The emotional rollercoaster
The coronavirus pandemic has changed how we live in many ways. Children with special needs may feel even more stressed and need added support in managing their emotions at this time.
6-year-old Lucas is on the autism spectrum. He is non-verbal, so he cannot tell people how he feels. Lucas is sensitive to loud noises. They hurt his head and he wants to run away from the source of the noise. Because his family members stay at home and watch more TV now, he is often distressed by loud noises from the TV programmes.
Lucas is also tactile seeking. He loves sensory input and actively seeks it. The feeling of rubbing his hands together, brushing his hands on the wall as he walks by, or playing with the button on his shirt soothe him. When he feels anxious, he is especially drawn to the sensation of flowing water on his skin. Playing with water calms him down - but unfortunately also gets him into trouble.
How might Lucas want adults to guide him when he is emotional?
"Learn how I comfort myself and
help me do it safely."
Lucas enjoys the sensation of water on his skin. When he feels stressed, playing with water calms him down. Observe what your child finds calming and create opportunities for him or her to do that.
"Read my body cues to figure out how I feel."
It is possible to make educated guesses about how a non-verbal child is feeling by observing his or her body cues over time. The child may behave in a certain way to some triggers. Adults can support the child by providing comfort before he or she is overly stressed.
"Teach me how to express my emotions in appropriate ways"
Children with special needs may come across as being inappropriate because they do not know socially acceptable ways to express their emotions. Adults can support children by teaching them safe ways to express their anger, happiness and sadness.
"Show me empathy, don't just distract me."
With very young children, it is possible to distract them from crying. However, as children grow older, it may not be helpful to do so. Adults can support a child's emotional development by showing empathy, providing comfort and creating a safe context for children to express their emotions.
In this module, we experienced Lucas' emotional highs and lows and explored ways to better support kids like him. In the next lesson, we will meet his friend, Emily, who has attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. We will look at how we can support Emily in her learning journey.