What the book gave me was an easy-to-understand foundation for how the brain responds to stress and how this can impact a child’s behavior. When looking at our kids/students on the spectrum, we (or at least “I”) don’t really think of them as “stressed out” (at least in the traditional sense). However, we know that many of them are very sensitive to particular stimuli in the environment (lights, sounds, crowds, schedule changes, etc.). When we think of these things as sources of stress and learn about the impact of stress on the brain as described in the book, many of the “stimming” behaviors and problem behaviors of our kids seem to really make sense. To me, this particularly fits with the position taken by some autistic self-advocates: that stimming actually serves a calming/self-regulatory function. Understanding what is happening in a child’s brain that may lead up to stimming behaviors or problem behaviors is extremely helpful when working with kids.
“Self-Reg” talks about the stressors that may impact kids in five domains: biological, emotional, cognitive, social, and prosocial (empathy). For me personally, I found the last three sections the most helpful, especially the cognitive domain. This section discussed issues related to performance in school, and I found lots of useful strategies there.
In all the domains, the most surprising and insightful parts of the book (for me) were where the author called for us as educators and parents to shift our perspectives about problem behavior. Dr. Shanker invites us to approach problem behavior by seeking to understand the child in his or her own unique situation, and to respond with empathy and keeping our own emotions and stress in balance.
When we attempt to see things from the child’s perspective, we have the opportunity to better help them recognize when they are having a problem and to know what they need to do to regulate themselves. This book helped me to broaden my perspectives about what is going on in the background for children experiencing problem behavior and I am a better parent and teacher because of it.