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"... the most important considerations in devising educational programs for children with autistic spectrum disorders have to do with recognition of the autism spectrum as a whole, with the concomitant implications for social, communicative, and behavioral development and learning, and with the understanding of the strengths and weaknesses of the individual child across areas of development."
—Educating Children with Autism2001

Understanding Autism

Understanding Emotional Regulation Differences

Students on the spectrum are under an amount of stress at school that can be difficult to comprehend. Little about this environment is geared toward their success. The constant social demands, sensory stimulation, and academic requirements can overwhelm them, even on their best day. In order to help them succeed, it’s necessary to appreciate the amount of effort required of them just to be there. Students on the autism spectrum often feel most safe when they feel they have some control over their environment and choices. Considering their need for control and safety along with the need to challenge them to learn and grow is a delicate balancing act.
  • May have difficulty identifying, controlling, and communicating his emotions
    • May respond “I’m fine” or “I’m happy” when it is clear he is distressed
    • May express emotions only in extremes
    • May show little emotion, even if extremely upset
    • May change from calm to extremely upset without apparent warning
  • May be easily overwhelmed by her own emotions as well as the emotions of others, even positive ones
    • May scream at others or cry
    • May become angry and lash out when someone else is upset
    • May become silly or wild when others are happy or excited
    • May shut down and become relatively unresponsive
  • May live with a heightened sense of anxiety; his fight-or-flight response is easily triggered
  • May have extreme responses to the actions of others
    • May respond explosively to a small offense
    • May cry easily
    • May shut down and not respond at all
  • May worry obsessively and be overly fearful
  • May have extreme responses to frustration or mistakes, even small ones
  • May have meltdowns*
  • May withdraw into his imagination
  • May have low self-esteem
  • May tend toward depression, especially during teenage years
  • May have a preoccupation with death or talk about suicide
  • May not perceive real danger and may take risks
* Meltdowns are different than temper tantrums. Deborah Lipsky describes tantrums as goal-directed behavior—an attempt to manipulate another individual. Meltdowns are uncontrolled reactions to overwhelming stress—an extreme emotional and behavioral response triggered by the fight-or-flight response. For more detailed information on meltdowns, read Managing Meltdowns: Using the S.C.A.R.E.D. Calming Technique with Children and Adults with Autism by Deborah Lipsky and Will Richards.

Improving the educational experiences and outcomes of students on the autism spectrum in grades K-12

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