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Emotional Regulation can be improved

Emotional regulation is not instinctive. It is learned.

Nathan Maynard and Brad Weinstein - helpateacher


For many people living with autism, emotional regulation can be a challenge. Luckily, with appropriate support and self-help strategies in place, most individuals with autism are able to improve their emotional regulation. Enhanced regulation can reduce the incidence of extreme highs and lows and meltdowns that can be so distressing for the affected individual and their friends, family and/or supporters. Read on to discover what emotional regulation is, which parts of the brain are responsible for emotional regulation, how it works and how it can be improved.


Emotional regulation is not instinctive. It is learned.

Nathan Maynard and Brad Weinstein - helpateacher


What is emotional regulation?

Emotional regulation is the process of modifying or altering the emotional response to a situation. Some individuals find this process easier than others; people living with autism may find regulating their emotions particularly challenging. This may be due to the physiological make-up of their brain (emotional regulation takes place in the same part of the brain as other behaviour traits that are affected by autism, so there may be a connection). As people with autism see the world differently, it may also be the case that situations that appear quite manageable for neuro-typical people are far less manageable for people with autism.

What parts of the brain control behaviour and regulation?

The majority of emotional regulation and behaviour control takes place in the cortex. This is the part of the brain responsible for activities such as thought, concentration, perception, language and consciousness.

How does emotional regulation work? The Process Model, Examples, Tips

The Process Model is one of the more widely accepted theories for how emotional regulation works. Pioneered by James Gross, the model suggests that emotional response can be tempered by changing the way the brain perceives a situation, often through the use of learned strategies. The Process Model divides the emotional regulation process into five distinct stages: situation selection; situation modification; attention deployment; cognitive change; and response modulation. At each of these stages, learned strategies can enable individuals to influence their emotional state. This model gives hope to people who struggle with emotional regulation, as it suggests that with suitable support, they can learn to moderate their response to a set of circumstances.

How can the Process Model be used to assist in emotional regulation?

Using the Process Model as the basis for emotional regulation strategies enables people who struggle with a proportionate response to use a variety of coping strategies to modify their emotional response. These may include:

  • Various distraction techniques.
  • Social stories (enabling people with autism to know how to respond appropriately in specific situations, which in turn leads to a reduction in anxiety).
  • Mindfulness techniques.
  • Breathing techniques.
  • Looking at the situation from a different perspective.
  • Self-care strategies.
  • Relaxation techniques (deep breathing, meditation etc)
  • Pre-planning to reduce the stress of "trigger points" - for example, if changing task is a trigger point, a countdown, timer or series of visual cues could be decided on in advance, to reduce the severity of the trigger.

Note that pre-planning responses is critical to successful emotional regulation outcomes.

Autism Adelaide have strategies which can help overcome behavioural issues and improve emotional regulation Just ask

Autism Adelaide have a wide range of interventions and therapies which can assist your child, siblings and you.

What's more we have a free 30-minute sessions for you to call to speak with Crystel our Senior Behavioural Therapist and Clinical Director. Just head over to this link to book your spot.

Self awareness and self regulation are important emotional developments, but for children to develop socially, it is arguably most important that they develop impulse control.

Mike Huber - Embracing Rough and Tumble Play