Why does spark* work on resilience?

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In spark*, spark*EL and Self-Regulation in Everyday Life, after working on awareness of ability and awareness of need, we help build the children’s resilience in using the skills and strategies. This is one of the unique features of the spark* model.

Resilience is a process where children adapt positively to challenges to their attention and learning. They learn to withstand and recover from distractions, disruptions, and temptations. They adjust to these in positive ways (for example, not melting down) and they don’t let things get to them.

Photo by Ben White on Unsplash

When starting work on resilience, always start in a position of trust with children. That is, they know us and trust that they are safe with us. We then systematically introduce things that might tempt them (like a favorite activity or interest) or distract them (like a noise). This should be done in a playful way so that children feel like superheros of their own brains.

With our support and by modeling a ways to deal with disruptions, children learn “I can do it even when ….”. They continue on with an activity, thought or intention, regardless of what is going on around them.

Most of the executive functions are needed for the resilience stage. Inhibitory control is strongly challenged with the children’s having to stay the course regardless of what happens. They must learn to resist temptations and not just slip into old familiar behavior patterns. They need to rely on their own planning and organization, working memory, and self-monitoring to stay on track. Cognitive flexibility is challenged but, with our support, they learn how to flow with challenges.

Typical advice for parents, teachers and therapists dealing with children with autism is to structure the environment and tasks, ensure a calm and quiet setting, and more. At some point, however, we need to help the children develop resilience in dealing with less structure, less-than-ideal settings, other people’s motivations and interests, and distractions. This is what they’ll encounter in real life and that’s why we work on resilience in spark*.

Becoming resilient means that the child can continue his/her path toward a goal and isn’t deterred by disorganization, interruptions, distractions, or the obstacles that are likely to occur in everyday life.


When is it SELF-regulation?

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Often adults end up playing too big a role in children’s self-regulation. They act as the children’s frontal lobes and unknowingly regulate him by prompting and staying close to him.

One study found that education assistants spend 86% of each day within three feet of their assigned students (1) – hardly helpful for developing self-regulation in children.

The ‘self’ part of self-regulation happens after children become aware that they can control their bodies, thinking and emotions, learns skills and strategies for doing that, and have opportunities to practice them. This means teaching children step by step and removing yourself so they can make their own decisions. That’s definitively easier said than done. It comes after careful teaching and practicing.

We believe strongly that you don’t ‘just throw children into water and hope they can swim’. We need to work on helping each child through four main steps:

  1. Ability – “I Can Do It” – children learn they’re able to use the strategies
  2. Need – “I Need To Do It Here and Here” – children are helped to figure out when and where they should use the strategies
  3. Resilience – “I Can Do It Even When …” – we need to help build their resilience so they can cope in challenging situations and still use their strategies
  4. Self-advocacy – “I Can Help Myself By …” –  we need to teach children to advocate for themselves so, if something becomes too challenging, they have ways help themselves (other than melting down).

By working on executive functions, we help bring each child’s knowledge and intentions into action. The child becomes a master of his own frontal lobes and executive functions.

(1) Giangreco, M. F., & Broer, S. M. (2005). Questionable Utilization of Paraprofessionals in Inclusive Schools: Are We Addressing Symptoms or Causes? Focus Autism Other Dev Disablilities, 20, 10–26.