questionI work with children ages birth-5. We currently have 2 boys in our center who have extremely high-pitched voices and they seem to have a hard time regulating their voices. One of them is easily frustrated with any changes in his routine or environment and has extreme outbursts using a very loud voice. The concern is that his voice doesn’t seem to change whether he is angered by something or hurt. He automatically resorts to using this extreme voice.

The other can be very physical and seems to have a very difficult time regulating himself in large or small group.

In reading, I’ve read that this can be a sign of ASD (which I feel like many things can). Do you have any suggestions of activities that might help these children? We do the regular..loud and soft games, reminding of appropriate times to use there loud voice, etc.

answerIt sounds like you have two intense, active young guys in your center.  Using an “ inside voice” is a skill that can be difficult for some children to learn. I would start off by ensuring that both boys have had their hearing screened and that any concerns have been addressed. Often, a child who had or currently has multiple ear infections or some other type of hearing issue may speak louder than necessary so it’s important to rule out any issues with hearing first.  

Young children can be very sensitive to changes in their environment or routines. Often this sensitivity leads to behavior escalation that can be extremely disruptive. From your letter, it sounds like one way these boys express their frustration and displeasure is through loud, shrill voices. So instead of focusing on practice using the appropriate inside voice, let’s focus on ways of preparing them for positive management of their feelings. Since the upset is usually due to unexpected or unwelcome changes, providing warnings and practice can be helpful.

Use your circle time and other group activities to remind all the children of the classroom expectations. With some children, rules and expectations must be taught and practiced multiple times before they stick. Using books to reinforce rules and social conventions is a good strategy as well. Here is a list of CSEFL’s “book nooks” on various social emotional topics. There is a good one on loud voices and several on handling overwhelming feelings.

It may be helpful to provide a verbal or visual cue to let the child know that there will be a transition to a new activity or some other frustrating activity.  This might be accomplished through a picture cue or a verbal prompt from you. Stand near him, make eye contact and provide the cue along with verbal reinforcement. It may take some thinking to come up with the best cue for him but here are some resources to start with.   

Another way of allowing the child to “practice” rules and managing frustration is through the use of a social story.  Social stories are simple short stories designed to allow the child to practice appropriate responses while reading the story.  Encourage the child to read the story with you often so that they can remind themselves of positive ways to respond to their frustration. The Center on the Social Emotional Foundations for Early Learning (CSEFL) has some great resources on creating and using social stories

You mention in your letter that you are concerned about these issues being a red flag for developmental delays. I encourage you to discuss this situation with the child’s family and work together to decide whether a referral for further evaluation is appropriate. Meanwhile, using some of these tips might help these children be more successful in the classroom community.