The Zones of Regulation: A Cognitive Behavioral Approach

The Social Thinking® initiative creates differentiated strategies and treatments to increase cognitive development and social skills. Often applied to those with ASD, the Zones of Regulation curriculum is rooted in cognitive behavioral therapy strategies for emotional and sensory self-management. These tools can be applied from the age of four to adolescents and through adulthood to assist in conquering interpersonal social skills.

Available here

The curriculum’s learning activities are designed to help those who struggle with social skills recognize when they are in different states of mind, or “zones”, with each of four zones represented by a different color.

In the activities supplied in the book and often implemented by our ABA therapists, clients also learn how to use strategies or tools to stay in a specific zone or move from one to another. They learn and develop calming techniques, cognitive strategies, and sensory supports to provide them with a toolbox of methods to use to move between zones.

With the goal of assisting those with ASD to better understand why emotions matter and how to self-regulate, the lessons set out to teach clients the following skills:

  • How to read others’ facial expressions and recognize a broader range of emotions
  • Gain perspective about how others see and react to their behavior
  • Develop insight into events that trigger their less regulated states and why they feel the way that they do
  • Understand when and how to use tools and problem-solving skills

The curriculum includes 18 lessons with detailed questions and follow ups, worksheets, other handouts, and visuals to display and share. These can be photocopied from this book or printed from the accompanying USB.

The Red Zone describes extremely heightened states of alertness and intense emotions. A person may be elated, euphoric, or experiencing anger, rage, explosive behavior, devastation, or terror when in the Red Zone.

The Yellow Zone describes a heightened state of alertness and elevated emotions; however, individuals have more control when they are in the Yellow Zone compared to the Red Zone. A person may be experiencing stress, frustration, anxiety, excitement, silliness, the wiggles, or nervousness when in the Yellow Zone. Many individuals with ASD believe the Red Zone is the only option when their emotions begin to heighten, but the Yellow Zone is the in-between, an option to catch themselves before they escalate too far.

The Green Zone is used to describe a calm state of alertness. A person may be described as happy, focused, content, or ready to learn when in the Green Zone. This is the zone where optimal learning occurs and where we would like to come back to after experiencing emotions in another zone.

The Blue Zone is used to describe low states of alertness and down feelings such as when one feels sad, tired, sick, or bored.

The zones themselves each offer a range of emotions to accompany many situations, environmental or otherwise, however, it is entirely plausible that an individual may be in more than one zone at any given time. This could occur when someone is too sick (Blue Zone) and may also feel frustrated (Yellow Zone) that they cannot go to a birthday party. Understanding what these zones mean and how they relate to each other is the optimal understanding of the four zones.

It is important to teach that all of the zones are natural and okay to experience, but the idea of the curriculum focuses on teaching individuals how to recognize and manage the zone they are in based on their situation and the people around them.

Learn more about the Zones of Regulation in the article, All the Zones are OK! Tips for Managing the Zones You’re In.

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