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.

Teaching to Handle with Care when Working with Children with ASD

Handle with Care provides teaching strategies for those working with the behaviorally challenged population. The goal of Handle with Care is to ensure a safe and nurturing environment.

By teaching and implementing preventative actions that decrease the need for physical restraints, Handle with Care equips parents, ABA professionals, school teachers and many other professionals proper restraining techniques for the event that a restraint is absolutely necessary for the safety of a client or student.

Handle with Care believes that if staff work in fear and do not feel personally safe, then there can be no emotional safety whatsoever as fear will be the controlling emotion. 

Similarly, if the client cannot trust the staff to keep them unharmed and treat them fairly, they will not trust the staff or therapists to teach and provide the therapy they need.

Handle With Care is committed to the emotional and physical safety of behaviorally challenged individuals whose behavior may become harmful to themselves or others and the staff and organizations that support them.

In this video, Faith demonstrates how to responsibly remove yourself from an approach to then calm a client/child.

At Spectrum Autism Services, Faith Martino, one of our Clinical Assistants, and Abby Hawkins, our Office Manager, are trained to teach the employees of our company proper prevention, de-escalation techniques, and also proper restraining techniques.

A Handle with Care course is provided annually at Spectrum Autism Services to re-certify staff as well as certify newly joined staff. We believe that handling our kiddos with respect, despite the difficult emotional behaviors they sometimes exude, is not only morally fair, but paramount to teaching them the successful behavioral therapy they deserve.

Schools and facilities that use Handle With Care see on average a 30-40% reduction in injuries and incidents.

Handle with Care training addresses problematic behavior early in the cycle, thus reducing the number of incidents, injuries, holding times and assaults on staff, teachers, clients, private parties and students.

The following reviews convey the positive impact of implementing Handle with Care (HWC) protocol in professional environments:

For more information about Handle with Care, visit their website at http://www.handlewithcare.com

Learning Opportunities at the Park

Leaving the house with a child who has Autism Spectrum Disorder can be difficult, but we promise, it is worth the countless learning opportunities these outings provide.  New places and people are excellent ways to ensure your child is generalizing all of the amazing new skills you are teaching him from making eye contact to asking another child to join him in play.  

Things to note:

  • Stand in front of your child when he or she is swinging.  This way they can associate you with the fun sensation of being pushed back and forth!
  • Work on language and social skills while simultaneously performing gross motor activities. This builds critical connections between different regions of the brain.
  • Encourage your child to play with many different items at the park.  Make sure you prompt him to move on if his play becomes repetitive in nature (ex: going up the same ladder and down the same slide over and over).

While at the park:

1. Get in your child’s attention spotlight as often as possible (face-to-face within 3-4 feet)

2. Have fun (goofy faces, sing songs, big smiles, play movement games).

3. Imitate his vocalizations and actions.  Trust us children love to see that you are interested in what they are doing. Initially you may need to be careful to bring two of certain items such as balls, toy trucks, etc.  Some children will shut down if they feel like you are taking their toy.

4.  Follow the ONE-UP RULE. If your child is nonverbal label items and actions with one word (e.g. “push,” “swing”) If he is reliably using one word to make requests and communicate table items and actions with two words (“go fast” “kick ball”).

These strategies can increase engagement between you and your child with Autism Spectrum Disorder. We hope you have found them useful.

Feel free to comment with any additional strategies below!

Employee Spotlight: Verna Birch

This month’s Employee Spotlight highlights one of Spectrum’s amazing Clinical Assistants, Verna Birch!

Verna has always had a strong passion to help others and maximize the individual potential of her clients. She holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Psychology from the University of California, Irvine. She has experience working in the medical and human services fields. She has worked as a Registered Behavior Technician since 2015.

She began her career providing one-on-one direct services to children on the spectrum in home, community and clinic settings in San Diego, California. Her family relocated to Virginia in 2017, where she continues her work as an RBT with Spectrum Autism Services. She is a military spouse and has vast experience working with and serving the military community. 

She cherishes each of her clients and their families and constantly seeks to make a meaningful, positive difference in their lives. Currently Verna is pursuing her Masters degree in Special Education with an emphasis in Applied Behavior Analysis.

We are grateful for Verna each day for her continual effort and impact on her clients! Thank you for all that you do!

Understanding the VB-MAPP Used in Behavioral Therapy

The VB-MAPP, which stands for The Verbal Behavior Milestones Assessment and Placement Program, is an assessment we use with early learners. It provides Behavioral Therapists a criterion-referenced tool to approaching skill tracking, behavior, language/learning barriers, and the child’s abilities.

In the explanations below, we will take you through the three different types of assessments included in the VBMAPP and describe how they can be used to identify your child’s strengths and areas of need, and how they can be used to guide individualized treatment.

A sample of Milestones Master Scoring Form:

The Milestones Master Scoring Form (above) is a visual representation of results from the first assessment that takes place when completing the VB-MAPP. There are 170 milestones tested that a neuro-typical child will meet before entering kindergarten. In this assessment the milestones are balanced across 3 chronological periods of typical development (0-18 months; 18-30 months; and 30-48 months). The milestones are quantifiable and measurable and can be used to document baseline skills and skill acquisition. The milestones include 16 main areas such as mand, tact, intraverbal, listener, visual perceptual, play, social, and early academic skills. One of the 16 areas, the echoic, includes the Early Echoic Skills Assessment (EESA) developed by Dr. Barbara Esch, SLP-CCC, BCBA-D

As shown, we color code the chart and use a new color each time skills are assessed. In this case, green, pink and orange are the three colors used in order of three separate assessments. Upon filling in the green after the first assessment, it conveys where the child’s therapy should focus considering his deficits. It also shows relative strengths that can be used to guide us in providing the best form of interventions. Upon doing a reassessment, we use a new color to see if gaps are filled in. This shows where growth has been made and where we need to continue to focus intervention efforts.

The Barriers Scoring Form, exampled above, allows therapists and parents a better understanding of the barriers to learning their child faces. When a child with ASD wakes up and begins each day, we want to better understand what hinders him or her from having a successful day.

Behavior, instructional control, inability to request items, and conversational skills are just a few of the categories listed. We like to explain this assessment as imagining an obstacle course, the flatter the course the easier it is for your child to navigate his or her day. The level of difficulty a child has in a category is colored along the Y axis of the chart. Each category and difficulty level are filled in by color code as well upon reassessment. There are 24 language and learning barriers scored that may be preventing a child from making progress in school or at home.

The Transition Scoring Form has 18 different areas that can assist a parent and IEP team in determining placement and ensuring a smooth transition into a school setting with appropriate accommodations. This form is the opposite of barriers because in this one we ideally want to a child to have all of the skills filled in before entering a classroom. This assessment assists in analyzing if the child can learn in a group environment, perform independent work, learn from their natural environment, retaining new skills, eat independently, go potty solo etc. We consider this chart to represent specific tools the kiddo has, and provides a visual of all the tools we want them to have in their tool belt before sending them to school to learn in a group environment.

The VB-MAPP Guide book has an analysis of the results from each of these areas along with suggestions on how to establish intervention priorities.

We hope you found this breakdown of the VB-MAPP helpful. Feel free to comment with any questions!