Sensory Issues with the Autism Child

How To Calm Your Little Dragon

Does your autism child get frustrated easily? Or when they do get frustrated, do they have a hard time transitioning back to calm? It might be helpful to have a few tricks up your sleeve for the next time you need to “tame your little dragon.”


Children have much the same responses as we do when they are frustrated. The difference is that we have learned appropriate responses (most of the time) and children react to their feelings at the gut level. In addition, it is helpful to understand what sets your child off and what sort of sensory responder they are.


Most people, adults too, tend to fit a classification:

Ø Sensory hyper-responsive, where everything is just a bit too loud, too bright and too much for them.

Ø Sensory under-responsive, where they don’t respond, don’t hear their name, don’t pay attention, drop things, are disorganized, slump in their seats.

Ø Sensory seekers, where they crave heavy work, intense sensations, a lot of movement, always touching and pushing.


Once you can classify yourself and your child, you can try to avoid getting into the “red zone” in regards to their particular classification. This alone can avoid a lot of frustration and maintain calm or rather “balance.” Let’s say you know your child is hyper-responsive to loud noises and you are going to a holiday party, birthday party or class performance: You can avoid a meltdown and maintain calm by preparing ahead of time and offering the choice to use earphones or earplugs to minimize the noise level.


In addition to preparing your child and knowing your child’s sensory personality, there are things you can do to control the environment and create regular calm “conditioning.”


VISUAL: Calm the walls. Leave “white space” on your walls. This works for bedrooms, hallways, classrooms and so on. The less, the better. Use soft lighting and avoid fluorescent lights. If you must use fluorescent lighting, turn these off during transition times and purchase light covers to minimize the direct light. Purchase a bubble tube, fish tank or lava lamp as a visual calmer.


SOUND and VIBRATION: Modulate your voice to speak in an even tone. Play some classical music, such as Mozart or music with bass tones to elicit calm. Music designed for massage or yoga works well too. Try using a metronome set at 72 beats per minute to mimic a resting heart rate. Use vibration from a kazoo, toothbrush or vibrating pillow or chair. Take a “humming” break and have everyone hum a soft tune for 5 minutes. Vibration gets down to their very core and can have a most soothing effect.


ART: Using your hands can calm down the entire body. Try offering your kids time to draw, paint or sculpt. Add in some soft background music for a total “chill” time.


BREATHING: Kazoos, windpipes, flutes, wind instruments, singing, bubbles and straws are great for deep breathing and promoting calm and relaxation. Use at recess, as an elective activity or during breaks.


CHEWING: Use the jaw as a filter to calm. Chewing gum, chewy toys, vibrating toothbrush, and crunchy snacks all promote relaxation using the jaw. Studies show that kids who chew actually perform better in school!


FURNITURE: Create a space that is comfy using soft furniture. Use beanbag chairs, rockers, hammock swings and other soft, calming pieces to create a “safe” space in your home, clinic or classroom.


WEIGHT and PRESSURE: Both weight and pressure can elicit calm through their stimulation of joint proprioceptors. Try using weighted vest, lap pad or blanket or a pressure vest or tight shirt to provide the squeeze or hug that kids need to stay calm and focused. Real hugs work too when appropriate. Ask first.


MULTISENSORY SPACES: Set up a sensory room with bubble tubes, fiber optics, white flooring, mirrors and interactive lights to create calm and elicit positive sensory responses. These rooms work great and show phenomenal responses for kids on the spectrum.


MOVEMENT: Create an obstacle course at home or in your gym. Play Ping Pong. Skip rope. Jump on a trampoline. Swim. Ride a bike. This list is endless. Don’t have much space? Use a small scarf to toss and catch, even in your classroom or as a homework break. Hang a swing bar up in your doorway. Crossing midline with eye-hand coordination is one of the best ways to calm when it comes to movement. No matter what, get your kids moving, every day.


PET THERAPY: Don’t own a pet? Well, you might want to consider it. Pets can lower blood pressure, regulate sensory responses, calm and teach responsibility. They are great listeners and offer a companion like no other.


Last, it is crucial that we respect each child’s unique nature, what sets them off and when they are at their best. But no matter what, remain calm and take time to find your own “happy place” as well. The way we respond can build our children up to be their very best.


Ilana M. Danneman, PT, is the Director of Education, Innovation and Product Selection at Fun and Function, an award-winning company that develops toys and therapy tools for children with special needs. Reach out to her with your questions at


Disclosure:  This guest post is sponsored by Fun and Function.





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