At a recent workshop, a special educator said to me, “All these children you work with are so calm. What about children who are hyperactive? How can we
control their hyperactivity?”
“Good question. What do you mean by hyperactive?” I asked.
“Oh, they run around, they flap their hands, they tantrum for no reason.”
“There’s always a reason. You’ve got to train yourself to see it,” I commented.
You, dear reader, are in the same predicament.
You watch your child running up and down. He takes a particular item and flips it around. He rocks his body, flaps his hands and makes strange sounds. You just want all of this to stop because you want him to be calm and notice things around him. You want him to interact more with people rather than objects.
I know how it feels. I’ve experienced it with Mohit and my students. By stopping the behaviors, you’re not going to achieve what you want to.
Instead, use the behaviors as stepping stone to delve deeper. The following video will elucidate.
Notice how Ishaan engages in self stim behaviors and gets close to the edge?
I wouldn’t want to ‘stop’ any of these behaviors. They speak to me. They let me know what action I should take next. It’s my job as his guide to read these behaviors and get him to engage with me.
Once he does, the behaviors slowly fall away. This interaction brings up a few interesting points.
1. It’s more than the activity
My aim was not to get Ishaan to sort ball and blocks. That was the external framework. My aim was for him to recognize the underlying pattern and his role in the interaction.
I was the giver and he was the one who put away items. I monitored him closely as I handed him a block instead of a ball.
Note how he got disregulated. After he calmed down (I gave him space to calm down instead of commanding him to do so), I handed 2 items at a time, and eventually a 3rd. I watched his reactions.
Despite small changes, was he able to perceive the underlying pattern and still stay engaged with me? The sorting of items was an opportunity for me to go deeper.
2. Behaviors are a barometer
Ishaan’s behaviors helped me identify whether he was engaged or not. When I added a little change and if he appeared disregulated, I went back to basics and stayed there till he was calm again. Once he was back in the play, I slowly increased the level of the challenge.
At the beginning of the clip just after I introduced the block, he got disregulated. I slowed down and went back to just putting the ball in the basket and built it up from there.
3. No instructions or prompting
If you ask a child to do something, he’ll comply with you. It’s easy for him
to follow an instruction, as he doesn’t have to think. But if you don’t ask him to do anything and set up a back and forth interaction, he will have to figure out what he needs to do by observing you.
That’s a deeper level function. I didn’t ask Ishaan to do anything. I did it with him. I set up a pattern for him to observe and follow. I use a regulatory chant (“ball. basket” or “blocks, basket”). After a point, I didn’t need to use a chant.
Look at how Ishaan checked with me after putting the item away. Notice when he reached out for my arm and smiled at me. I wanted to build the ‘us’. We’re a team.
When you engage with your child, he should have the feeling you’re there to help him and support him not to get something from him or complete a task.
4. Strip away the inessentials
Note the lack of language? I didn’t ask him whether it’s a ball or block or puzzle piece. I just focused on the pattern and our emotional
I built the framework from there. I adjusted my guiding and the variations introduced as I observed Ishaan’s reaction. His behavior
communicated his level of regulation.
credit: Ellen Notbohm
We may not like the way our children behave. We want those self stimulatory behaviors out of our lives. They make us uncomfortable.
Stay a while with the discomfort, dear friend. Figure what the behaviors are trying to communicate. Don’t switch off the barometer. Instead study it carefully and work on increasing engagement.
You can try the simple kinds of activities I tried with Ishaan. You will end up with an engaged, motivated youngster who wants to spend time with you. He doesn’t run away when he sees you.
And the added bonus is the behaviors will fall away by themselves.
”Your child does not need you to focus on their behavior, or their stimming, flapping etc. It’s just a sign that your child for their brain to be better able to engage better with the world.” — Dr Steven Gutstein
Do send in your questions. I’ll be happy to answer them.
Also, if you’re a professional who wants to add a US based credential to your skill set, do get in touch with us on firstname.lastname@example.org. The training begins on August 8th.