How can you tell if children have problems with self regulation?


Self-regulation is a person’s ability to adjust and control their energy level, emotions, behaviours and attention. Some of the indicators children may have difficulty self-regulating include where children:

  • Be under-reactive to certain sensations (eg not noticing name being called, being touched, high pain threshold)
  • Appear lethargic/disinterested, appear to mostly be in their ‘own world’
  • Have difficulty regulating their own behavioural and emotional responses eg increased tantrums, emotional reactive, need for control, impulsive behaviours, easily frustrated or overly compliant
  • Have meltdowns that last for longer than typical
  • Have more meltdowns or behavioural episodes per day than typical
  • Be difficult to discipline
  • Not respond to typical behavioural strategies
  • Be easily distracted, show poor attention and concentration
  • Have poor sleep patterns
  • Love movement, seek out intense pressure (eg constant spinning, running around, jumping, crashing into objects/people)
  • Have delayed communication and social skills, be hard to engage in two-way interactions
  • Prefer to play on their own or have difficulty knowing how to play with other children
  • Have difficulty accepting changes in routine or transitioning between tasks
  • Have difficulty engaging with peers and sustaining friendships.
  • Heightened reactivity to sound, touch or movement
  • Have poor motor skills eg appear clumsy, have immature coordination, balance and motor planning skills, and/or poor handwriting skills
  • Have restricted eating habits or be a picky eater
  • Become distressed during self-care tasks (eg hair-brushing, hair-washing, nail cutting, dressing, tying shoe laces, self-feeding)
  • Avoid movement such as avoiding movement based play equipment (eg swings, slides etc).
  • Appear floppy or have ‘low muscle tone’, tire easily and show a slumped posture
  • Perform tasks with too much force, have big movements, move too fast, write too light or too hard
  • Display risky behaviours in play
  • Flit between play activities instead of sticking with one long enough to actually engage in it
  • Seem less ‘mature’ than others of the same age
  • Be emotionally labile (showing rapidly fluctuating emotion levels in a short time).

Children on the Autism spectrum do not know how to respond to social and emotional situations. They often find it difficult to regulate their behaviour and calm down or in some instances get active.

Lots of reinforcement will help educators achieve the desired behaviour.

This will be different for each child. It may be one of the experiences mentioned above or it could be something a bit more challenging to identify that requires lots of trial and error.

Creating a reinforcement kit for that child for the times when the child is displaying appropriate behaviour can be a very effective strategy.


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