As we consider the core issues that impact children with Autism or attention difficulties, it draws our attention to cognitive processes that may impact every aspect of their daily functioning.
One of the primary core issues underlying attention difficulties is the lack of connectivity in the brain which as a result may cause the following challenges:
Communication with children can feel one-sided for parents.
Child’s interaction with peers or caregivers may not be fluid. They may fleet from one conversation to another topic.
Children may not be able to appraise the environment and as a result, they may be in flight or fight mode.
Children may seem rigid and experience difficulty with transitions.
Child may drift from one activity to another or may struggle if elements of an activity are changed (poor cognitive flexibility).
Children may have a poor sense of self and may struggle to maintain reciprocal interactions while interacting with peers.
Child may not be able to organize own self to be able to perform daily routines independently.
These challenges can cause them to be prone to frequent meltdowns.
Children may be unable to maintain relationships and friendships.
How Co-regulation helps in remediating these challenges?
Co-regulation can be defined as a way of being. It establishes a shared focus of attention with a communication partner. In other words, the child will be thinking about the same thing as the person he/she is interacting with. Sometimes there are instances when the child's thought isn’t the same as the adult’s because the adult’s pace may be faster than the child or the child’s pace could be faster than the parents.
You may be thinking: “Are self-regulation and co-regulation the same?”
Diving deeper, self-regulation is the process of managing yourself. The child needs to manage his physical needs (hunger, thirst, fatigue, going to the bathroom) and emotions. When the child struggles to self-regulate or in other words manage his/her needs, the child will have a meltdown, may become impulsive, or can appear highly anxious. When kids can't self-regulate, they need parents/ caregivers to help them regulate. When the parent responds contingently, at that moment, to the child’s needs or cues, co-regulation occurs.
To establish co-regulation there are 3 essential roles to keep in mind, namely; competent, contingent, and authentic roles.
Competent roles: means that the child should be able to perform a task without any prompts
Authentic role: task should be meaningful and real
Contingent role: the task should be done in partnership with parent/peer
E.g. - Let's take an activity of baking. A 5-year-old child should be able to mix the batter with the ladle (competent), the task of baking is highly motivating as the child gets to eat his/her favourite cake (authentic).
Finally, the adult pours the flour into the measuring cup, and then the child pours it into the mixing bowl (contingent role).
Why is Co-regulation important?
It helps to facilitate a variety of skills such as waiting, watching and closely observing for cues as well as active listening
It builds connectivity and develops experience sharing in children. They will eventually be able to share the events that happened during the day
They will be better tuned to their emotions. Hence, the number of meltdowns will reduce
They will anticipate things in future and show excitement even before things have happened
They will be able to manage their daily routines as they are more flexible in thinking.
They will actively seek out more experiences with the parents.
How to facilitate Co-regulatory patterns?
The first step to building co-regulation is for parents to look at daily tasks or routines as opportunities for social engagement. An example could be sweeping, where the child holds the dustpan (child’s role) and the parent sweeps the waste into the pan (parent’s role).
Another important thing to remember is to use more declarative language while doing tasks.
Parents need to remember to slow down. This will help ground the child in the moment, figure out what's bothering them and guide them to finding a safe space.
Co-regulation starts by giving the child the opportunity to coordinate actions. The coordinating of actions helps to establish a reciprocal flow between the communication partners - I go/ you go... I go/you go.... etc. Hence, the child eventually gets the idea that once you respond, he/she responds and continues the action sequences. Here is an example of co-regulation through a game of ball throw. The child and you share the roles of ‘sender’ and ‘receiver’. You roll the ball back and forth to maintain the pace of the interaction and connection.
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