A child with autism can live in a very stressed state. Transitions, sensory overload, confusion reading facial expressions or a change in routine can leave your child feeling extremely anxious and super stressed out. If your child has difficulty expressing their emotions they can become even more stressed, leading to challenging behaviours such as crying, hitting, screaming or biting.
Here are some common situations which may trigger a meltdown:
- change to normal routine – e.g. a cancelled after-school activity
- change to the environment – e.g. a change in classroom, rearranging furniture or moving house
- sensory overload – e.g. loud unexpected sounds
- unfamiliar social situations – e.g. attending a friend’s birthday party
- fear of a situation, activity or object – e.g. afraid of the dark
While you may try your best to avoid the triggers as much as humanly possible, unfortunately some things are out of your hands and despite all of your efforts a meltdown will occur regardless. In this case, you need to be armed with strategies ready-to-go! It is essential that you practice these strategies at homebase with your child prior to the meltdown occurring.
Just remember that we all have our own preferred ways to calm down. Some of us like to punch it out on a boxing bag, some prefer to listen to their favourite tunes and go for a long walk, whilst others prefer to smell a calming essential oil to help calm the nervous system. It’s a case of working out what works for your child.
Here are 6 of our favourite calming strategies that can be used at home or school:
- Create a safe place: A safe space is somewhere where your child can go whenever things become too overwhelming. You can set up this safe space by putting up a tent in the corner of a room. The tent can house calming sensory tools such as headphones that play calming music, fidget tools or a note pad for drawing and doodling.
- Deep breathing: Deep breathing when anxious and overwhelmed reduces the heart rate and calms the nervous system. It can help return your child to a more stable, safe and calm state. Deep breathing exercises for littlies could be as simple as blowing bubbles or blowing out birthday candles (the candles being fingers – yours or theirs).
- Deep pressure: The use of deep pressure is extremely calming for children with autism. Weighted blankets can be really effective. However, you don’t need to spend a lot of money – a firm bear hug or deep pressure massage can be just as effective!
- Movement: The repetitive linear movement of swinging back and forwards is very soothing for the nervous system and therefore provides a great calming strategy.
- Create a ‘calm down’ kit: A calm down kit is a simple homemade kit which includes a number of different sensory tools as well as visual strategy cards for your child to access when they are feeling anxious or frustrated. This kit could include a stress ball, bubble wrap, chew necklaces, eye masks and visual cues for deep breathing exercises.
- Fidget tool: Fidget tools allow for repetitive behaviour in a controlled and safe way. A child with autism tends to fidget as a way to help calm, sooth and self-regulate. Think: squishy toys and stress balls!
Remember that these are all great ideas for helping your child calm down, but they will always be most effective when you are able to keep calm yourself!
Step 1: breath, gather yourself and keep calm.
Step 2: help implement calming strategies for your child.
Don’t expect miracles overnight. Just keep on keeping on, because you can create positive change from homebase.