Self-regulation, social cognition and yoga

Feelings are a funny old thing! Many therapists and teachers will work on this with children with special needs to help them understand how they are feeling as well as to “read” how other people may be feeling. Feelings show up at all sorts of times and depending on the course of the day most of us can venture up and down the feeling scale with some highs and lows along the way.

Two of the children I consult with recently went to see the movie “Inside Out” ( The film is a wonderful tool to help children understands their feeling. The film’s producers consulted numerous psychologists, who helped the film makers show that human emotions are mirrored in interpersonal relationships and can be significantly moderated by them.

When supporting students with ASD, we often refer to the importance of “self-regulation” and social cognition. Feelings and self-regulation go hand in hand. Self-regulation is knowing how adjust your internal engine to match your activity and surroundings. It has to do with how we positively deal with stress and situations that may make us anxious and therefore is closely linked to social cognition. Sometimes we need the extra get-up-and-go and other times we need lay-down-and-dream-of-butterflies. Social cognition is the ability to think about the social world and accordingly to act upon the information you gather and to accordingly self-regulate.

Yoga is one of my self-regulation tools and I share it with the children and teachers I work with. Regardless of the style after every class I feel better. What always amazes me is how quickly we move up and down the feeling scale. I can leave the class with a smile on my face and a spring in my step but then all it can take is an email and I can feel myself slip down that scale and that is when I have to catch myself.

Children with ASD sometimes have difficulty reading the non verbal clues to be able to figure out what another person is thinking and/or feeling. This is an area that is very commonly addressed in therapy. We have thousands of thoughts a day and those thoughts can and do affect how we feel. But how well do we monitor and observe our thoughts?

We know it’s important to teach children with ASD to self-regulate, to identify how they are feeling and accordingly to make changes, that help them feel better. BUT now here is the question, we TEACH this but how good are we at really identifying how we are feeling? Do we MODEL this? How often do we stop and allow ourselves the time to identify how our bodies feel, how our breath may have changed, what our faces are doing. Sometimes we teach what we need to learn!

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