So, tis the season of licensure renewal! So far I have been to a course on neuroprotection and development (you can go to my back post to learn more about one of the those sessions), a conference regarding the latest advances in pediatric orthopedics (you can see this post to learn more), a breastfeeding conference that focused on the anthropological and biological facets of infant sleep and sleep in the mother-infant breastfeeding dyad, and a course on the emotional regulation of children who have anger, anxiety and ADD/ADHD; children who are in the autistic spectrum were also addressed. This information was of course, not just valuable for those working with children with differing needs, but for ALL people who come in contact with children.
This course was aimed at therapists but also at teachers. The incidence of children with anxiety and anger issues is skyrocketing and the schools are really scrambling to catch up and create a culture that teaches children how to deal with their emotions. Many of these children have special needs involving the sensory system. One of the latest statistics I have heard is that one in every 45 children now can be diagnosed along the spectrum. The public schools have a large job in front of them, and quite frankly I am connected with families almost every day who have pulled their children out of school because they did not feel their children’s needs were being adequately met.
There were several things this course centered on. First of all, one has to understand the brain and how we nourish these three [oversimplified] brain levels. The major thing is to keep everything CALM and predictable because if the physical body heads into fight or flight, even at a very low level, then no learning can take place. If the body is in fight or flight, then we are “downshifted” into using only the more primitive parts of the brain – typically the “primitive” brain and the limbic system of emotions. When this occurs, memory, speech, expression, and the development of neural pathways all decreases. Hyperactivity increases. The body goes back to muscle memory and autonomic reflexes. So, with children who have challenges with emotional regulation, keeping things calm and predictable is vitally important and can be harder and more challenging than one might think, particularly in a busy school environment.
Talking about RYHTHM was a big part of this course. The more anxious or upset a child typically gets, the stronger the rhythm needs to be held. Visual aids for rhythm were discussed, along with how to prepare children for when the rhythm would be different that day. Many schools are now making books with photographs of the children doing each part of the day (this was mainly focused on elementary aged children of grades one and up), so the child can flip through the book as they go throughout his or her day and follow along and know what is coming next. Also, accommodations – does a child need to eat lunch not in the busy, over-stimulating cafeteria? Can the teacher have the child sweep or run an errand to reset what is happening?
The other main part of nourishing the brain is connection and love. Emotional safety, in whatever setting the child is in, is a very large part of keeping the body and brain in an optimal state for learning. Physical movement, hydration, and nutrition are also important, along with natural and full spectrum lighting (the buzzing from fluorescent lighting can put some children’s bodies in a fight or flight mode). Sleep and attention are large parts of nourishing the limbic system, as are the use of music, games, drama, storytelling and celebrations. Lastly, movement and time in nature is a huge piece in emotional regulation and learning. All of this is validated by research. The decade of the brain was actually in the 1990s, and much of the research from then until now is just starting to seep into greater society.
These are all things that were talked about in order to keep things on as even a keel as possible. You might be wondering what was recommended when things went out of bounds, so to speak. What to do when children are having real difficulty in that moment in regulating? I will try to speak to that in Part Two of this post.