Self-Regulation, Dysregulation and Everything in Between

TeachTown Self-Regulation

As educators working alongside students with moderate to severe disabilities, we celebrate every milestone that helps our students gain more independence.

The ability to self-regulate is key in fostering independence in and out of the classroom.

What is self-regulation?

Self-regulation is a skill that helps you manage your emotions and behavior in different situations. For example, if you want dessert but are instructed to eat your dinner first, the ability to eat your dinner first and wait for dessert without an outburst means you are able to self-regulate. If, on the other hand, you grab your dessert, eat it all up, and then get agitated at the same time, self-regulation may be a challenge.

Keep in mind, self-regulation can be challenging for anyone, not just students with disabilities.


Opposite to self-regulation is dysregulation, or sometimes known as emotional dysregulation.  Dysregulation means that you struggle to manage your emotions in a manner that is more typical. Dysregulated behavior may look like an emotional outburst, self-harming behavior, anxiety, etc.

Dysregulation in individuals, specifically those with moderate to severe disabilities, may begin to jeopardize personal relationships, quality of life and independence.

Self-regulation is a trait that an individual can learn through modeling, teaching and supporting, as well.

How can you help your students with disabilities learn to self-regulate?
  1. Breathing Strategies: When one of your students with disabilities has difficulty self-regulating, guide them through a breathing technique to help them calm down. Have your students breathe through their nose for a few seconds, which will essentially guide the air to their belly. From there, they can exhale. You can repeat the process as many times as they find helpful. 
  2. Scaffolding: Scaffolding in the classroom allows you to break up learning into segments, which is no different when teaching self-regulation skills. For example, if your student has difficulty transitioning between activities, meet them at their comfort level and guide them through transitions.
  3. Modeling: Because self-regulation can be taught, directly modeling desired behavior and self-regulation skills is very beneficial for students. You can role-play different situations and demonstrate what a student should do during a challenging transition. You can also use verbal or visual cues that will help them transition more smoothly in the long run. Repetition is key!

While self-regulation can present a challenge for many students, including those with moderate to severe disabilities, there are many ways that we can teach effective, appropriate self-regulation skills.

The strategies above detail a few easy-to-implement options for intervention that allow us to support our students in developing better self-regulation. As we work to implement these strategies in our classrooms, we must remember the key to so many of the successes we have with our students: establish a plan, be consistent, be flexible and maintain high expectations for all students.

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