swarm of beetles!

The Seeds:

  • Teach how to recognize early symptoms of social stress and anxiety (repetitive movement, perseverative talking, swearing, oppositional behavior, inattention or escape behavior)
  • Teach and practice daily specific stress reduction techniques (deep breathing, visual imagery, exercise, yoga and so on)
  • Teach students how to identify and name emotions and the varying ‘levels’ or degrees of an emotion
  • Teach physiological signals that our bodies give us when anxiety levels begin to rise
  • Teach how to monitor different emotional states and successful responses to those statesDaily Care
  • Practice strategies daily – throughout the day at every learning opportunity possible
  • demonstrate your own use of the calming strategies and name your own emotional states
  • affirm progress
  • acknowledge attempts
  • gradually release control and watch the seed grow!Awesome Tools ….ONLY if nurtured daily




Just remember, a book or program is only as good as the teacher’s consistent practice, encouragement and authentic engagement with the student. YOU make the difference.

Happy Gardening!  😛




Warning: Embarrassing Self -disclosure Ahead

Last week I promised that we adults cannot take it personally when a child with autism experiences a meltdown. I explained that meltdowns signal that the child needs help and skills need to be taught. Before taking a closer look at what those skills might be I thought it would be frame the meltdown in a way that many of us can relate…hopefully, I am not alone on this one!

Warning: Embarrassing self -disclosure ahead.

There are times when I just lose it. Any semblance of self- control eludes me and I fold like a cheap suit. The sight of me relapsing to the state of a crying child who just simply cannot cope, is not pretty. For the most part, I hold myself together in front of the public and colleagues, but, my dear friends and family get to witness the ugliest moments. Once in a while, life delivers a perfect storm of personal and/or professional situations mixed with hormones, lack of sleep or a deepening sense of overwhelm and BAM – I am a puddle! Not a pretty sight, I will admit. However, over the course of 50 years I have learned a few things that have helped me to lessen the frequency and even the intensity of those less than my best moments.

For example, I know enough to recognize the building of storm clouds. I have learned to tune into my body’s physiological responses to stress and I am able to use my thoughts to ‘combat’ those negatives voices that egg me on and push me to the brink. It has taken years, but I am more willing to listen to my body’s need for nutrition, sleep, exercise and relaxation so that storms can be averted.  I have even learned enough to act on those needs more regularly!

I also have some tricks to use when having a nap or running to the gym or not viable options. When I feel my frustration barometer rising I can reassure myself that the feelings are temporary and I will be able to cope. I also decide what treat I will gift myself for staying cool and calm. I know instinctively to take deep belly breaths and keep oxygen moving to my thinking brain (the prefrontal cortex). I also know when to walk away from a situation.

I share this shameful truth about myself because I think that it is critical to put ourselves in a child’s place when he or she is losing emotional control. It helps us respond with empathy when we choose to consider how we would feel under a stressful circumstance. I am quite sure that if we were scolded, yelled at, dragged, smacked, or humiliated in front of others during a time of emotional overwhelm we would be less than motivated to ‘relax’ or ‘snap out of it!’

To be totally honest, when I am distraught, I cringe at the sound of talking. Even hearing the words “Just relax, take a deep breathe,” are beyond irritating. I do not want anyone nattering in my ear or raising their voice with me when I feel as if my world is exploding. What I do need, is to cry and release the pent up emotions. Then when the worst of the storm has passed – and only then – I will be willing to reflect and discuss a plan of action.

Shame and anger have no place in our dealings with children with autism. Neither shame The-only-thing-worsenor anger does anything to reduce emotional overload in a child. In fact, the only thing worse than a child who is losing it, is a child and an adult who are out of control!

So, what skills do we use to regulate our emotions? How can we help our kids with autism to regulate their emotions?

Stay tuned….




A Personal Attack? Or a Sign?

Toys strewn across the room.  The shrill sound of a screeching child permeates the halls.

What just happened? All was well. A child was playing happily and then…without warning, a switch was triggered and BAM! A frenzy ensued.

Moments such as these are painful – for the child and the adults involved. No one enjoys losing control. There is no secret pleasure that a child with autism gets from an eruption of emotion. Think about it – Do you secretly enjoy losing your cool in moments of extreme fatigue or upheaval? Probably not.

Personally, my least shining moments arise from a lack of being able to keep the lid on my self control due to exhaustion, pain, overwhelm or hunger. I may try to pin the cause on something my children or husband did or did not do. But, the reality is that I choose my responses. We all do. The difference between us and our kids with  autism is that we have what we need to regulate our emotions: the ability to articulate our needs (language) and the ability to regulate (to some degree) our fight/flight responses (neurological wiring).

When students with autism lose their cool, it is NOT a personal attack on you as
the educator or parent. Emotional reactions reflect the student’s lack of the above skills!There-is-no-room-for-ego

Don’t get me wrong – I am not proposing that we resign ourselves and our kids with ASD to a life of emotional roller coasters. Not a chance! On the contrary, these situations are a clear sign to parents and teachers that skills need to be taught and supported. Notice I did not say punishments need to be handed out? We must shape the behaviours and responses that we want to increase. Being put off or offended by an action is more about ego than it is about educating a child.

What skills need to be taught? What behaviours should be shaped? Stay tuned… and stay optimistic…with teaching, support and loads of love,  emotional control will improve.

Jenn  😀