Autism: How an individual’s sense of safety can affect progression

I recently did a training for the staff I work with about Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. It got me thinking a lot about the second level of the pyramid, which is safety. In order to continue up the pyramid to relationships, achievement, and self-actialization there is this need to feel and be safe.
If that safety is missing, it can be so hard to reach our potential because we fall into survival mode and oftentimes react in a way that might be defensive rather than moving forward towards our potential. We are just trying not to go backwards because of fear rather than confidently moving towards our goals and dreams.
I’ve been there, and it wasn’t a very happy place for me. So how does this relate to the kiddos that we work with? Everything. It’s important that we create an environment that is not only physically safe, but also emotionally safe. A place where it’s ok to fall because you know that someone will be there to encourage you and cheer you on to keep going.
Temple Grandin is an incredible woman, who has helped the world understand autism on a different level. She is a scholar and a woman of success, and she knows what it’s like first hand to have autism. At one conference I attended, she talked about how her amygdala (fear center) is four times larger than the average person. This has stuck out to me since I heard her say that. So building an environment of safety takes on even greater meaning. Being safe is one thing, but feeling safe can be on a completely different level.
Just a few things we can do to help kids feel safe is to build a routine that is predictable. Picture schedules can be a great way to communicate the schedule. Priming can help prepare for upcoming transitions. Having boundaries is really important. When the boundaries keep changing, it can be difficult for a child to be able predict what is going to happen. Being aware of sensory overload and how to cope with that is also important when considering the environment. There are so many things to consider, more than I am going to write in this post. Little by little you can get there, don’t feel overwhelmed with all you feel needs to be done. Just take it one step at a time. Little by little as the child progresses, less supports will be required as you see them move through different stages.

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