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By Chantelle D. Hyde

Lead Canadian Volunteer – Alliance Against Seclusion and Restraint

This past Labour Day weekend, we decided to get our brand new camper out of the path of a possible hurricane, and went camping near some friends. With three autistic children in the mix, this was new territory for us all. 

I’ve had the pleasure of loving my friend’s two autistic boys, now 10 and 13, since they were two and five. I’ve also had the heartbreaking experience of watching systems fail them time and again, resulting in severe restraints in school for her 10 year-old, who we will call Ben. If only the adults who worked with them understood, Dr. Stuart Shanker’s idea, “See a child differently, see a different child.”

Our camping trip also coincided with the end of the first modules of my Self-Reg Foundations Certificate Program, so it was incredibly interesting to put my Self-Reg “lenses” on. That we were able to easily turn a potentially catastrophic situation around into some beautiful moments of love and connection as a result of doing Self-Reg, was really inspiring.  

My husband lit a perfect campfire, I grabbed the marshmallows, and set my daughter’s musical instruments out to play some music around the campfire. After an hour or so of playing music and eating too many marshmallows, Ben started asking what else there was to do. Understanding through my Self-Reg course that boredom is a real stressor, we gave him campground options. But instead Ben marched to the door of their car, arms crossed, frustrated and ready to leave. 

Past experience told me that the next push would put Ben in a state of allostatic overload. Fight or flight responses could lead to the entire campground looking for him in the dark, by the river. I motioned toward our camper, asking my friend for permission to support him in another way, without them all having to leave.

With a little wink from me, Ben followed me to the camper. A healthy snack, some cozy blankets, and “Finding Nemo” created the scaffolding of support that he needed in the moment. I whispered “I love you”. First he giggled, then whispered “I love you too”. I knew he was okay then, rejoining everyone by the campfire on my own so that he could enjoy his little haven for a while. 

Only 17 minutes later, Ben returned to the campfire, a relaxed smile on his face. He then connected with my minimally-speaking daughter like they used to when they were all little. It was beautiful. He co-regulated with her at a point when she would normally have been finished herself. My friend says Ben is still so proud of their connection, and talks about it often. 

Self-Reg is an important part of our journey. It certainly has helped me to understand these beautiful children in my life, and it has even helped me to understand myself better. I can’t wait to see where the rest of my Self-Reg Foundations Certificate Program leads. It’s been amazing so far!

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