Zones of regulation

Helping Children with SLCN to cope with sensory, emotional and social needs

In order to successfully cope with everyday situations we use many skills. Often without thinking about it we self-regulate by monitoring and managing our sensory, emotional and social needs. We might talk to someone if we are feeling worried, have a cup of tea if we are feeling tired or count to ten if we are feeling angry. When these strategies are successful we put them into our mental ‘toolbox’ and use them when we are dysregulated to get ourselves back on track. We use our life experiences to develop and shape our ‘toolbox’ of strategies so that we are able to cope with the challenges that life throws at us.

Children with speech, language and communication needs (SLCN) often face daily challenges; they may experience intense frustration because they cannot communicate their needs or become withdrawn because they do not understand instructions within the classroom. Many children with SCLN do not have the skill-set required to self-regulate in order to overcome these challenges. To self-regulate, an individual needs to understand the behavioural and emotional responses of other people, identify their own emotional response and then use strategies from their ‘toolbox’ in order to control their impulses, adjust their alertness levels and then behave in a socially appropriate manner. I think we can all agree that this is a challenge for many of us. For children with SLCN this can be a significant barrier to learning.

At I CAN’s Meath School for children with speech and language disorders, the multi-disciplinary team aims to provide pupils with the skills and support they need in order to manage their sensory, emotional and social needs. Programmes such as ‘The Zones of Regulation’ (Leah M. Kuypers and Michelle Garcia Winner, 2011) are adapted and differentiated in order to explicitly teach regulation using visual resources. This programme, as pictured at the top of this post, provides resources which encapsulate the emotional and alertness spectrum into four key colour coded zones (blue, green, yellow and red) where the optimum zone for learning is the green zone. Pupils are taught to recognise their alertness levels and how they are feeling by thinking about what zone they are in throughout the school day. A personalised ‘toolbox’ of strategies can then be developed to help the pupils return to the green zone when they are dysregulated. This ‘toolbox’ can contain strategies such as sensory supports, calming techniques and thinking skills all tailored to an individual’s profile. Depending on the pupils’ individual needs the ‘toolbox’ may take the form of a visual menu of strategies for each zone or a physical box of sensory supports. Some pupils will use this to regulate themselves independently whereas some will need adult support to use their ‘toolbox’ appropriately.  The overall aim is to provide children with the resources and vocabulary they require to communicate their needs and through which they can be supported to regulate themselves and their responses to everyday situations.

To self-regulate is to adapt one’s responses to the current situation: a child needs to self-regulate in order to transition successfully between a noisy playground and a quiet classroom. They have regulate their alertness levels and display of emotions through behaviour to successfully learn within a classroom environment; an individual needs to self-regulate in order to achieve academically, succeed in the workplace or indeed to maintain a relationship. By providing children with the tools with which to begin self-regulating we are providing them with vital skills they need in order to achieve their full potential.