All of us – especially our children – learn to cope with new or challenging behaviors most effectively when we are in our comfort zone—a state of mind when we are adaptable and open to learning, allowing us to explore frustrations and try out new tasks in a positive way.
Autistic children have a challenge to overcome what others take for granted: their “zone” is much narrower, due to their sensitivity to stimuli. “Children with Autism are generally much more sensitive that any interruption or incoming stimuli is so powerful, they have a difficult time adapting to the changes,” said Allison Cooley, an occupational therapist at Amber Hill Physical Therapy’s pediatric clinic.
It is the job of occupational therapists like the trained staff members at Amber Hill to communicate with your child to understand the ideal way to keep him or her in the zone, so that you as parents and teachers can effectively teach and coach your child.
When children are in their zone, they can face challenges without being pushed into maladaptive behaviors, such as hitting oneself on the head, rocking, and vocalizing. Any new task or difficulty can quickly cause the anxiety that pushes your child outside the zone, where these behaviors occur.
Actually, most children with autism spend much of their time simply trying to move into, or remain in the zone. This causes children with autism to “spin wheels” as they are caught in a cycle of self-stimulatory behaviors. This is because pre-occupation with finding their comfort zone takes time and energy away from the tasks they are trying to learn and perform, such as shoe-tying and tooth-brushing.
Work with your occupational therapist to find and nurture your child’s zone. On Amber Hill’s website, you can find out more about the pediatric OT program at http://www.amberhillpt.com/documents/PediatricsFlyerAll2010.pdf.
With expert observation and behavior repetitions, you and your child’s therapist can find that “sweet spot” that allows your child to focus on growing and learning!