What Is Distress Tolerance & Why Does It Matter? – The Elemy Learning Studio

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Distress tolerance is a concept that can be applied to many different scenarios. It’s when someone who has been through trauma or some kind of overwhelming event manages to cope with it and eventually make peace with what happened, despite feeling the pain of those experiences still fresh in their minds…

Distress tolerance is the ability to remain calm in stressful situations. It is a skill that children with autism often lack, but it’s important to teach them how to control their emotions and stay calm.


Autism is a neurodevelopmental condition characterized by resistance to change and emotional regulation issues. Distress tolerance training is used in a variety of therapeutic procedures, including applied behavior analysis (ABA) and dialectical behavior therapy (DBT). 

Distress tolerance may be used to learn how to control emotions and deal with stress. This is particularly crucial for children with autism to help them regulate their emotions and avoid tantrums.

Explaining Distress Tolerance

DBT, which was developed to treat people with borderline personality disorder (BPD) and suicidal inclinations, relies heavily on distress tolerance. Depression, anxiety, and Self-harm are all symptoms of difficulty managing emotions. Individuals with high distress tolerance may develop methods to deal with unpleasant emotions and reduce their risk of Self-harm.

Acceptance is crucial in distress tolerance since bad emotions are a part of life. Emotional control may be taught through DBT and ABA treatments. They also provide methods for coping via constructive outlets and lead to a greater knowledge and acknowledgment of emotions. Distress tolerance abilities may help a youngster feel more in control of themselves and their lives.

The Importance of Tolerance to Distress

A youngster with autism may like to follow a rigorous routine, exhibit obsessive hobbies, or get quickly overwhelmed in sensory overloaded circumstances. In someone with autism, difficulties managing emotions may lead to more serious behavioral issues, such as:

  • Uncontrollable emotional outbursts
  • Tantrums
  • Aggression
  • Self-harm

Avoiding uncomfortable or upsetting circumstances or occurrences is a common strategy of dealing with stress and controlling emotions. Distress tolerance, on the other hand, teaches a person to understand that some pain is to be anticipated and how to cope with it in a healthy manner.

Changes in the schedule occur, and autistic children are often placed in stressful circumstances. Distress tolerance may help individuals learn to control their internal emotions and stress levels, as well as reduce behavioral issues and outbursts that are potentially dangerous to themselves or others.

Its Instruction

ABA treatment is customized to each child’s requirements and may assist them in developing certain skills and coping strategies. 

Distress tolerance may vary from person to person as part of ABA treatment, depending on what causes them the greatest stress. One of the first tasks is to figure out what causes an emotional outburst and how to avoid them. 

Typically, a functional analysis is conducted initially, during which the therapist and caregiver understand what factors contribute to a child’s behavioral disorders and difficulty managing emotions. To assist control emotions, you must first understand them. ABA may assist a youngster in exploring, recognizing, and naming their feelings. 

Distress tolerance abilities may be taught and mastered after the kid and the therapist comprehend emotions and stresses. Learning how to self-soothe and what might give a diversion from self-harming or destructive desires are examples of this.

When it comes to teaching distress tolerance, safety is crucial. Autism may cause extreme emotions and outbursts that are potentially hazardous to the kid and others around them. It’s critical to keep stress levels under control while also teaching how to prevent sentiments from becoming overpowering and explosive. 

A qualified therapist can assist in providing strategies for both children and parents to use in order to keep everyone safe.

Distress Tolerance in Therapy Examples

Distress tolerance training teaches children to accept bad feelings as normal. ABA therapies may then be used to educate a kid with autism how to deal with these feelings. Positive reinforcement is used in ABA to teach socially acceptable skills and behaviors.

Transitioning from one activity to another is challenging for children with autism. Distress tolerance abilities may help in this situation. Asking a youngster to switch activities without notice and assisting them in working through the emotions that come with it is an example of this. 

The youngster may be resistive at first, but with practice, they may learn to express their feelings and respectfully request additional time. The additional time might then be used to reward the youngster. 

Self-soothing methods, movement exercises, or the use of a tactile item may all be used to increase distress tolerance. A youngster may learn to relax via breathing exercises, exercise, or muscular relaxation instead of acting out forcefully.


Distress tolerance is a term that describes the ability to cope with and recover from stress. It is an important skill for people with autism, as it helps them deal with difficult situations. This article will discuss what distress tolerance is and why it matters. Reference: distress tolerance test.

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