Regulate, Tolerate and Resolve
Holmewood’s Head of Upper School, Ms Bridget Young, discusses how best to help autistic young people handle disagreements…
It is so heartwarming to see Holmewood students making and keeping friends, some of them for the first time. However, misunderstandings and altercations can arise. We keep wondering whether these disagreements occur as a result of their autism or whether these are typical teenage dramas. It’s challenging to know exactly when to intervene and when to give our young people space to sort things out themselves, when to ‘pick our battles’.
In his book Best Friends, Worst Enemies - Understanding the Social Lives of Children, Michael Thompson PhD describes young people as wanting three things in life - connection, recognition and power. If you accept that all people are driven by these three needs, then it isn’t not a far reach to see why conflict may arise in social relationships. Because young people may be in the grip of different needs at different moments, it is a delicate balance. Without regulation of the need for power and recognition, feelings can get hurt or people can become targets. A lot of the time a friendship will last (or not) merely on the capacity for each friend to tolerate the needs of the other and to resolve differences.
Regulate, tolerate and resolve; herein lies the answer to our conundrum.
Our students have needs that are additional to the need for connection, recognition and power. Sometimes these needs are subtle, but they are significant. Our young people require support in regulating their feelings and emotions, they need to build on their capacity for tolerance and they require explicit teaching around conflict resolution.
It is for this reason that we should intervene in some of the challenging social situations our students face. However this intervention should only ever be to help them understand how to regulate and communicate better. This is the philosophy behind interventions such as the Social Thinking Framework and Restorative Justice; ensuring our young people have the tools to communicate their needs, as well as the capacity to resolve conflict positively.
In other words, we should not be fighting their battles for them but rather supporting and explicitly teaching them to fight for themselves.
Ms B Young
Head of Upper school