Case Study CD: Life Skills and Emotional Regulation

CD is a thirteen year old autistic boy, who also has a diagnosis of Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). He attends a Social Communication Unit comprising of ten students within a Special School.

Background Information

CD is a thirteen year old autistic boy, who also has a diagnosis of Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). He attends a Social Communication Unit comprising of ten students within a Special School.

CD has difficulties identifying and regulating his emotions. This confusion can, at times, result in behaviours of concern, which by their nature, are obviously of concern to CD, his family, and the school staff. He will either present as being very impulsive, pushing items off tables, grabbing belongings of others, or being sullen and reluctant to engage. CD appears to want to engage socially with others but appears unable to do this in a calm and organised manner.

CD particularly enjoys playing with Lego and completing board games.

His strengths are in Mathematics and Science with a preference for Mental Maths.  CD struggles with generalising skills into different contexts.

For example, he finds it difficult to independently buy snacks at the school tuck shop, even though he can work out the required amount of money needed and the change to expect. This difficulty with the practical application of his skills frustrates and upsets him.

CD also struggles when losing games, transitioning, completing work activities independently and paying attention. However, it must be noted that these are all difficulties with Executive Function, an area of difficulty for many autistic children, young people and adults .

These situations may lead to a build-up of frustration, culminating in emotional stress responses such as crying, shouting and hitting out at staff and pupils.


  • Having difficulty identifying and regulating his emotions
  • Being unaware of how to act in a socially expected manner, when feeling anxious or overwhelmed and also when enjoying an activity.
  • Accruing a build-up of sensory overload throughout the school day and finding it difficult to process and regulate this. (Sensory Resource)
  • Finding it difficult to control some impulsive reactions and CD is seemingly unaware of the consequences of his actions on himself and others, again however, this could be due to his difficulties with Executive Function.

Priority areas identified:

  • Use of strategies and techniques which appeal to CD’s thinking and learning style. For example, use of visual supports and structured teaching approaches for functional use in a busy classroom environment.
  • To explicitly teach identification of emotions and strategies to encourage self-regulation, to help create positive social and learning experiences.
  • To promote independent use of strategies to add to self-advocacy skills.
  • To use strategies that incorporate techniques that support CD’s sensory processing difficulties.


These were based on the book “The Zones of Regulation” by Leah Kuypers in collaboration with Michelle Garcia Winner.

Creating a classroom with “Zones” to provide a clearly defined area where CD can go, depending on how he feels, according to the emotional thermometer.

The emotional thermometer is placed on CD’s desk. Each coloured zone is in a different area allowing CD to clearly distinguish where in the physical environment he needs to be.

For example, the green area is close to the classroom’s leisure area and the red area is in a small corridor adjacent to the classroom where CD can be supervised but have some space from others.

N.B – This approach has been used in conjunction with other (Visual Support for daily tasks) such as a daily schedule and structured teaching approaches such as work systems and social narratives and scripts to help manage CD’s expectations of classroom life.


  • Classroom staff have reported that since this approach has been put in place, there has been fewer behaviours of concern and more active and positive engagement with classroom activities.
  • CD can independently use the emotional thermometer and moves to the relevant zone with limited prompting. On occasion, he requires some assistance to go to the red zone, but records show this is becoming more infrequent.
  • CD is choosing the activities, which are part of each zone, to enable him to increase his self- advocacy skills.
  • CD’s parents have also begun to use this system at home to enable generalisation of the approach.
  • Classroom staff reported that sometimes it was difficult to transition CD back to the class activity. However, when a visual timer was consistently used, CD understood the concept.
  • Classroom staff have also reported that on some days, CD only goes to the green zone, and on some days, he does not go to any of the zones but fully takes part in academic and social activities in the classroom.

Further sources of information

Fostering Wellbeing in School and the classroom

Supporting Autistic Children With Anxiety in School

Autism and Managing Anxiety

Autism, Strategies to help with Anxiety

The Incredible 5-Point Scale

When my worries get too big


Kuypers, L. The Zones of Regulation (2011). Think Social Publishing Ltd.

Gray, C. A., and Garand, J. D. (1993). Social narratives: Improving responses of students with autism with accurate social information. Focus on Autistic Behaviour, 8(1), 1-10.