Frustration, Anxiety and Dysregulation

I have to tell you that no matter when you think you have every issue solved or every issue under control, Satan’s’ legion rears its ugly head and takes you on a tailspin, whirlwind dive head first into the eddy of “crap not again.” No it’s not so much that it’s something new, even though we do deal with new issues all the time, but t’s the overarching issue of helping the boys deal with the emotional output and stimuli that assaults them every day. I truly don’t know what causes it. I don’t even know if any professional really knows either. We just know that it happens and when it happens it is oh not so much fun. I am talking about emotional dysregulation.

This is the when your child is so overcome by his own emotional responses that he is unable to control himself. There can be tantrums. There can be meltdowns. There can be physical damage to things and physically attacked persons. There can be inappropriate social interactions and inappropriate school interactions at these times as well. Now I can’t speak for every parent or person. But I do know what happens with the boys when they get overwhelmed.

HSB has trouble channeling his frustrations. He does not know what to do when he is disappointed in himself. He doesn’t know what to do when he is afraid we will be disappointed in him. He doesn’t know what to do when he feels overwhelmed in school. He doesn’t know what to do when he catastrophizes over an assignment. He doesn’t know what to do when he needs time to chill during the day when he is overwhelmed. HSB needs help understanding himself and he needs someone to cue him on how to help himself.

I actually just came from a meeting at the highschool where we put our heads together on how to help him learn to self-advocate in this situation. Part of the problem for HSB is that he doesn’t recognize when he is getting overwhelmed. I think it is the aspergers part of his world. He has trouble reading other people’s emotions, so why shouldn’t he have trouble reading his own. Needless to say, adolescence is not the easiest time of life to begin with. The hormones are raging and the pressure especially in that junior year of high school is enormous, or maybe it’s just where we live. But the kids are so hyped up about grades, and college boards and college visits. I mean never mind the juniors, a lot of seniors still have not heard from their first choice school, you could cut the anxiety in the school with a knife. It’s palpable; you feel it the moment you walk in.

So this is the atmosphere that HSB enters every day. He has his own anxieties from having a hard academic year, from losing his best friend, from knowing that a major change is coming and not really knowing what to expect or where he will end up. Then he is confronted with everyone else’s world and auras and teenaged telepathic angst. There is a new theory about persons with autism that refutes the age old nonsense that persons on the spectrum cannot feel emotion. In fact the new theory, the one I and every other mother of an autistic person will attest to, is that they feel too much. That they feel so much in fact but have no way to process the emotions because their synapses are damaged. So in fact as HSB tries to make sense of his world, he is also trying to assimilate everyone else’s world too.

Frustration sets in and he ratchets up the emotions. When HSB was little we read some wonderful books that taught us how to handle his dysregulation and how to help him: The Out of Sync Child and The Explosive Child. But the one problem that always remained was how to get HSB to help himself. Today in my meeting we talked about how important it is for HSB to understand himself. To start to rely on his own understanding of how his body cues itself, in order to know what self-help techniques to employ. Now this is where the para comes in. She is going to have to know what to look for and calmly let him know that he should be dealing with the issues. That he has several options he can employ.

Leaving the situation. It is very important that HSB or any child when they are overwhelmed be able to extricate themselves from the situation causing the stress. He can go out into the hall. Take a walk around the school. HSB used to actually leave the class room and sit in the boy’s bathroom for 20 minutes until someone came and got him. He didn’t know that this was his self-help tool. Unfortunately he couldn’t be allowed to continue sitting in the bathroom. An alternate quiet area had to be suggested. None of which he wanted. I am going to suggest the nurse’s office where he can lay down and be quiet if he needs to.

Tell the person you are talking to that he needs a break. Another issue that HSB has is that he feels overwhelmed very quickly by work. Whether justified or not. When he gets that way, he needs to be able to say to the person/para/teacher that he needs to take a step back and regroup. That he needs a few minutes to process everything that he is being told. Sometimes he cannot do the task they are asking him to do at that moment, and he needs to request doing the task later.

Write the frustrations down on a piece of paper. Sometimes being able to write your questions down as you think of them, instead of trying to remember them until it’s time to talk to the teacher is very helpful. The act of trying to remember for HSB is very painful. He instead tends to blurt out his question at inappropriate times. Or he spends so much energy remembering the question that he misses the rest of the lecture. This has not been happening lately, but we will reemphasize this tool as he gets closer to finals.

But before he gets to the techniques, he does need to understand how he feels. He needs to learn to use words to describe how he is feeling. The truth is I think as with all persons with emotional dysregulation, when they are in that moment they are in the moment and it is already too late. The trick is to catch them and help them catch themselves as they start to come to the apex of the moment.

But I guess that is the elephant in the room. Just how do you do that? How do you get a person who has emotional recognition issues to recognize their own emotions and what it is doing to them? The way I see that it has to be accomplished is how everything is done in teaching these children-on a moment by moment basis. Each situation must be examined and the tools employed. You cannot assume that they will be able to transfer the lessons from one situation to the other. They can’t with other social skills, so it will be no different with teaching them how to recognize when they are having terribly anxious moments.

You might wonder, well what have they been doing for 16 years with this kid? Truthfully we have been supporting HSB just how I described in this post. But with every turn of seasons a new challenge emerges, and you are faced with an old nemesis albeit wrapped up in shiny new gift wrap. It’s no present by any means. It  means it’s time to tweek the program. It means it’s times to get back to work.


Until next time,




About Elise "Ronan"

#JeSuisJuif #RenegadeJew... Life-hacks, book reviews, essayist...
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5 Responses to Frustration, Anxiety and Dysregulation

  1. Coreen says:

    Oh Elise, I so know what you are talking about! You wrote such an accurate, unfortunately, post on this. My son did \’finally\’ get better or at least less frequent situations. I am praying for your son and you so much!!!! Love you, Elise! You\’re an inspiration to so many of us!!!

  2. J. says:

    Right there with ya. Son2 carries 3×5 cards in his wallet with lists of emotion words, each of which has an escape hatch he can use to break the escalation cycle and triggers that set it off. We got this system last year, and the para would ask quietly "how do you feel"when she saw the signs (clenched fists,tight jaw,etc.) and this year we have him recognizing the physical manifestation of overwhelmed. But there will be a new challenge, because every year brings new triggers. Blessings to you and HSB.

  3. susiestuff says:

    I love your posts! They always hit home and make me think. The very first step I ever took in helping B was going to hear a speaker on emotional regulation when he was in 1st grade. It was the catalyst for everything..well the trip to Disney that B RUINED, was the real catalyst. I ended up taking B to a dr. in the practice where the speaker was from. We worked on this one issue for a LOOOOONG time- emotional (dis)regulation. We have a social story and checklist for so many situations..recently we made flowcharts ( I liked Sheldon\’s use of them for friendship). I think you are right with your suggestions. Leaving the situation. As we all know it only gets WORSE if they remain or if we try to reason. With us that helps. We have many other tactics–depending on the situation,(but like you said, will they transfer from one situation to another? doubt it) .You are right on about self advocacy being so important. This is something we too ( @ 11) are working on. At school, they were having B log the triggers, but they thought it was too much focusing on the negative, so they stopped. I would say recognizing it going to happen, take a cool off break ( we TOO are having trouble finding a good spot @ school to do this) and visit later..maybe role play? revist old social stories? I know your son in in HS, so he is in a diff place than mine. Mine is 11, but even younger emotionally..he still likes his social stories. Bottom line- you have a good support system set up and are doing so much to help him always. Are there any calming sensory items? A song, a smooth rock? B has a box of "fidgets" in his desk. I do know that when they go to that PLACE though, nothing helps in that moment.NOTHING. Maybe the sunshine will help his\’s coming..we got some today.

  4. Sam says:

    Thankyou from Australia! It’s like reading our life but with my daughter which is even harder to register socially! It has given me thought and insight into further investigation…. Onwards and upwards as they say, fighting for our children! Bo x

  5. Lisa Roebuck says:

    Thank you so much for this post. I have an 8-year-old son with an autistic spectrum disorder, and emotional dysregulation issues. I found your post from a google search and it’s just what I needed today. This is exactly how I feel; every year, a new head pops up on the same old monster. I spent the day at home with him yesterday because he got suspended for punching a classmate on Friday at recess; he tried to walk away, but the student persisted. He’s so frustrated; he has so few friends due to his emotional outbursts, etc., and he hates school, it’s so unmanageable for him some days. I worry about how we’ll ever manage to make it through elementary, let alone middle and high school! Your post gave me hope, and I needed it today. Thank you so much for putting this out there for the rest of us. Sometimes we just need to know we’re not alone! Oh, and thanks for the book recommendations; I bought them on the spot from Amazon after reading your post. Bless you and your family.

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