Emotional dysregulation: Just like regular kids, but only moreso!

Ken Shyminsky, a former vice president of the Greater Toronto Chapter of the Tourette Syndrome Foundation of Canada, draws upon his personal experiences as an teacher and student with Tourette Syndrome to help children with TS and related disorders. He also has Tourette himself and is the founder of the website Neurologically Gifted.

A very dear friend and expert special educator insists that kids who have neurological disorder are just like regular kids …

only moreso!

Let me explain what that confusing statement means…

Kids who have neurological disorders have feelings just like everyone else, except their feelings are so much more intense. They feel so much more of everything. They experience more joy when happy, (hence their hyperactivity), they feel more pain when injured (we think they’re over-reacting), more anger when frustrated or disappointed (leading to rage) and more sadness (also misinterpreted as over-reacting).

Emotional Dysregulation:  Neurologically GiftedThis evening, my stepson erupted into a fit of screaming and pounding the floor in a rage over homework, to total recovery and calm. Soon after, he collapsed into a heap of tears as he suddenly recalled the death of his grandmother the previous year.

The intense grief lasted about 2 minutes, and he recovered once again, to join his friends in playing basketball. I shouldn’t be surprised by his behavior tonight. He was bound to fall from perfection at some point. He’s been stable and even tempered for months – and it’s because of consistency at home and at school.

Kids with neurological disorders are incredibly susceptible to change, as we all are …

only moreso!

Change has an affect on us all, to varying degrees. Some people abhor surprises, which is just another name for change. Kids with neuro-chemical disorders often fall apart in these circumstances that arise from change.

Emotional dysregulation can be observed as intense or extreme emotional responses to a situation, aggression, impulsivity, avoiding behaviors, difficulty calming themselves and difficulty knowing what emotion they are actually feeling and especially, drastic changes in mood.

My stepson’s chemistry and subsequent emotional state is totally dysregulated today for any number of reasons. From my own personal Tourette experience, I know he could be unconsciously reacting to the onset of the Canadian winter – with a reduction of daylight hours and cold temperatures.

This always messed me up. It still does, sometimes. When his chemistry is thrown into flux like this, Nathan’s behavior is erratic and (almost) manic. He can swing from one extreme mood to another. As well, he is dealing with another ill family member. Although he seems calm, he is very prone to experiencing a quick thought of concern, then bursting into tears from a memory of his late grandmother.

Emotional Dysregulation: Neurologically GiftedBy keeping Nathan’s life consistent, we greatly reduce the occurrence of mood swings and emotional dysregulation. At times of change, it is important to stay connected to any consistency and predictability you can find. For example, on a trip during the holidays, we can expect Nathan to be extremely dysregulated and prone to mood swings.

His normal routine of waking, going to school, coming home and going to bed ceases. In these cases, we keep eating and bed times consistent. We maintain sleep hygiene so he can slowly unwind and fall asleep at a reasonable time using his normal bedtime routine.

We give him ample warning of the plan of each day with frequent recaps and updates to give him time to process the upcoming schedule and reduce overreaction when the changes happen.  Rules must be kept consistent, as well.  There are no exceptions such as, “just this one time”, or “it’s the holiday”.  There is no “flying by the seat of our pants” with our Nathan.

Keeping Calm

Meltdowns from emotional dysregulation can be minimized by maintaining routines, maximizing predictability, planning ahead, advanced warning of change and consistent rules. For the times when dysregulation occurs, (and it will), it is helpful to keep in mind that kids with neurological differences actually do feel more, and they respond more.  They are just like regular kids …

only moreso!


  1. Very good article! And that is why some people get diagnosed with bipolar who don’t really have it! :)

  2. It seems like me, I do not throw fits when angry but everything makes me cry and the littlest things excites me. So heres the thing how can I fix it? and can I fix it? my mom will not talk to me when I cry but I can’t help but cry.

    • Hi Julianna.
      Maybe just having some insight into why you have some extreme reactions will help you. I don’t know your situation with your mom but maybe share this article with her as well. It seems having some understanding can always help. Please find more of our articles on our website or on Facebook. Good luck to you. Keep reading and learning.
      Ken Shyminsky

  3. thanks Michelle I would not have seen it if you did not tag me. I am going to read it and tell you guys what I think.

  4. This is truly AWESOME! Thank you for sharing! I got a reality check with the pain thing…my son does that and I NEVER knew it was actually intensified pain. Life changer. THANK YOU.

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