Behavioralists believe that exposing children to overwhelming stimuli repeatedly can help increase their tolerance and regulation around the trigger. However, this approach can actually be counterproductive and may teach children to suppress their emotions rather than regulate them. This is because the behaviorist approach focuses on changing behavior through conditioning, rather than addressing the underlying emotional and neurological factors that contribute to dysregulation.
On the other hand, neurodiversity-affirming supporters understand that exposure to overwhelming stimuli can cause actual harm to a child's developing brain and nervous system. They believe that every child's sensory experience is unique and that it is important to provide individualized support and guidance in regulating their emotions. Effective strategies include identifying and avoiding triggers whenever possible, providing calming activities and sensory experiences, and teaching specific coping skills for managing emotions.
Therefore, it is important to take an individualized approach to supporting children with sensory dysregulation. Exposing individuals to potentially harmful stimuli in an attempt to increase tolerance and the overt signs of dysregulation is invalidating to neurodivergent individuals. Learning sensory triggers, dysregulating stimuli, and regulating stimuli is the foundational work that when combined with a support personnel (e.g., parents, teachers, etc) providing support, co-regulation, and self-regulation is affirming of the individual’s neurotype. This approach will promote healthy brain development and long-term well-being.
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