Impulse Control: SOS Strategy

Julie was having a hard day. Her brother ate all of her favorite cereal at breakfast, a new girl sat in her seat on the bus, and there was a substitute teacher in her class. During reading, she had a hard time sitting still and the substitute would not let her take a break in the book nook. Things were a little better during recess because she had some time alone to walk around the field.

Everything fell apart at lunch. On the way to the cafeteria, she was bumped in line and almost fell. Then, because her sixth- grade class was last, the cafeteria was out of chicken nuggets. When the overhead light began to flicker near her lunch table, her head started to throb and she felt very anxious. She jumped up from her seat, started to hum, and paced around the table.

Ms. Smith, the class assistant walked over, handed her the SOS Strategy Card and said, “It’s Ok to take a break.” She went outside, put on her sun glasses and headphones and walked around for ten minutes before she ate her lunch. Later, she and Ms. Smith talked about her day and named all of the things that had caused her to feel anxious and out of control. They also talked about how she had used the SOS Strategy Card to step out of the cafeteria, and use her sunglasses and headphones to self-regulate.   

Students can often feel anxious and out of control when they are faced with changes in their routine or with negative sensory stimuli in their environment. This can cause a lack of impulse control triggering serious behaviors that may bring unwanted attention and negative consequences.   

Impulse control is a critical executive function skill that for many students with autism can tip the balance between success and failure in both academic and social situations.

There are many situational and environmental factors that can negatively affect a student’s impulse control including changes in the schedule or daily routine, and sensory stimuli such as sounds, smells, and intense visual stimuli.  For Julie, understanding how to gain and maintain her impulse control will help her adapt to difficult or changing situations and environments at home and in school.

Using the SOS Strategy (Step Out & Self-Regulate) will give students like Julie a set of steps to identify the problem, leave the situation for a safe place, and proactively use a tool such as headphones, a weighted blanket, or time with an adult to regain self-regulation. The SOS Strategy prompts the student to identify when she begins to feel anxious and then to leave the situation, going to a safe place where she can self-regulate.

The goal is for the student to be an active participant in maintaining her self-regulation in order to function successfully in challenging situations and environments.

For more information visit AAPC Publishing.

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