Regulation (including sensory regulation)

Here you can find out about strategies to support regulation through the social communication and autism lens.

"…the capacity to manage one’s thoughts, feelings and actions in adaptive and flexible ways across a range of contexts"

Jude Nicholas, CHARGE Accounts, Summer 2007.

What is regulation?

In school settings, this is often translated into ‘feeling calm’, but this may not always be what the learner needs in order to be successful. Some children may need to increase their activation levels in order to participate in an activity that places a high demand on them, while others may need to reduce them in order to access a lower energy situation effectively.      

Regulation encompasses emotional, physical, behavioural, and cognitive functioning, and develops over time as neural systems mature, with the process continuing well into adolescence.


Initially, when developing regulation skills, children will need to be supported by a well-regulated and responsive partner, such as a parent or teacher. This is an important developmental stage which may be extended for a variety of reasons, including neurodiversity. Although it is challenging at times, our job is to share our calm, not join their storm!


Over time, individuals will move on to being able to access regulation strategies for themselves. This process will be gradual, with initial scaffolding and support needed.

The following are dependant on one another:

  • Sensory processing and modulation
  • Executive function
  • Social cognition
  • Emotional regulation

Leah Kuypers (author of Zones of Regulation) identified these key areas involved in the development of self-regulation. Many of our autistic learners will be experiencing differences in one or more of these areas, so regulation may need to work differently for them. If an individual is experiencing sensory discomfort, an excessive load on their executive functioning capacity, anxiety about a social situation, or is feeling overwhelmed by emotion, they are less likely to be able to self-regulate effectively.