Therapy Defined: Self-Regulation

Definition of self-regulation intervention or therapy: H is given the downtime he needs to delve into his interests and to regroup and relax when he needs it…

(And you wouldn’t call this therapy if the kid were non Autistic, you’d call it relaxing.)


Image Description: H is sitting sideways in a blue upholstered arm-chair with his legs hanging over one arm and his head resting on the other. He is wearing casual clothes and a white fleece Adventure Time Finn the Human hat. He is smiling while playing a DS game and his bare feet are angled in a way that indicates continued at-ease movement. Text reads: “Definition of self-regulation intervention: H is given the downtime he needs to delve into his interests and to regroup and relax when he needs it…”

For me it is important to consider that the experience of being Autistic can be pathologized in ways I might not easily notice.  As a parent, I hope that I am moving more and more in the direction of understanding H’s experience from the perspective of the social model of disability.

It is not complicated really, but for myself, I find it requires a mindful practice of reflection upon the things I have held to be true, and thus may have not questioned. In particular, I find myself more closely examining the language I am used to hearing and not noticing.  Language is important and powerful, and far too often the pathologization and dehumanizing stance begins and is perpetuated in something as seemingly innocuous as our word choice.

Even for those who reject the disease paradigm, who are not looking to fix their child, and who accept them as they are, there can at times be a tendency to feel pulled toward ‘therapies and interventions’ that are really not natural or helpful or even developmentally sound when we consider moving toward the goal of  growing into a self-determining adult.

Fortunately, there is an alternative and it can really be quite simple:

  • give people down time – when they need it (and also proactively when they don’t)
  • support them in developing self-understanding so they know what they need
  • support them in recognizing for themselves when they need it
  • support them in learning how to get it
  • and nurture pride and sense of self, so that they feel confident and justified to pursue or ask for what they need


30 Days of Autism is a project designed to fight stigma, promote civil rights, and increase understanding and acceptance for those who process and experience the world differently.

© Leah Kelley, Thirty Days of Autism (2015)

About Leah Kelley, Ed.D.

Leah Kelley, M.Ed, Ed.D., Writer, Consultant, Activist, Speaker, and Educator, working with Teacher Candidates at UBC. Authors blog: 30 Days of Autism. Projects support social understanding, Neurodiversity paradigm, Disability Justice, and connecting Disability Studies in Education(DSE)to Educational Practice. Twitter: @leah_kelley Facebook: 30 Days of Autism: Leah Kelley
This entry was posted in ableism, acceptance, Autism, autism stigma, Autistic, Intervention, language and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

13 Responses to Therapy Defined: Self-Regulation

  1. stefaniesacks says:

    I hate that everything we do has to mean something at least growing up it can be the same thing a typplical kid dose but fir us it something else .that really drives me nuts we don’t need to be buzy 24/7 sometime we need down time an be a kid like any other kid teen or adult what ever that is an as long as it safe an apporite then it should be fine .not everything is an autism behavior that needs to be look at an stuff


  2. Such a lovely article, Leah! Just this week I was observing the attempts of a little one trying to self regulate at school, and it was deemed as “negative attention seeking”. We must really shift in our thinking– to trust that we can follow the child’s lead to see what they need to regulate in various environments.


  3. Thank you so much for writing this. Downtime and how much we need and how to get it is something our whole family is learning and discovering together. I love how you’ve described downtime as an alternative to therapy – YEAH!!


  4. byamtich says:

    Down time is a very cost effective therapy! Also, it has tons of dignity. Love this.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. foxtears says:

    I always thought that was just parenting…


  6. Pingback: Electronic Resources: Arizona TASH 2018 | Thirty Days of Autism

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.