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!

Using Visual Aids for Your Child with ASD

Providing visual supports can be an effective strategy for easing the anxiety that may be caused by daily activities and changes in routine for your loved one with Autism Spectrum Disorder. Children with ASD may not always grasp social expectations or fully comprehend spoken directions. Visual cues give children with ASD a visible calendar of events and a visible action to pair with a direction. Visuals can help parents better communicate and can often minimize frustrations of both the parent and child.

Labels & One Step Directions

The keyring with cards below is a great example of a portable visual that can be used to provide a variety of simple directions or choices. Providing an image that describes an action can help your child better understand the parent’s expectation of them. It also acts as a differentiated method of teaching your child seeing as verbal directions are not always comprehended.

to purchase or view visit: https://amzn.to/2H4jqBd

Posting visuals with adhesive around the home is a great way to label items. It can also be done to assist your child in learning names for items.

A “Stop” sign on the front door and other exit areas can also assist your child with better understanding their parameters. Make sure to always praise your child when they demonstrate that they have listened to these boundaries.

You can also use the “Stop” visual when leaving a playground or ending another activity. This way, once the action is initially taught, it can be applied to other activities and the action will be better understood when transferred to different environments.

First –> Then Visuals

To better help your child understand a sequence of events, for instance, eating lunch before play time, you can create a “First-Then” card. These cards demonstrate at least two visuals with an event that happens first, and then the event that follows.

This is available at: https://amzn.to/2E5A93C

This is a great idea if your child struggles with motivation to complete a specific task, like eating. It also helps your child begin learning multi-step directions. When presenting the visual to your child, provide simple directions of “first you will eat lunch, then we will go to the playground.”

In order for this process and visual to be successful, it is important to provide the more rewarding activity following the first, less desirable task. It is important to also always follow through with the cards, or else your child may not trust that it will happen the next time.

Multi-Step Visuals

This visual provides a sequence of steps when performing an activity. This assists children with understanding the order of events, and reminding them to perform each individual task. We often create these for a multi-step task like potty time.

This potty chart was created by one of our RBTs for a Spectrum Autism Services client.

Items like the one above can be purchased on sites like Amazon, of which we are an affiliate: https://amzn.to/2E9N9Wi

Daily Calendar

Oftentimes children with ASD experience anxiety about what activities are to come during the day. A great way to combat this emotional upheaval is through a visual daily calendar of events.  

In our command center created for a client (showed above), our RBT included a daily schedule, the time at which that activity would begin, screen time reinforcement, a behavior modification tracking system, and cute little holders for additional tools. By generating an organizational system that works for your child, they can feel better prepared to approach their day.

Creating a command center is a great idea, but you can also begin with a smaller task of making a simple daily calendar.

Visuals calendars are a great way to begin implementing routines, rules, and order of events.

We hope you find this helpful! If you have any additional comments or questions, feel free to ask below!

February 18th Employee Spotlight: Kristen Martin

Kristen Martin, B.S, RBT

This week we want to celebrate an amazing person who Spectrum feels privileged to call an employee!

Kristen’s career serving individuals with Autism began when her former foster son was diagnosed with Autism in 2013. Her passion was ignited and spurred a career in education.

During her undergraduate studies she served as an in-school tutor for children with cognitive and learning disabilities utilizing social and emotional interventions to improve classroom behavior.

In January 2018, Kristen moved from the school environment to in-home services working as an RBT. Kristen earned a Bachelor of Science in Elementary Education from Liberty University and has completed graduate coursework in School Counseling at NYU as well as Education Policy at American University.

Kristen’s specialties include early intervention, verbal behavior, educational advocacy, social skills training, and community awareness. She is currently enrolled at Pennsylvania State University working towards a Master’s in Education in Applied Behavior Analysis.

Thank you for all that you do for your kiddos and fellow employees, Kristen!

Tips for Trick or Treating

Halloween is an exciting holiday for kids. It can also be scary, eventful, and full of surprises– all things that parents of children with Autism Spectrum Disorder might find worrisome. That is why we decided to compile some tips for enjoying time with your loved one with ASD this Halloween!

pumpkin

Plan Your Route

In the week or days leading up to trick or treating, plan the streets and even the homes you plan to visit! Finding a quiet, unfrequented street beforehand can greatly reduce the risk of meltdowns. You can make a map and take it with you on the day of the main event. A parent or family member can be put in charge of carrying the candy bag to eliminate the task for your child as well.

Do a Dress Rehearsal

The days leading up to trick or treating, have your child practice putting on and wearing the costume a few times. Also, touring the route by visiting it prior to the main event can prevent the surprise of unfamiliarity. Practice knocking on a door for a trick or treat run through too! This can eliminate first-time jitters and discomfort coinciding with sensory overload on Halloween. Practicing a run through is an important idea if your child has difficulty with crowds or a new environment.

Make “Trick or Treat” Cards or Bags

If your loved one does not communicate verbally, a great idea would be to make a notecard or bag! It can state that they have ASD, explaining they don’t communicate well. It can have “Trick or Treat!” on one side, and “Thank You!” on the other. Here is an example of a candy bag:

trick or treat

Noise Canceling Headphones

If sensory overload is a concern for Halloween, a great idea would be to have your loved one with ASD wear noise-canceling headphones. It can be a part of his/her costume whether it matches or not because, on Halloween, anything goes! These can eliminate the loud, unexpected noises of other kids on the same street as you.

Invite Others

Going with friends might increase the level of fun for your child. The excitement of other kids can feel contagious and can help make your child’s experience a fun one. Although you know your child and whether or not this will be best!

Good Ghouls Go Home

Don’t hesitate to go home! If you notice any signs of trick or treating becoming too much, call it a night. If going home early becomes necessary, or you can’t quite make it out the door to begin with, that is okay! You can hype up passing out candy and create an enjoyable experience from the comfort of your home.

 

Overall, we wish you a positive Halloween experience with your loved one with ASD. We hope these tips are useful in making this holiday the best possible. And don’t forget, if you are in the northern Virginia area feel free to join the Helping Hands Halloween Fall festival!