Akron occupational therapy for kids

Why Self-Regulation is a Top Goal in Akron Occupational Therapy for Kids

If your child is recommended for Akron occupational therapy services, you may at some point hear the phrase “self-regulation.” It’s often a pivotal goal for many of the children with whom we work on a daily basis. It’s a skill that is a fundamental building block in your child’s development. In fact, without effective self-regulation, it becomes difficult if not impossible for a child to learn other important skills.

What Exactly is Regulation?

Regulation in general refers to the ability of a person to maintain an appropriate level of arousal and attention, which are critical for engagement, learning and participation in therapy activities. A child who is well-regulated is going to be able to focus on the task at hand, interact as expected in social situations, form meaningful connections and benefit from whatever interventions are being provided.

It’s worth noting that regulation is an internal state that isn’t going to look the same for everyone. Furthermore, regulation doesn’t necessarily mean “calm.” A better way that our Akron occupational therapy team likes to put it is:

“Regulation = Matching Energies.”

In other words, a person who is regulated has an energy that matches what is needed for the activity at hand. So the energy we bring to a sport is going to require high energy, high intensity. Conversely, the energy we bring to study time is going to be far more relaxed, quiet, calm and focused.

As occupational therapists, we recognize that what we’re seeing on the outside isn’t necessarily a perfect indicator of the regulation happening on the inside. This is especially true for a child with conditions like autism who may be fairly good at masking. Also, just because a child is making eye contact doesn’t necessarily mean they are regulated, and requiring it can actually be dysregulating for some kids.

Every person has their own sort of “band of regulation” that reflects their regulation within a given day. Not everyone’s bandwidth is the same. For example, a child who has sensory processing challenges is going to have a lower threshold for certain input before they become overwhelmed and dysregulated compared to another child. As our Akron occupational therapy team works with these kids month after month, we discover what their individual thresholds are, and how we can set them up for success while still continuing to challenge them by expanding the situations in which they’re able to self-regulate.

Self-regulation is a skill that involves the ability to cope emotionally and physically in situations that may be challenging or stressful. EVERYONE has struggled with self-regulation at some point. Kids with certain conditions may need more time and practice to develop this skill.

Often, it takes lots of visual cues and verbal prompts as they’re learning to:

  • Pause/Stop.
  • Identify the Emotion or Physical Feeling.
  • Determine the Size of the Problem.
  • Advocate for What is Needed to Return the Mind/Body to an Appropriate State of Arousal.
  • Respond With Control.

It’s not a quickly-learned skill. And it may be one we’re working at for a long time with our patients. But it’s worth it because it will be useful in virtually every setting – school, home, work, and in the community.

How our Akron Occupational Therapy Team Helps Kids With Self-Regulation Skills

In OT, our therapists have many strategies we can use in our sessions to help kids build their self-regulation skills.

These include:

  1. Sensory-Based Activities. Sensory input plays a significant role in regulating a child’s nervous system. We incorporate sensory activities that are individualized to each child’s needs and preferences. These activities may include swinging, jumping on a trampoline, playing with tactile materials, or deep pressure activities like weighted blankets or compression garments. Providing the right sensory input helps to calm or alert the child’s nervous system, promoting regulation.
  2. Visual Supports. Visual supports such as visual schedules, timers, and choice boards help children understand what to expect during the therapy session and provide a sense of structure and predictability. Visual supports can also help children transition between activities smoothly, reducing anxiety and promoting regulation.
  3. Movement Breaks. Incorporating movement breaks into therapy sessions allows children to release excess energy and re-engage their attention. Short movement activities such as yoga poses, animal walks, or simple exercises can help children regulate their arousal levels and maintain focus during longer therapy tasks.
  4. Deep Breathing and Mindfulness. Teaching children deep breathing exercises and mindfulness techniques can help them regulate their emotions and attention. Encouraging children to take deep breaths or engage in mindfulness activities such as body scans or guided imagery can promote relaxation and self-regulation.
  5. Environmental Modifications. Creating a sensory-friendly environment that minimizes distractions and sensory overload is essential for promoting regulation. We pay attention to factors such as lighting, noise levels, and visual clutter to create a calm and organized space conducive to regulation and learning.
  6. Positive Reinforcement and Encouragement. Providing positive reinforcement and praise for appropriate behavior and effort encourages children to stay engaged and regulated during therapy sessions. Celebrating small successes and offering verbal encouragement motivates children to continue participating and trying their best.
  7. Individualized Approaches. Recognizing that every child is unique, we tailor our strategies to meet the specific needs and preferences of each child. By understanding each child’s sensory preferences, triggers, and regulatory patterns, we can effectively support their regulation and engagement in therapy.

Making sure kids are regulated during their Akron occupational therapy sessions is fundamental for maximizing their participation, learning and progress. By employing a variety of sensory-based strategies, we can help set the stage for kids’ success – in our sessions, and in life!

For more information about Cleveland pediatric occupational therapy groups at Therapy and Wellness Connection, Contact Us Online or call our office (330) 748-4807. Our services and multidisciplinary therapy are available in Brecksville, Broadview Heights, Cleveland, Akron and surrounding communities.

Additional Resources:

Scoping Review of Self-Regulation: What Are Occupational Therapists Talking About? 2016, The American Journal of Occupational Therapy

More Blog Entries:

Could Your Kid Benefit From Occupational Therapy Groups? Jan. 25, 2024, Akron Occupational Therapists Blog