Heather MacKenzie, Ph.D., is a Canadian speech-language pathologist and educator who has spent a large part of her career developing and implementing approaches for enhancing learning in children with special needs. She has a special interest in understanding autism spectrum disorders (ASD). A major focus of her work with children has been on understanding them and how they approach learning and then using this knowledge to optimize their development. She has developed the Learning Preferences and Strengths (LPS) model and a program to teach behavioural, cognitive and emotional self-regulation to children with special needs. Heather has published three books Reaching and Teaching the Child with Autism Spectrum Disorder, One Story at a Time and The Autistic Child’s Guide to How to Behave.
Self-regulation is the ability to consciously control your body, thinking and emotions in healthy and situationally-appropriate ways. Self-regulation establishes a foundation for learning (Kloo & Perner, 2008) such that children can more readily translate their thinking, ideas and intentions into actions and demonstrations of learning.
Autism includes delays as well as significant dysregulation of behavior, thinking and emotions. Social behavior and communication skills require self-regulation to ensure the necessary flexibility and finesse. The child with autism does not easily adjust to different people and situations. He becomes over-focused or stuck on some words, phrases, movements, routines and objects or topics and cannot readily move on. He has difficulty stopping himself from doing and thinking about some things and in planning and organizing different ways of dealing with the world and people around him. He has difficulty inhibiting some thoughts or actions, monitoring changes and then adjusting according to those changes. Few children and adults with autism develop high levels of independence and self-regulation for learning and functioning in day to day life (MacDuff, Krantz & McClannahan, 1993; Stahmer & Screibman, 1992; Dunlap & Johnson, 1985).
Well-developed self-regulation skills can have a positive impact on academic performance (Martin, Mithaug, et al., 2003) and participation in school (Gilberts, Agram, et al., 2001). Children with disabilities who develop stronger self-regulation also become more independent (Sowers & Powers, 1995), exhibit more goal-oriented behavior (Wehmeyer, Palmer, et al., 2000) and greater self-confidence (Eisenman, Chamberlin, et al., 2005). They transition more successfully after graduating from school (Test, Fowler, et al., 2005), are more likely to complete post-secondary education (Field, Sarver & Shaw, 2003) and hold onto a job more easily (Wehmeyer & Palmer, 2003).
In this presentation, I will define self-regulation and describe five main executive functions: planning and organization, inhibitory control, working memory, self-monitoring and cognitive flexibility. Participants will learn an interactive process that is critical to encouraging greater autonomy, how to structure a program for developing self-regulation, as well as practical strategies for integrating it into therapy sessions, classroom activities and daily life. The approach described in this session incorporates philosophy and methods from positive psychology, mindfulness, current neurological research, and autistic strengths and preferences. Results of research using this approach will be reported.