What is Self-Regulation and Related Self-Regulatory Struggles?

  • Body-Engine-and-ZonesSelf-regulation is the ability to get oneself into an optimal state of alertness to do what needs to be done in any given situation. It is the ability to modify actions and adapt to situational and task demands. This includes regulating one’s sensory needs.
  • To successfully self-regulate, three critical neurological components must be integrated: sensory processing, executive functioning, and emotional regulation.
  • Self-regulation is an end-product skill, best evidenced by the ability to regulate attention, activity level, impulse control, frustration tolerance, organization, and social-emotional actions interactions.
  • Self-regulation is strongly influenced by sensory processing of information, particularly modulation (regulation) of sensory information. If a child can not modulate/regulate the level or intensity of incoming sensory information, than most often he/she will struggle to modulate/regulate such output as attention, physical activity, impulse control, social activity, emotional activity and behavioral activity.
  • Symptoms of regulatory difficulties (sensory and behavior coexisting) most usually changes over time, with different manifestations at different ages.
  • First and foremost, self-regulation can be supported through developing the underlying sensory processing foundations during sensory-based occupational therapy. Not surprisingly, the child is better able to modulate output (attention, impulse control, activity level, emotional connection, social interaction) as he/she improves his/her ability to modulate sensory input.
  • Self-regulation is also supported through a ‘sensory diet’, which is a person’s daily sensory experiences. Just like diets comprised of food, diets comprised of sensation need to be individualized so they are a good match for each person’s particular person’s needs and challenges. Performance and interactions for all of us are improved with a rich sensory diet, with the variety of daily sensations unknowingly influencing our functioning on a daily basis.
  • Cognitive behavioral approaches are powerful when combined with sensory-based therapy. Many learning activities in the Zones of Regulation curriculum focus on recognizing different regulatory states called “zones”, with each of the four zones represented by a different color. Children creatively explore calming techniques, cognitive strategies and sensory supports to understand how to stay in a zone or move from one to another. Bringing such concepts/strategies into the home, can be a power tool for families.

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