Wednesday, January 11, 2006

Nothing to sneeze at

I've been using an analogy lately that has gotten good feedback from both MommaD at Alphabet Soup and Bud's teacher that helps me think about the best way to work with Bud when he is dysregulated.

Lately, Bud has been experiencing more frequent moments of extreme dysregulation both at home and at school. The dysregulation often manifests in trantrum-type behavior - shouting, pouting, arguing, wailing, crying, stamping, crashing - and both at home and at school we often find that our initial instinct is to try to manage it with discipline. Unsurprisingly, this approach does not typically yield success; more often, in fact, it only makes the dysregulation more pronounced.

And so, as a reminder to myself and a roadmap for others, I've developed the allergy analogy of dysregulation. It goes like this:

Let's say that instead of having autism, Bud had severe allergies. Then let's say something happened that triggered his allergy and he was overtaken by extreme fits of sneezing, his eyes so watery he could barely see, his breathing shallow and wheezy.

My hunch is that no one would address the situation by scolding Bud and saying, "Now stop all of that silly sneezing and act like a big boy." No one would fault Bud; no one would assume that he was making the choice to sneeze and water and wheeze. Instead, we would help him wipe his nose. We would try to identify the allergen that was triggering the reaction and physically remove him from it. We would help him to calm down and breathe normally before we asked him to sit down and engage with whatever task he had been undertaking before the allergy attack hit.

Bud doesn't have allergies; he has autism. But just as if he were having an allergic reaction, Bud does not choose to become dysregulated. It is not a pleasant state of being for him; if he could regulate on his own without shouting, stomping, crashing, and arguing, he would. But he can't. He needs us to intervene - to remove him from the activity/person/environment that is triggering or complicating the dysregulation, to soothe and quiet him, and to help him regain an optimal level of emotional arousal before we ask him to sit down and engage with whatever task he had been undertaking before he became dysregulated.

If he had allergies, we'd head for the inhaler and the Kleenex. With autism, our best resources are a slow pace, declarative communication, and a great deal of silence.


kristina said...

Yes, traditional discipline--like a time-out, for instance--does not work with Charlie. I try to think of some activity in advance (sometimes a structured toy, like a puzzle) that he can do and that he can hear us praising him for, so he realizes he'd rather be quiet and hearing gentle praise than whatever interesting behavior thing he might be up to.

Do you have a sense of the usual cause of the dysregulation?

Octobermom said...

Yep, traditional discipline goes right out the window. When she's upset I pick her up and talk to her til she calms down. Sometimes I'll repeat a script she knows and uses often just to get her to connect with me and calm down.

Having one NT and one PDD, I'm amazed at how my husband and I weave in and out of two very different parenting techniques. What works for one most definitely does not work for the other.

Anonymous said...

Great analogy to the sneezing. It's one that is really helpful for building patience and acceptance when we need it.

Christine said...

Thank you for that analogy. I hope you don't mind if I steal it. I think it would really help my step-son understand his brother a little bit better.

gretchen said...

I like this- thanks. I'm big on analogies, my mind must grasp things better that way.

You always have a very clear way of explaining things and must be an excellent teacher.

Come to think of it, reading some of these blogs is like taking an on-line class. Maybe we can all earn NOS degrees or something?

Anonymous said...

Imposing discipline most definitely do not work. What you said is so true, especially about the silence.