Sunday 17 November 2019

Zones of Regulations - what they are and how to use them

*** If you believe that you or your child would benefit from using the Zones of Regulations, please speak to a trusted medical professional. 
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When L began on his early intervention therapy journey after we received his ASD diagnosis back in 2016, one of the very first concepts that we learnt about through his therapists was The Zones of Regulations.

One of the first things that we noticed about L was his apparent inability to identify his own and others emotions and respond appropriately to these emotions. L struggled to self regulate his own emotions and we in turn struggled to help him with his emotions. Since being introduced to the concept of the Zones of Regulations, it is a concept that we now use on a daily basis with both O and L.

As I have mentioned in a previous post, children are not born with the inherent ability to immediately recognise and respond to their own emotions. This is a skill that we all continually develop from birth. New born babies begin to learn about their emotions through their parents responses. As a child grows older, they further develop these much needed skills through their relationships and interactions with family, peers, caregivers and teachers and so on. Even as adults we are still learning, as we may encounter new situations that invoke different emotional reactions in us.

So let's start from the beginning .... what is the Zones of Regulation?

The Zones of Regulations framework was created by Leah Kuypers, who has a background in occupational therapy and Autism specialist work. In creating the Zones of Regulation, Leah was influenced by the work of Williams and Shellenberger's, "The Alert Program (1994) and Kari Dunn Buron and Mitzi Curtis' "The Incredible 5 Point Scale" (2003.) Leah's goal in creating the Zones of Regulation was to teach her students to how to identify their feelings and emotional reactions as well as learn how to self regulate their emotions so that they could meet the demands of the environment around them and be successful both socially and academically. The Zones of Regulation has since been turned into a curriculum and is now used the world over to teach children, and adults, how to identify their emotions and in turn learn how to self regulate their own emotions and feelings.

The Zones of Regulation uses four different colours to help children, and adults, identify how they are feeling at any given moment. When using the Zones of Regulation is incredibly important to note, that there is no such thing as good or bad emotions. When we talk with O and L, we often refer to their BIG emotions (happy, sad, angry, frustrated and so on.) 

The four zones, refer to different states of alertness when experiencing different emotions. It is also important to note that all of the Zones of Regulation and in turn all of the emotions are very natural to experience by all of us, regardless of whether or not we have a diagnosis of some sort. No matter what we do, where we are or what we are doing, we will always feel an emotion of some sort.

As Leah states "Feelings are innate: they make us human and are part of the fabric of life. Our feelings are windows into the thoughts and perspectives we hold toward a situation, a person, or an event."

I have used the Zones of Regulation concept with children from the age of 2 years and up, and not all of these children had a diagnosis of any type. I have found that when little people are experiencing BIG emotions, the Zones of Regulation has been incredibly useful for them to identify how they are feeling.

The Red zone is used to describe how we feel when in an extremely heightened state of alertness and/or our intense emotions. These emotions or feelings could be anything from over excited to anger, rage, devastation, panicky or terror and so on.

The Yellow zone is also used to describe how we feel when in a heightened state of alertness. The difference is that individuals may feel a little more in control of their own emotions when in the yellow zone. Emotions that are in the yellow zone could be one of stressed, frustration, anxiety, excitement, silliness or nervousness.

The Green zone is used to describe how we may feel when in a calm state. Think happy, focused, content or ready to learn. The Green zone is the optimal state that we want to try to remain in.

The Blue zone is used to describe how we may feel when in a low state of alertness - think sad, tired, unwell or bored and so on.

There are many different visuals that can be used when teaching or talking about the Zones of Regulation. We use a fairly simplified version that shows not only the four zone colours but also the different faces that represent the emotions. We have this visual laminated and kept in a spot that is easily accessible for L.

When we first began to use the Zones of Regulation with L, we would show the visual to L and we would try to identify the emotion that we could see L exhibiting and ask him, "I can see that you look angry, can you point to how you are feeling?"

Nine times out of ten, we correctly identified the emotion that he was feeling and by providing L with the language that he needed to identify how he was feeling, he later began to tell us how he was feeling.

Once L had been able to identify to us how he was feeling, we would then assist him to regulate his emotion back to the green zone or work with him to find out what he needed to come back to a calm state.

Once we had identified what zone L was in and what his emotion was, we could then start to talk with him about what made him angry/frustrated/sad/scared and so on. Doing this with L meant that we could identify, with his assistance, what triggered him to enter into that emotional state.

By becoming aware of what emotional state he was in and what triggered him to enter that that emotional state, L has begun to learn how to self regulate his emotions.

If you do intend on using the Zones of Regulation with your own children, or those that you work with, there are a few points that you will need to keep in mind.

As mentioned above, it is very natural for all of us, children and adults, to experience all of the emotions in all of the zones. There is no such thing as a good or bad zone. The Green zone is the optimal zone that we need to aim to be in.

Being unable to identify and respond appropriately to our different emotional states is a part of the development of a typically developing child. Being able to recognise and respond appropriately to our internal feelings, our sense of interoception, can be tricky for those who have been diagnosed as Autistic. This can make identifying feelings/emotions even trickier.

The emotions that we feel are heavily influenced by our internal feelings as well as external factors such as the environment that we are in at any given time during the day. A bright, busy, noisy environment may cause a child, or adult, to enter into a state of over excitement or terror. 

The behaviour that we then see in our children, or in adults, is a by product of the emotion that they are feeling or how they are managing their behaviour. They may not be able to tell you how they are feeling, so that are trying to communicate with you through their behaviour. Please don't pass judgement on their behaviour, they are doing the best that they can in that moment to tell you how they are feeling.

Finally, please remember that when your child shows you their most challenging behaviour they do this because they know that you are their safe place. They know that you won't pass judgement on what they are doing and that you love them unconditionally. If you feel that you are having a rough day, imagine how they must be feeling.

We've always said that Autism doesn't excuse why O and L do certain things or why exhibit challenging behaviours at times, Autism is a reason. Through using the Zones of Regulation visuals, we have been able to assist both and O to learn how to identify their emotions and learn how to self regulate.


  1. Wow this is super helpful, will pin it. Thanks so much for sharing this with all of us!

  2. How interesting. I hadn't heard of this before. I will have to check it out, especially since my son has autism.

  3. I have never heard of the zones of regulations. And I have to admit that I love the concept!

  4. This was a lovely and also eye opening post. I love what you've said about you, as the parent, being the child's safe place. It's so true, and yet so many parents over look that.

  5. This would be good for all children, not just those with autism. I think that there isn't a lot of emphasis on teaching children emotional maturity. That makes it harder as they grow up.

  6. I had no idea about the zones of regulation, but it does make sense and I can see how it can help children identify and talk about their emotions. Very interesting!

  7. These categories are interesting. My oldest son could have benefited from this learning

  8. love this topic! every single one of them is such an important information. Thanks so much for sharing

  9. This is interesting, not that I heard about this before. Looks like it will help children and parents gauge better. Certainly considering this.

  10. MY 32 year brother has autism and I wish this zone of regulations were out. I am so happy these are out and will help those better in the learning process.

  11. I've never heard of this how interesting. I think more people should be educated and learn about this topic. What can we do spread awareness?

  12. Great job for publishing such a nice article. Your article isn’t only useful but it is additionally really informative. Thank you because you have been willing to share information with us. Equine Assisted Therapy


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