Self-Regulation: Independence and Autism

Our world is a complex place.

Without the life skills that cultivate independence, functioning at any level of success is greatly hampered.

These skills give our autistic children the power to make their own choices – to engage in self-regulation, which grows self-confidence and a sense of security.

Self-Regulation Is Essential to Independence

Self-regulation is the process that we go through that gives us the ability to control our behaviors and emotions – which is crucial to independence in life.

As adults, most of us self-regulate habitually – we barely think about it.

Here are some examples:

Have you ever felt like you couldn’t think because of a particular song, or the volume of music on the radio?

  • You may have self-regulated by reaching over and turning the sound off, which brought on an instant sense of relief and calm.

Have you ever felt confused and anxious after someone said something that didn’t make sense to you – it just didn’t feel right?

  • To cope, to self-regulate, to not “explode” in your emotions, you may have decided to set your worry aside…to think it over before you responded.

In these examples, you used the experience and learned skills, the dynamic intelligence you gained throughout your life to self-regulate.

You guarded yourself against engaging in inappropriate behavior and from going into an overabundance of extreme stress and anxiety – an uncontrolled state (i.e., a meltdown).

You are independent as an adult because you have the skills to navigate the challenges!

Can you guide your autistic child to self-regulate as you do?

Can it stop a meltdown before it happens?

Yes, and the key to self-regulation is through the development of dynamic intelligence.

Dynamic Intelligence: Self-Regulation and Independence

Dynamic intelligence is central to independence and quality of life, and RDI®, Relationship Development Intervention, builds on this perspective.

Whether it is holding down a job or a career, obtaining advanced education, or living independently, success and quality of life reside in self-regulation.

Self-regulation involves processing and adapting to the ever-changing experiences and stresses in life, and this is obtained through Dynamic Intelligence.

The Six Areas of Dynamic Intelligence

Emotional Referencing:

The ability to ‘read’ and learn from the emotional experiences of others.

Social Coordination:

The ability to observe others and self-regulate behavior in order to participate in social relationships.

Declarative Language:

The ability to use language and non-verbal language for expression, interaction, and to share feelings and ideas with others.

Flexible Thinking:

The ability to adapt when life’s circumstances change.

Relational Information Processing:

The ability to think situations through, to obtain solutions, when there are no “right or wrong” answers.

Foresight and Hindsight:

The ability to reflect on past experiences and use them as a tool to anticipate potential future scenarios.

RDI®’s focus is to develop the capacity for dynamic thinking.

This opens the door to communication, friendships, confidence, independent living, prolonged relationships, and meaningful employment.

All of which are vital ingredients to independence in life.

You, the parent guide, are essential to this process.

It starts with you recognizing your own stresses and behaviors and learning new ways of thinking, perceiving, and acting (i.e., how you self-regulate).

This intrinsically helps you to understand your child’s need for regulation and how to guide them to navigate life’s challenges on their own – and this develops independence!

RDI® is the Answer

You want to help your autistic child develop self-regulation and obtain independence in life.

We have that same hope for you and your family, and we can help.

In our online community, you can connect with other families who are all at different stages of their journey, some veteran parents and some that are just starting on the path.

Here you will also be able to connect with RDI® certified consultants whose job it is to help you learn to be the guide for your child.

We want to help you get in touch with the education and the people that can help you move forward.

Join the RDI® Online Community today!


  1. Wendy Fitzhenry

    My daughter has Down Syndrome and is non verbal but is learning to express herself more and more through her speaking device. She has moved from severe autism at 3 yrs of age to now, mild autism at 15 yrs of age. One of my challenges is that of anyone with multiple diagnoses. For example, when I read of some treatment that has proven successful with autism, I wonder how my daughter’s other diagnoses might play into it. Some treatments for autism can actually be harmful to someone with down syndrome such as hyperbaric oxygen. So I question, will this harm or help, is it successful as well with someone with Down syndrome? While a a child with autism may have the chance of becoming independent as an adult, my child may not in considering the severity of her other diagnoses.
    I assume in the area of self regulation in consideration of all her diagnoses, that even though s he e may never live independently, we should strive to produce as much of it as is possible in her. Do you have experience in those with these other types of diagnoses who also have autism? Would you share that with me?

  2. Rachelle Sheely

    Dear Wendy
    Thank you for your comment. I do have experience with dual diagnosis and also using RDI with diagnoses that do not include autism. Because we recognize the unique strengths and vulnerabilities as part of the human condition, we base RDI on what we know of the developmental trajectory. We also make it a point to not “get” the person with autism to do things. We are invitational and respectful. If you would like to speak with me further about this, it would be my pleasure.

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