When autistic children start feeling overwhelmed, parents and teachers are always looking for tips on how to calm an autistic child. Since behaviors that are associated with autism can vary, it can be tricky to figure out the best calming strategies.
Behaviors can range from refusing to listen and participate to self-injurious behaviors that can harm others. Some behaviors only happen in extreme cases, but everyone is different and will respond differently.
Not all tips and tricks work for everyone, but if there is even one that can make the day run more smoothly, that can be extremely helpful for the parent and child. Here are our 10 tips on how to calm an autistic child.
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1. Create a Calming Routine
When a child knows what to expect when they go somewhere, it can make a difference for them and their experience. Some autistic people feel like they lose control of their day or even their situation when they don’t know what they should expect.
Having a routine helps provide the calming and familiar activity that the child may need to feel secure.
2. Learn About the Benefits of Deep Breathing
If a child is experiencing sensory overload, learning to take a deep breath in, hold it, and slowly exhale can help them release tension and focus on the rhythm of their breath.
This is a healthy way for the child to recollect themselves. While they are focused on slowing down their breathing, they can start feeling calm and relaxed.
3. Create a Sensory Toolkit
One of the keys to preventing autistic meltdowns could be providing the child with a favorite sensory toy or stuffed animal that helps calm them during potentially stressful times.
Some sensory toys could include:
- a favorite stuffed animal,
- fidget toys like a fidget spinner,
- noise-canceling headphones,
- a visual schedule or social story that provides a layout of events
4. Give the Child a Quiet Place
This can be a special spot in the living room, their bedroom, the classroom, or any other place that could be overwhelming for the child.
These quiet areas are safe spots where the child can go when overwhelmed and play with a sensory toy, rest, or do another calming activity that helps them.
5. Watch Out For Any Known or New Triggers
There might be an activity that parents and caregivers know causes the autistic child to experience meltdowns. Try to avoid those or have calming activities prepared to help guide the child through the experience.
If a parent notices that a child is having a tantrum and is unsure of why, it could be a new trigger that the child didn’t have before. Parents and caregivers can note these new triggers to help avoid them or be prepared if they experience them again.
6. Consider Using Weighted Blankets and Lap Pads
If a child is having difficulty sleeping or sitting still, their sensory system is either overloaded or they are seeking sensory input.
Weighted blankets and lap pads help provide the pressure the child craves. Parents can purchase or make their own weighted blanket for their child.
7. Use Positive Reinforcements
If a parent has some form of positive reinforcement that has worked with their child before, like a fruit snack pouch, it can help the child calm down and keep them calm.
8. Keep the Child’s Developmental Ability in Mind
It can be challenging for parents when planning an activity for their child. Most activities tend to be planned based on age and grade level.
Parents can have difficulty finding an appropriate activity when a child’s developmental ability differs from their age. Researching online and talking to other parents can help open up possibilities to activities parents may not have known about before.
9. Pay Attention to What They Are Eating
There are different diets that parents can take into consideration when it comes to their child. Certain foods can cause the child to have higher energy levels. These can include sugar and drinks that contain caffeine. If parents can limit those treats and sweets, it may help the child maintain a calm, which may otherwise be difficult.
10. Try and Stay Calm
Staying calm during an autistic meltdown is crucial. It helps parents assess whether giving the child space or maintaining a calm voice can be beneficial in teaching their little one to respond calmly as well.
This is also the safest way to interact with a child. When the parent is calm, they can better assess the child’s needs and keep them safe and calm.
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What are Some Situations That Can Cause Discomfort For an Autistic Child?
As with anything, everyone is different and responds to different stimuli. Whether environmental, physical, or other, it can be difficult for them to let others know without having intense reactions, which can be when meltdowns occur.
Parents know their children best and can be the ones who observe and note what kinds of environments their children enjoy. Because of that, they can typically pinpoint the early warning signs of a child’s meltdown.
Sometimes, the child can simply be removed from the environment, like a play park, and not have to return. However, having a strategy for when a child cannot leave or avoid situations like a doctor’s visit can make the visit a little smoother.
When practitioners, such as occupational therapists, run into instances where their autistic client is exhibiting behaviors that are interfering with treatment, they try to figure out what the root cause may be.
Occupational therapists are trained to calm an autistic child by providing different sensory interventions and sensory integration to help the child learn coping strategies.
Some activities that can cause an intense response from an autistic child could be, but are not limited to:
- sudden and loud noises
- bright lights
- bright colors
- a large number of people
- a lot of activities happening at once
- people standing close to the child that they don’t know
- unknown smells or those that the child doesn’t like or finds overwhelming
- foods that the child doesn’t like
- unknown animals
Preparation is the Key
Many autistic children have different responses to stressful situations. If parents, teachers, and practitioners have their own toolkit prepared to help the child calm down, it can help the child then and throughout their lifetime.
Teaching a child calming strategies helps them feel secure and learn to soothe themselves. Recognizing that a child’s behavior communicates their needs can set parents and children up for success.
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Q: How do you stop negative behavior in autistic children?
A: To address negative behavior in autistic children, identify triggers and use consistent, positive interventions tailored to the child’s needs to promote better behavior.
Q: How do you calm down an autistic child having a tantrum?
A: To calm down an autistic child having a tantrum, provide a quiet and comfortable space, use calming techniques like deep pressure or sensory tools, and offer clear and simple communication to address their needs. It’s essential to stay patient, understanding, and responsive to the child’s sensory sensitivities during the process.
Q: How do you calm an autistic child at school?
A: To calm an autistic child at school, provide a quiet and structured environment, offer sensory breaks when needed, and establish a consistent routine. Understanding their triggers and specific needs will help you create a safe environment.
Q: What relaxes people with autism?
A: People with autism often find relaxation through sensory activities that cater to their preferences, such as deep pressure, soft textures, or calming sounds. Consider using weighted blankets, vests, or fidget toys.
American Autism Association. (2020). What Causes a Meltdown and How to Prevent Them. https://www.myautism.org/informational-kits/what-causes-a-meltdown
Barimo, J., & Piller, A. (2019). Sensory Strategies to Calm and Engage Children with Autism Spectrum Disorder.
National Autistic Society. (2020). Meltdowns – a guide for all audiences.