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Social Thinking® and The Zones of Regulation®: The Journey Continues!

Social Thinking and The Zones of Regulation The journey continues!

Published: April, 2017
© 2021 Think Social Publishing, Inc.

Let’s go back to 2005, a year in which Leah Kuypers, a practicing occupational therapist, is working on her Master of Arts in Education and a Graduate Certificate in Autism program from Hamline University in St. Paul, MN. As an OT and autism resource specialist working in public schools, she too frequently had students on her caseload who were struggling not just with sensory regulation, but also emotional regulation. As Leah puts it, “Too often these kids just didn’t get an opportunity to spend time with their peers because of their frequent outbursts and their inability to cope effectively.” The wheels started turning in Leah’s head and over the next year or so she came up with an idea to help students learn to self-regulate their sensory needs as well as their emotions and impulses to meet the demands of the environment and be successful academically as well as socially. She called her idea The Zones of Regulation and this first draft of the curriculum became her graduate level capstone.

Over the next few years Leah researched, tested, expanded, retested, and honed the concept, being influenced by the work of Williams and Shellenberger’s The Alert Program® on sensory self-regulation, Kari Dunn Buron and Mitzi Curtis’ work in the area of emotional-regulation and executive functioning, The Incredible 5 Point Scale, Simon Baron Cohen’s Systemizing Theory and Ross Greene’s Explosive Child

Leah adapted her initial curriculum on The Zones of Regulation to pair it with core teachings of Social Thinking and presented it to an eager audience of professionals in 2009 at Social Thinking’s Annual Providers’ Conference, where she met Michelle Garcia Winner, a speech language pathologist and founder/creator of the Social Thinking Methodology.

Michelle immediately recognized the value and potential in Leah’s conceptual framework and offered to mentor her in turning her graduate capstone into a user-friendly, less “academic” and more approachable curriculum that would be published by Michelle’s company, Think Social Publishing. Leah had done a great job providing the research link to her concepts in different aspects of self-regulation, including sensory regulation, emotional regulation, and executive processing. Michelle was already known in professional circles as a forward thinker and pioneer in the area of social emotional learning, a prolific writer and speaker on her methodology Social Thinking® and especially for her uncanny ability to break down complex social concepts into smaller chunks that could be taught concretely and through a coordinated set of materials. Working together over the next couple of years, Leah and Michelle reorganized and adapted existing content, researched and added new content and visual supports, and turned Leah’s concepts and lessons on self-regulation into the curriculum book it is today – one that is designed for easy teaching and replication across classrooms, clinics, or homes, etc.  

During that process it became apparent there was a strong natural synergy between the concepts and ideas of Michelle’s work, Social Thinking, and the Zones of Regulation concepts and strategies developed by Leah. 

Social Thinking helps individuals become aware of the social context and the implicit social expectations all people hold for others with whom they are interacting or sharing space. This is summarized in their teaching tool called Social Behavior Mapping. Social Thinking also fosters social learning through teaching specific Social Thinking Vocabulary and then self-regulation strategies using social knowledge and related social skills. Different teaching tools are used for different age groups. Superflex: A Social Thinking Superhero Curriculum is a motivational developmental tool that is very popular with students ages 6-10. 

As The Zones of Regulation curriculum evolved, the teachings of Zones were woven into these core teachings from Social Thinking. Together, these two methodologies are complimentary in helping all students understand how an individual’s regulated and unregulated behavior impacts the thoughts and feelings of others around them. In turn, this illuminates why every student benefits from explicit instruction about their awareness to the situation, their sensory selves, themselves in relation to others, their emotional or sensory triggers and specific tools they can learn to self-regulate their feelings and behavioral responses. 

The end result, The Zones of Regulation, is a curriculum book designed to help students better understand how they process and respond to implicit or explicit situational triggers, their own sensory systems and emotions, and develop a range of strategies or tools to self-regulate in a stronger, more competent way. 

Since the book was published by TSP in 2011, Zones has been enthusiastically received by educators, therapists and parents around the world. Both Leah and Michelle continue to gain widespread recognition in their respective fields, both in the U.S. and abroad. Leah has continued to practice as an OT as well as write and develop products on The Zones. In addition to her book and posters, she has two Zones of Regulation apps available. She provides training and consultation to parents, schools and professionals, and offers workshops on the Zones curriculum to groups internationally.  

Michelle has written or co-authored over 40 books and products on Social Thinking, social emotional processing, social executive functioning and social self-regulation. Her company  sponsors conferences on Social Thinking in the U.S. and Michelle speaks internationally on the methodology. 

Michelle and Leah continue to collaborate on Leah’s development of new Zones products, explore the complete Zones product collection.

Zones has always been part of the larger Social Thinking family of products and it’s a delight to both Leah and Michelle to see how popular it has become. To date over 100,000 copies of The Zones of Regulation book have been sold and the framework has been implemented school-wide to help students with and without learning challenges. Teaching Zones as part of the broader Social Thinking Methodology has always been Social Thinking’s vision. It has been terrific to collaborate with Leah to help all students learn more specific strategies to self-regulate. 

Given the far-reaching popularity of The Zones of Regulation and community requests for “more Zones”, as of April 1, 2017 Leah has decided to stop being in the business of selling Zones books and posters, and is turning over that responsibility exclusively to Think Social Publishing, the publishing arm of the company that creates Social Thinking’s teaching materials. Leah is excited to free up time to write new Zones materials to be published in collaboration with TSP. 

Learn more about Leah and The Zones of Regulation at; also purchase either of The Zones Apps at her website. 

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