Emotional Intelligence in ASD: Building Self-Regulation and Social Skills

David, a thoughtful and kind 32-year-old man, navigates the world with a unique perspective. Diagnosed with ASD as a child, he experiences emotions intensely and sometimes struggles to understand the social cues that come naturally to others. This can make everyday situations, from ordering coffee to attending work meetings, feel overwhelming. 

David thrives on routine. His apartment is always in order, with his favourite books and model trains meticulously arranged. He excels at his data entry job, appreciating the predictability and clear instructions. Social interactions, however, are a different story. Company outings leave him feeling drained, deciphering the unspoken rules of conversation proving to be much more complicated. Added to that, the overwhelming sensation of being in a crowded place or going to the beach is also a struggle for him.

David longs for deeper connections. He watches movies filled with heartwarming friendships, yearning to share similar experiences. However, initiating conversations or understanding subtle social cues can be a barrier. Dating feels like trying to speak a new language, leaving him frustrated and discouraged.

So What is Autism Spectrum Disorder

Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) is a neurodivergence when the individual finds it very difficult to cope with sensory overload, such as the flickering of lights or the bright yellow colour taxi. When children are in their infant stage, almost all of them find it hard to handle too much sensory overload, which is why they seem to cry over minor inconveniences, but when this behaviour carries on even when they are older is when you know it could be a sign of Autism Spectrum Disorder. These individuals also find it difficult to understand social cues and may also be commonly labelled as a “loner”. 

David has all these symptoms, and he is aware of his condition. Yet, he finds it hard to navigate through life. He has accepted that vibrant colours are going to make him feel overwhelmed, and going to a park with grass on the pathway will be something he would never enjoy. But is there no way for David to enjoy the mundane yet profound experiences in life? 

Can he not gain better emotional intelligence, a better understanding of social cues, and, most importantly, self-regulation? In this article, we will see the connection between Emotional Intelligence and Autistic Spectrum Disorder. We will also see ways where individuals can better navigate their emotions and how the Tomatis® Method can flourish in their pursuit of emotional self-regulation and building social connections. 

This article explores the connection between Emotional Intelligence and ASD, delves into strategies for building self-regulation and social skills, and introduces the Tomatis® Method as a potential tool to support this growth.

If your child presents signs of ASD, claim your 20 minutes FREE consultation valued at $125 with our expert

Understanding Emotional Intelligence in ASD

Emotional intelligence (EI), the capability to understand and manage one’s own emotions, as well as recognise and respond to the emotions of others, plays a crucial role in navigating social complexities. 

While individuals with ASD may exhibit differences in emotional processing, the good news is that Emotional Intelligence can be developed and strengthened.

Emotional intelligence for ASD includes:

  • Self-awareness: Identifying one’s own emotions and their triggers.
  • Self-regulation: Managing emotions in a healthy way.
  • Motivation: Setting goals and maintaining focus.
  • Empathy: Identifying and understanding the emotions of others.
  • Social skills: Building and maintaining positive relationships.

Individuals with ASD may experience difficulties in these areas. Sensory sensitivities, for example, can lead to emotional overload and meltdowns. Difficulty with social cues can make it challenging to understand the emotional states of others. However, it’s important to remember that ASD exists on a spectrum, and individuals will have varying strengths and weaknesses in emotional intelligence.

How to Build Self-Regulation for Individuals with ASD

Self-regulation or emotional regulation is the most crucial aspect of emotional intelligence. It helps people manage or, in some way, control their emotions effectively, preventing them from interfering with daily life and social interactions. Here are some strategies that can support self-regulation in ASD:

  • Identifying Triggers: Working with therapists or specialists to identify situations, sensory inputs, or social cues that trigger strong emotions.
  • Calming Techniques: Develop a toolbox of calming techniques, which includes but is not limited to deep breathing exercises, mindfulness practices, or listening to preferred music to manage emotional prompts.
  • Incorporate Predictable Routines: Creating predictable routines and providing visual schedules can help reduce anxiety and emotional outbursts caused by unexpected changes.
  • Sensory Integration Activities: Exploring sensory integration activities like occupational therapy can help manage sensory sensitivities that contribute to emotional dysregulation.
  • Have a Comfort Item With You: If you have ASD, carrying a comfort item can be very helpful in self-regulation. Have more than one comfort item and take them with you in socially overwhelming situations.
  • Movement Breaks and grounding: Schedule regular movement breaks throughout the day. Physical activity is a great way to release energy, reduce stress, and improve focus.Think about grounding activities planned regularly. 
  • Positive Reinforcement:  Acknowledge your efforts at self-regulation. Positive reinforcement motivates individuals to continue using their coping mechanisms therefore, talk in the tone of a best friend or cheerleader in your mind whenever you accomplish something that was hard for you, and most importantly be kind to yourself if you are unable to reach your expectations.
  • Be Around People You Love: Since it is difficult for a neurotypical brain to understand you, it is even more important for you to be around people who love and understand you so that you feel more comfortable and confident. This will pave the foundation for building real connections and bonds with people outside of your close-knit group.

How to Develop Social Skills for Individuals with ASD

With a foundation in self-regulation, individuals with ASD can begin to develop stronger social skills. Here are some strategies to consider:

  • Social Skills Training: Engaging in social skills training programs that provide explicit instruction on identifying facial expressions, understanding body language, and navigating social interactions.
  • Role-Playing: Practising social scenarios through role-playing can help individuals with ASD learn appropriate responses and communication strategies.
  • Social Groups: Participating in supervised social groups can provide opportunities to practise social skills in a safe and supportive environment as long as they are based on understanding and acceptance.
  • Technology-Assisted Communication: Utilising technology tools for non-verbal people  like picture exchange communication systems (PECS) or assistive writing. There are also many social networking apps designed for individuals with ASD that can facilitate communication and build social connections.
  • Work on Your Self-Confidence: While people with neurotypical brains may tell you the key to self-confidence is to fake it until you make it, this is not the case for everyone. The best way for you to gain confidence is by being more able to self-regulate your emotions and have a more positive inner dialogue. Working on yourself is the biggest weapon in your arsenal when it comes to gaining real confidence. The second is being your own best friend.

If your child presents signs of ASD, claim your 20 minutes FREE consultation valued at $125 with our expert

How can The Tomatis® Method Be A Potential Supportive Tool for ASD?

The Tomatis® Method is an auditory stimulation intervention that can improve listening skills, attention, and emotional processing. Many studies suggest it may contribute to a calming effect and improved emotional regulation.

The Tomatis® Method involves using a specific electronic device to filter and modify sound frequencies delivered through special headphones. The filtered sounds are thought to stimulate the auditory system and enhance its processing abilities.

Coming back to David

David’s friend, Sarah, was with him throughout his struggles and was the one who suggested he apply for a data entry job as that would suit him best and help him gain independence. She also suggested he seek a therapist. He had tried doing breathing exercises and moving his body as a way to manage his emotions, but they seemed to give temporary relief.

Exploring New Possibilities in the form of The Tomatis® Method

Recently, Sarah suggested exploring the Tomatis® Method, an auditory stimulation intervention that some find helpful with emotional regulation. David, ever open to new possibilities, decided to give it a try. He was introduced to Francoise Nicoloff, our Psychologist specialising in the Tomatis® Method. He explained to her his daily struggles, how socialising is hard for him, how he is working on his emotional regulation, and how it is difficult to navigate through the challenges every day.

David was initially sceptical about the Tomatis® Method. Francoise assured him that he would come out of the tunnel feeling like a new person, a better version of himself. Sitting with headphones filtering out specific sounds felt odd, almost isolating. However, Francoise further assured him that some people find it helpful for emotional regulation due to the fact that the ear is highly connected to the brain and also to the vagus nerve which is related to regulate emotions. Intrigued by the possibility of feeling calmer, David decided to give it a try.

Session By Session

The first intensive  was an adjustment. The filtered music felt disorienting, and David found himself focusing on the altered sounds rather than relaxing. But Francoise encouraged him to persevere. By the mid of the first intensive, a subtle shift began. The filtered sounds seemed less jarring, and David noticed a sense of calm settle over him. He felt more focused during the listening session and less overwhelmed by the outside’s background noise.

The most significant change came during the third session. As the filtered music played, David felt a familiar surge of anxiety related to an upcoming work presentation. However, this time, it was different. He was able to utilise the deep breathing techniques he’d learned in therapy, and the anxiety subsided more quickly than usua because the parasympathique system (vagus nerve) was stimulated to appease David’s emotional statel. He even surprised himself by feeling a flicker of excitement about the presentation, a feeling he rarely associated with public speaking.

After the session ended, David confided in Francoise about his experience. He expressed surprise at how quickly he felt a difference. Francoise explained that the Tomatis® Method aims to improve auditory processing by activating the vagus nerve, which is responsible for regulating heartbeat, balancing the nervous system, communication between the brain and the gut, blood pressure and much more, which can, in turn, impact emotional regulation.  

She cautioned that three series of intensive sessions wouldn’t be a cure-all, but David was encouraged. He felt a newfound sense of control over his emotions and a glimmer of hope for navigating social situations with more confidence. He was eager to see what further sessions might bring.

Soon, he started to notice a shift. He felt calmer throughout the day, less overwhelmed by noisy environments, and even found himself initiating short conversations with colleagues. Just after a few weeks of the Tomatis neurosensory programs, he went to a park with his new friends, walked barefoot on the grass that was slightly wet. It felt thrilling and exciting to him for the first time in his life. He didn’t wince or had a rush of heavy emotional response in his brain, instead he felt elated and disbelief.

A Work in Progress

David’s journey is ongoing. There are still days filled with frustration and social awkwardness. Yet, armed with self-regulation techniques, social skills training, and a newfound sense of calm from the Tomatis® Method, he feels empowered to navigate the complexities of social interaction.

Slowly but surely, David is building bridges of connection, one conversation at a time. His story serves as a reminder that with support, understanding, and a willingness to explore different tools, individuals with ASD can thrive and forge meaningful connections in the world.

Are you Considering the Tomatis® Method?

If you’re interested in learning more about the Tomatis® Method and its potential benefits for individuals with ASD, it’s crucial to consult with our Psychologist, Francoise Nicoloff. We offer a 20-minute free session to determine how the Tomatis® Method can be a valuable addition to your toolbox for managing ASD symptoms. By trusting the Tomatis® Method, individuals with ASD can build the skills they need to navigate the complexities of social interactions and achieve a greater sense of well-being. Click here to know more about how we can help you.

Françoise Nicoloff

Official Representative of Tomatis Developpement SA in Australia, Asia and South Pacific, Director of the Australian Tomatis® Method, Registered Psychologist, Certified Tomatis® Consultant Senior, Tomatis® International Trainer and Speaker, Co-author of the Listening Journey Series, 45 Years of Experience, Neurodiversity Speaker

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