Calming Kids with Autism: Sensory, Visual and Relaxation Strategies for Soothing Anxious Children

Discover effective calming techniques for kids with autism. Expert-backed strategies to navigate the waves and bring comfort.

Understanding Autism and Calming Techniques

When it comes to kids with autism, finding effective calming techniques is essential to help them navigate the challenges they may face. Understanding autism and its unique characteristics is the first step toward identifying the most suitable approaches for promoting calmness and emotional well-being. In this section, we will explore what autism is, the importance of calming techniques for kids with autism, and expert-backed approaches to support them.

What is Autism?

Autism, or Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), is a neurodevelopmental disorder that affects communication, social interaction, and behavior. It is typically diagnosed in early childhood and manifests differently in each individual. Common characteristics of autism include difficulties in social communication, repetitive behaviors, sensory sensitivities, and challenges with transitions and changes in routine.

The Importance of Calming Techniques for Kids with Autism

Kids with autism often experience heightened sensitivity to sensory stimuli and have difficulty regulating their emotions. Calming techniques play a vital role in helping them manage stress, anxiety, and sensory overload, leading to improved overall well-being. These techniques provide a sense of security, promote self-regulation, and assist in reducing challenging behaviors.

Expert-Backed Approaches

Experts in the field of autism have identified various approaches that have shown promising results in promoting calmness and reducing anxiety in kids with autism. These approaches are backed by research and professional expertise. Some of these expert-backed approaches include:

  • Sensory-based Techniques: These techniques focus on addressing sensory sensitivities and meeting sensory needs. Examples include deep pressure therapy and the use of weighted blankets to provide a comforting and grounding effect. Additionally, incorporating regular sensory breaks can help kids with autism regulate their sensory input.
  • Visual Supports and Communication: Visual supports, such as visual schedules, help provide structure and predictability, reducing anxiety and promoting independence. Social stories and communication boards aid in enhancing social understanding and communication skills.
  • Breathing and Relaxation Techniques: Teaching deep breathing exercises, progressive muscle relaxation, and incorporating mindfulness and meditation techniques can empower kids with autism to self-soothe and manage their emotions effectively. These techniques can be particularly beneficial during times of heightened stress or anxiety.
  • Environmental Adaptations: Modifying the environment to create a calm and organized space can significantly impact a child's well-being. Strategies such as reducing noise levels, using visual cues for transitions, and providing a comfortable and safe space can help promote a sense of security and relaxation.
  • Additional Strategies and Resources: Engaging kids with autism in regular exercise and physical activity can help reduce anxiety and promote overall well-being. Social support through peer groups and involvement in activities tailored to their interests can enhance social skills and self-esteem. When necessary, seeking professional help and therapy can provide further guidance and support.

Understanding autism and implementing expert-backed approaches can make a significant difference in the lives of kids with autism. By tailoring calming techniques to their unique needs and preferences, parents, caregivers, and educators can create a supportive environment that promotes emotional regulation and well-being. 

Sensory-Based Techniques

For kids with autism, sensory-based techniques can play a vital role in promoting calmness and reducing anxiety. These techniques focus on providing sensory input that helps regulate their nervous system. In this section, we will explore three effective sensory-based techniques: deep pressure therapy, weighted blankets, and sensory breaks.

Deep Pressure Therapy

Deep pressure therapy involves applying firm, gentle pressure to the body to create a calming effect. This technique can be implemented in various ways, such as using weighted vests, weighted blankets, or deep pressure massages. The pressure helps stimulate the release of serotonin, a neurotransmitter that promotes relaxation.

A weighted blanket is a popular tool used in deep pressure therapy. These blankets are filled with evenly distributed weights, which provide a comforting and grounding sensation. The weight of the blanket can vary depending on the child's preference and sensory needs. It's important to ensure that the blanket is an appropriate size and weight for the child's age and body size.

Weighted Blankets

Weighted blankets can be a comforting and effective tool for children with autism. These blankets provide deep pressure stimulation, which can help reduce anxiety, promote relaxation, and improve sleep quality. The weight of the blanket should be approximately 10% of the child's body weight, although this may vary based on individual preferences and recommendations from healthcare professionals.

When using a weighted blanket, it's essential to ensure proper supervision and follow safety guidelines. The child should always be able to remove the blanket independently, and it should not restrict movement or breathing. Additionally, it's important to consult with a healthcare professional or occupational therapist for personalized recommendations.

Sensory Breaks

Sensory breaks are structured periods of time that allow children with autism to engage in activities that provide sensory input and promote self-regulation. These breaks can be customized to meet the child's sensory needs and preferences. Some common sensory break activities include swinging, jumping on a trampoline, or engaging in deep pressure exercises.

Sensory breaks can be integrated into the child's daily routine to provide regular opportunities for sensory input and regulation. These breaks can also help prevent sensory overload and meltdowns. It's important to observe and understand the specific sensory needs of the child to determine the most effective sensory break activities for them.

By incorporating these sensory-based techniques, such as deep pressure therapy, weighted blankets, and sensory breaks, parents, caregivers, and educators can help create a calmer and more supportive environment for children with autism. However, it's essential to remember that each child is unique, and what works for one may not work for another. Understanding the individual needs of the child and seeking guidance from professionals can help identify the most effective strategies. 

Visual Supports and Communication

Children with autism often benefit from visual support and communication tools that provide structure, predictability, and enhance their understanding of the world around them. In this section, we will explore three key strategies: visual schedules, social stories, and communication boards.

Visual Schedules

Visual schedules are a valuable tool for children with autism. These schedules use pictures, symbols, or written words to visually represent the sequence of activities or tasks throughout the day. By providing a clear visual roadmap, visual schedules help children understand what is expected of them and can reduce anxiety and uncertainty.

A visual schedule can be displayed using a wall chart, a portable binder, or even a digital device. It can be customized to meet the needs of the child, including the level of detail and the format of the visuals. Visual schedules promote independence, improve transitions between activities, and foster a sense of security and structure. 

Social Stories

Social stories are a powerful tool for teaching social skills and appropriate behavior to children with autism. These stories use simple and concise language, along with visual cues, to explain social situations, routines, and expectations. Social stories can cover a wide range of topics, such as going to the dentist, attending a birthday party, or dealing with changes in routine.

By presenting information in a structured and predictable manner, social stories help children with autism understand social norms, interpret social cues, and navigate social interactions more effectively. They provide a visual framework that supports comprehension and can be a valuable resource for parents, educators, and therapists.

Communication Boards

Communication boards are visual aids that support expressive and receptive communication in children with limited or no verbal skills. These boards consist of pictures, symbols, or words that represent a range of needs, desires, and emotions. By pointing to or selecting the appropriate images or symbols, children can effectively communicate their thoughts, preferences, and wants.

Communication boards can be created using a variety of materials, including paper, laminated sheets, or digital applications. They can be personalized to suit the child's specific communication needs and can be used in various settings, such as at home, school, or therapy sessions. Communication boards provide an alternative means of communication, fostering independence, reducing frustration, and enhancing social interactions.

By implementing visual supports and communication tools like visual schedules, social stories, and communication boards, parents, educators, and therapists can help children with autism navigate their daily lives more effectively. These strategies provide structure, enhance communication, and promote independence, fostering a calming environment and supporting the overall well-being of children with autism.

Breathing and Relaxation Techniques

When it comes to calming techniques for kids with autism, incorporating breathing and relaxation exercises can be incredibly beneficial. These techniques help promote self-regulation, reduce anxiety, and provide a sense of calm. In this section, we will explore three effective strategies: deep breathing exercises, progressive muscle relaxation, and mindfulness and meditation.

Deep Breathing Exercises

Deep breathing exercises are a simple yet powerful tool for promoting relaxation and reducing stress. These exercises encourage slow and deep breaths, which activate the body's natural relaxation response. Here's a step-by-step guide to deep breathing exercises:

  1. Find a quiet and comfortable space where your child can sit or lie down.
  2. Instruct them to take a slow breath in through the nose, filling their belly with air.
  3. Encourage them to hold their breath for a few seconds.
  4. Guide them to exhale slowly through the mouth, releasing any tension or stress.
  5. Repeat this process several times, focusing on long and controlled breaths.

Deep breathing exercises can be practiced anytime, anywhere, and can be particularly helpful during moments of anxiety or overwhelm. 

Progressive Muscle Relaxation

Progressive muscle relaxation is a technique that involves systematically tensing and relaxing different muscle groups to promote physical and mental relaxation. This technique helps children become more aware of tension in their bodies and teaches them how to release it. Here's how progressive muscle relaxation can be practiced:

  1. Have your child find a comfortable position either sitting or lying down.
  2. Starting with the toes, ask them to tense the muscles in their feet for a few seconds.
  3. Instruct them to release the tension and let their muscles relax completely.
  4. Move up to the next muscle group, such as the calves, and repeat the process.
  5. Continue this pattern, moving through each muscle group of the body, including the thighs, abdomen, arms, and face.

Progressive muscle relaxation can be a helpful practice before bedtime or during times of heightened stress. It allows children to release tension throughout their bodies and achieve a state of relaxation.

Mindfulness and Meditation

Mindfulness and meditation practices are effective techniques for promoting relaxation and reducing anxiety in children with autism. These practices involve focusing attention on the present moment, cultivating awareness, and accepting thoughts and feelings without judgment. Here are some strategies for introducing mindfulness and meditation to children with autism:

  1. Start with short sessions, gradually increasing the duration as your child becomes more comfortable.
  2. Encourage them to focus on their breath, sensations in their body, or sounds in their environment.
  3. Use visual aids, such as calming images or objects, to help maintain focus.
  4. Incorporate guided meditation audio recordings or apps specifically designed for children with autism.

Mindfulness and meditation can be incorporated into daily routines, such as during quiet time or before bed. These practices can help children develop self-awareness, manage stress, and improve overall well-being. 

By incorporating these breathing and relaxation techniques into your child's routine, you can help them develop effective strategies for calming themselves during moments of stress or anxiety. It's important to remember that each child is unique, so it may take some experimentation to find the techniques that work best for them. Additionally, involving a qualified professional, such as a therapist or counselor, can provide further guidance and support.

Environmental Adaptations

For children with autism, creating a calm and organized environment can greatly contribute to their overall well-being and help manage anxiety and sensory challenges. Making specific adaptations to the environment can make a significant difference in promoting a sense of calm and reducing stress. Here are some strategies for creating a calming environment for kids with autism.

Creating a Calm and Organized Space

Creating a dedicated space that is calm and organized can provide a sense of security and comfort for children with autism. Here are some key considerations when designing such a space:

  • Sensory-Friendly: Minimize sensory distractions by using soft lighting, neutral colors, and avoiding clutter. Some individuals with autism may benefit from specific sensory items such as calming toys or fidget tools.
  • Structured and Predictable: Establish clear boundaries and organization within the space. Use visual cues such as labels or signs to designate specific areas for different activities or materials.
  • Personalized and Comfortable: Tailor the space to the child's preferences and sensory needs. Incorporate comfortable seating options, pillows, or weighted blankets to provide a sense of security and relaxation.

Noise Reduction Strategies

Excessive noise can be overwhelming for individuals with autism, leading to increased stress and anxiety. Implementing noise reduction strategies can help create a more calming environment. Consider the following:

  • Soundproofing: Use materials such as acoustic panels or curtains to absorb or block external noises.
  • White Noise Machines: White noise machines can help mask background noise and provide a consistent, soothing sound that can help individuals with autism relax and focus.
  • Quiet Zones: Designate specific areas as quiet zones where noise is minimized, allowing for moments of tranquility and calm.

Visual Cues for Transitions

Transitions between activities or environments can be challenging for children with autism. Visual cues can help provide structure and predictability, reducing anxiety and facilitating smoother transitions. Consider the following visual supports:

  • Visual Schedules: Use visual schedules to outline the sequence of activities or tasks. Visual schedules provide a clear visual representation of what is expected, helping children understand and anticipate upcoming changes.
  • Timers and Countdowns: Utilize timers or countdowns to signal when a transition is approaching. This visual cue provides a concrete representation of time, allowing children to mentally prepare for the upcoming change.
  • Visual Prompts: Use visual prompts or cue cards to provide step-by-step instructions or reminders for certain tasks or routines. These visual cues can help children navigate transitions more independently.

By implementing environmental adaptations such as creating a calm and organized space, reducing noise, and using visual cues for transitions, parents and caregivers can support children with autism in managing anxiety and promoting a sense of calm. Remember, each child is unique, so it's important to tailor the environment to their individual needs and preferences.

Additional Strategies and Resources

When it comes to supporting children with autism in managing their emotions and promoting a sense of calm, there are several additional strategies and resources that can be beneficial. These approaches go beyond specific techniques and provide a holistic approach to help children with autism thrive.

Exercise and Physical Activity

Engaging children with autism in regular exercise and physical activity can have a positive impact on their overall well-being. Exercise helps release endorphins, which are natural mood boosters, and can help reduce anxiety and stress. It also provides an outlet for pent-up energy and promotes better sleep.

Encouraging children with autism to participate in physical activities they enjoy, such as swimming, cycling, or playing team sports, can help them develop physical strength, coordination, and social skills. It's essential to choose activities that align with their interests and abilities to ensure a positive experience.

Social Support and Peer Groups

Social support and peer groups play a crucial role in providing children with autism a sense of belonging and acceptance. Being part of a community of peers who understand and share similar experiences can help reduce feelings of isolation and foster social connections.

Parents and caregivers can explore opportunities for children with autism to engage in social activities or join support groups where they can interact with others facing similar challenges. These connections can provide a safe and supportive environment for children to practice social skills and develop meaningful relationships.

Professional Help and Therapy

In addition to implementing various calming techniques, seeking professional help and therapy is an important aspect of supporting children with autism. Qualified therapists or specialists can provide individualized strategies to address specific needs and challenges.

Therapies such as applied behavior analysis (ABA), occupational therapy, and speech therapy can help children with autism develop essential life skills, improve communication, manage sensory sensitivities, and reduce anxiety. Consulting with healthcare professionals and specialists can guide parents and caregivers in determining the most suitable therapeutic interventions for their child.

Remember, every child with autism is unique, and what works for one may not work for another. It's essential to tailor strategies and approaches to meet the specific needs and preferences of each child. By combining various techniques, resources, and professional support, parents and caregivers can create a nurturing environment that promotes the well-being and calmness of children with autism.


How long does it take for these strategies to work?

The effectiveness of calming strategies can vary depending on the child. Some children may respond immediately, while others may take longer to see results. It is essential to be patient and consistent when using calming strategies.

How often should I use these strategies?

Calming strategies can be used as needed throughout the day. Some children may benefit from using them regularly, while others may only need them during times of stress or anxiety.

Are there any risks associated with these calming strategies?

Most calming strategies are safe and have few risks. However, it is important to use caution when using deep pressure therapy or compression clothing, as some children may not enjoy being touched in this way.

Can these strategies replace medication?

Calming strategies can be used in conjunction with medication prescribed by a healthcare provider. However, it is important to talk to your child's healthcare provider before making any changes to their treatment plan.

Can these strategies be used for adults with ASD?

While these calming strategies were developed for children with ASD, they can also be effective for adults with ASD. As always, it is essential to experiment and find what works best for each individual.


Helping children with ASD manage their emotions and behaviors can be challenging, but it is essential for their well-being. By using calming strategies such as deep pressure therapy, sensory toys, breathing exercises, visual aids, and exercise, parents can help their children with ASD feel more relaxed and in control. Remember, every child with ASD is unique, so it is essential to experiment with different calming strategies to find what works best for your child.


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