Supporting Self-Regulation for Back to School

We all self-regulate daily. Our self-regulation strategies are built from experience and are often created unconsciously. However, for individuals with FASD, self-regulation can be challenging.

Self-regulation is the ability to control and regulate our thoughts, feelings, and behaviours in response to our environment. Self-regulation includes how we manage stress, how we control our emotional arousal, and how we manage our impulses.

When encouraging self-regulation in individuals with FASD, it is important to understand where an individual’s behaviour is coming from. Think Brain not Blame. When we recognize this discrepancy, we understand where the real challenge lies and can come up with solutions to achieve success. For example, rather than thinking “they can’t sit still”, think “they’re overstimulated or overwhelmed”.

It is also important to shift our expectations of what we think “good behaviour” is and set reasonable expectations for people with FASD. In doing so, we must promote secure and safe relationships over rewards and punishment. For individuals with FASD, focusing on building a safe and supportive environment will improve behaviour more than rewards and punishment ever will.

With back to school just around the corner, we wanted to share some strategies that educators can use to help support self-regulation for students with FASD. These strategies can be broken into two categories: universal approaches and targeted approaches.

Universal Approaches

Universal approaches are interventions that we can implement for all students. When considering universal approaches for supporting self-regulation, interventions should be relationship focused and promote co-regulation between the student and adult. Some examples to support developing safe, caring relationships could include:

  1. Greeting students by their names.
    Ex. Teachers can greet students by their first names when they come into school in order to build a relationship.
  2. Getting to know a student’s personal interests outside of academic performance.
    Ex. Try to have 10 two-minute interactions with a student throughout the day where you talk about things outside of school, like their favourite sports team.
  3. Having regular check-ins with students to monitor their emotional state.
    Ex. Ask a student to rate their mood on a 10-point scale – 0 is disengaged and uninterested and 10 is over-stimulated and emotional. Continuous check-ins can help you understand their optimal learning range and help you to identify when personal interventions need to be implemented.
  4. Repairing relationships with students that you’ve previously had negative interactions with.
    Ex. If a student thinks that you don’t like them, go out of your way to interact and compliment them. Building relationships with students is key to helping them build success.
  5. Being predictable.

Targeted Approaches

For some students, universal approaches to self-regulation will be all the support a student needs. However, sometimes students with FASD might require a more individualized, targeted approach. These interventions are specific to an individual student’s neurodevelopment.

Examples of targeted approaches that have worked with some students:

  • Food
  • Sleep
  • Music
  • Gum
  • Movement
  • Change of location
  • Change of lighting
  • Mindfulness activities
  • Computer games
  • Fidgets

When supporting a student with FASD’s self-regulation it is important that we use a team approach. Involve the individual with FASD and their caregiver in these discussions to determine the appropriate strategy and be willing to test the approach a few times before moving on.


If you’d like to learn more about self-regulation, watch our previous webinar:

Dr. Jacqueline Pei is a Professor in the Department of Educational Psychology and Assistant Clinical Professor in the Department of Pediatrics at the University of Alberta. Also a practicing Registered Psychologist for the past twenty years, Dr Pei began her career as a criminologist and forensic counsellor working with incarcerated youth. Motivated by this early work, she returned to academia to study youth at risk, child development, and neuropsychology, leading to her current focus on interventions for individuals with Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders. Dr. Pei has over 75 peer-reviewed publications but places the greatest value on her work with various community and government agencies. To this end, Dr Pei currently leads the Intervention Network Action Team (iNAT) for the Canada FASD Research Network a role that facilitates the link between research, policy, and practice.

Tracy Mastrangelo has focused her career in the social work and educations fields in both Alberta and the Yukon Territory. Her work has focused mainly on supporting families and children/youth with complex needs; including as the Provincial Coordinator of Wellness, Resiliency and Partnerships (WRaP) an education-based initiative for students with FASD. Tracy has a Masters degree in Interdisciplinary Studies with a focus on psychosocial interventions in school communities.

1 Response

  1. Ab

    Great post. I’m feeling both nervous and hopeful about our 5 year old starting SK after months in lockdown and first time in a regular school classroom. Fingers crossed for him and all students this year!

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