Empowering Independence through Self-Regulation

Jack Hans

Jack Hans

Intervention Specialist

Brooklyn City School District

A vital goal of every special educator is to promote independence in their unique learners. Often the first instinct when seeing a student lose control is to provide one-on-one calming support. This response can lead to the student using negative behaviors in the future to get the attention and help of adults around them and, ultimately, can result in children and adults with disabilities who are not able to solve problems and calm down independently. Addressing this issue through teaching self-regulation is a step towards developing independence. Use these two evidence-based strategies and watch your students begin to regulate their own behavior.

Breathing Strategies

When a unique learner gets overwhelmed and loses control of their emotions, it often takes one or two adults to help them calm down and get back on track in the classroom. Teaching that student to use strategies to calm down independently will not only help them stay in control and get back to learning on their own—it will provide a valuable life skill. Deep breathing has a calming effect and when done correctly will help students destress and regain control of their actions. With all evidence-based strategies it is important to first teach the strategy to students when they are calm and ready to learn. Additionally, make sure to use a visual aide to show students when to inhale and when to exhale and how many breaths to take.

Built into n2y’s Positivity solution is a visual breathing strategy that can be triggered by the teacher to an individual student’s tablet or laptop, prompting the student to begin taking deep breaths. When a student’s behavior starts to escalate, the teacher simply selects the breathing strategy and a visual heart will appear on their screen, guiding and pacing their deep breaths to help them de-escalate.

Break Cards

Sitting and focusing on learning for an extended period of time is often difficult for students with unique needs. Couple that with communication difficulties and you have a recipe for extreme frustration when a student needs a break from the learning environment and has no way of appropriately telling you. Providing your students with a break card can give them the proper avenue for escaping the learning environment in a safe, effective manner.

Positivity gives you the power to determine how many breaks are needed and how long each break will be throughout the school day. Once the breaks have been pre-assigned, students have the power to select them as needed, which helps build their ability to self-regulate. When a student needs a break, they simply touch or select the break card shown on their personal device. A visual will pop up on their screen and the teacher is informed that the student has appropriately requested a break. When their time is up, the visual prompts them to return to their seat and begin working again. As with all evidence-based strategies, make sure to teach the routine first in a calm environment before expecting students to try it independently.

A special educator knows that the classroom can go from calm to chaos in a matter of minutes. One student’s actions can set off a chain reaction, which can quickly spin the learning environment out of the teacher’s control. While many unique learners exhibit behaviors that are seen as outside the norm, the solution might be simpler than you think. Teach these two calming strategies to your students and use Positivity to empower students to respond appropriately, using self-regulation to get themselves back in control of their learning.

About the Author

Jack Hans has over 10 years of experience working with students of all ages and abilities as an ABA therapist, teacher and supervisor. He currently works as an intervention specialist, focusing on working with students who have intellectual and developmental disabilities, with an emphasis on including students with disabilities throughout the school environment. He earned a Master of Education degree from Cleveland State University.