Support refugee children to access and thrive in education

Home  >>  Thesis directory  >>  Developing the emotion regulation skills of autistic pupils in education settings

Developing the emotion regulation skills of autistic pupils in education settings

Dr Joanne Bennett
University of Southampton


Emotion regulation describes an individual’s ability to understand what emotions they are feeling, and then to moderate how and when they express them (Gross, 1998). Developing emotion regulation skills is increasingly recognised as important for supporting positive engagement in learning (Boekaerts, 2011), however, research has indicated that some autistic people are more likely to have difficulties developing these skills (Mazefsky et al., 2012). In England, emotional development forms part of the National Curriculum from the Department for Education (2019), meaning there is an expectation that schools will be able to support all children to develop their emotion regulation skills. Yet very little is known about what approaches or interventions schools are using in practice to support emotion regulation development, in particular, for autistic children and young people.

A systematic literature review (Chapter 2) was conducted to explore what approaches schools have used to support autistic children and young people to develop their emotion regulation skills. The findings highlighted a lack of school-led research in this area, as only one out of eight included studies explored an intervention actively embedded into the school’s curriculum. The research was discussed through a critical lens which supports the neurodiversity movement, and critiques considered the inclusiveness of the interventions being developed alongside the extent to which autistic voices were represented within the literature.

To address the lack of school-led research on this topic, a nested case study (Chapter 3) aimed to explain how Hill House School, a residential special school, supports autistic young people to develop their emotion regulation skills. Staff reflections (n = 50), observations (n = 8), and semi-structured interviews with staff members (n = 9), centred around four young people, were analysed using reflexive thematic analysis. Four main themes were generated: (1) evolutionary ethos, (2) reciprocal relationships, (3) communication: attuning, asking and adapting, and (4) everyone expresses emotions every day. Overall, interpersonal factors were considered by Hill House School staff to be foundational to supporting the development of autistic young people’s emotion regulation skills.

Contact Dr Joanne Bennett