63 Calming Activities for Autistic Kids

A calm and peaceful house. That’s all anyone wants, right? Unfortunately for our autistic children, emotional regulation is not a strong point. We need a lot of calming activities for autistic kids. 

There are three circumstances that often trigger emotional dis-regulation for our kids.

1. Transitions, changes in routine or unexpected circumstances.

Turning off the tv, stopping gaming, non-preferred meals or food being offered. Basically whenever a preferred and highly engaging activity has to stop it can lead to anger, screaming and a lack of emotional regulation. There is anger at an enjoyable activity ceasing, but also over the lack of control around the transition. This often occurs with transitions from screens which makes me think that the engaging screen is easily addictive for autistic kids. 

2. Self care activities.

Putting on shoes, taking off shoes, going to bed, stopping to go toilet, brushing teeth, getting dressed, eating meals. Engaging in essential but boring self care activities where they are expected to put in effort and do it themselves is a trigger for outbursts of frustration. Fortunately the dis-regulation is fairly short lived for these because once the activity is completed, the frustration is gone. 

3. Competition, losing, unfairness and not getting their own way.

Playing competitive games and losing (even fun board or card games), having the other person ‘win the race’ to the front door from the car, having the other person reach the car first, not getting to do what they want now. All of these scenarios trigger an outburst of “it’s not fair” that’s easy to just give in to in order to stop the screaming and crying.

2 circumstances for calming activities

Calming strategies rate number one for teaching kids how to manage emotional regulation. But have you ever tried to tell someone to “just take three deep breaths” when they’re yelling, hitting and screaming in a full-on meltdown? Totally not going to work! 

Calming strategies are applicable in two circumstances.

  1. Proactive
  2. Reactive

Proactive Calming Activities for Autistic Kids

Proactive calming strategies are part of forming a baseline of calm in the house. You don’t want kids wandering around constantly heightened on a level 3 because the slightest trigger will tip them over to DEFCON 1. Also, it’s best to teach calming strategies in the calmer moments when kids are open to listening and learning. They’re not going to learn how to breathe deeply in the middle of a tantrum.  

Our proactive calming strategies include

  • Getting regular physical activity. Kids have lots of energy that needs to get out during the day which helps them stay calm and go to sleep easier. Walking to the shops, playing at the playground, riding bikes, scooting around the block, swimming, doing brain break or just dance videos. Doing some sort of physical activity in the morning helps the rest of the day stay calm for our kids.
  • Calm environment with music and quiet times. We’ll play quiet music in the background to keep everyone feeling calm throughout the day. We’ll also set quiet times (say, 20 minutes of quiet reading) to provide down time and restful periods throughout the day.
  • Practising breathing, sensory input and positive self talk. Co-regulate (working together to regulate) throughout the day to stay calm. There will always be moments with little bursts of emotion (maybe a 3 rather than a 1 on a 1-5 scale). Before it gets too unregulated, you have an opportunity to teach how to regulate with your child. Give a soft toy to hug, do three breaths together, share a positive affirmation or self-talk statement.

Reactive Calming Strategies for Autistic kids

Our reactive calming strategies rely more on distraction and high levels of sensory input. Big pressure whole body activities, massage, bear hugs, big movements. When our kids have reached level 5 they need whole body physical calming strategies. There’s no point trying to talk them down – the talking part of their brain switches off and it’s all physical. After whole body calming, then we can bring in some quiet music or a distracting activity. Sometimes we just need to change the scenery and escape to grandma’s house or go for a drive/walk. It seems sometimes our kid needs to be completely removed from the trigger at home to calm down. 

3 Groups of Calming Activities

We’ve broken down calming strategies into three groups: Active, Sensory and Breaks. Active strategies involve big movements and the whole body for calming. Sensory strategies are about receiving more sensory inputs from pressure, temperature, taste, smell and touch. Breaks include the quiet breathing and meditative moments that bring about calm both physical and mental. 

63 calming strategies

63 Calming Activities for Autistic Kids

A. Active Strategies

Do the Downward Dog yoga pose. Stretch for 30 seconds.

Jump High. See who can jump the highest, fastest and slowest.

Go for a jog. Run around the garden or up and down the driveway 5 times.

Hike in the scrub. Get out in nature and hike in the trees for 15 minutes.

Push against a wall. Try to push the wall over for 10 seconds, 3 times.

Go for a walk. Grab an adult and go for a walk around the block.

Do 100 jumps on the trampoline. Get your energy out by bouncing.

Sing out Loud. Sing your favourite song using your whole body.

Dance. Put on some upbeat music and dance along using your whole body.

Animal Crawls. Get on all fours and crawl around like different animals.

Bounce. Hop on a hopper or big ball and bounce around.

Swing. Go to the park and swing as high and fast as you can.

Hold a yoga pose. Watch a kids yoga video and hold a yoga pose.

Have a chase. Complete a brain break chase online or play chasey outside. 

Get dancing. Put on a dance move video and follow along.

Somersault. Roll your body around and do forward rolls on the grass or rug.

Kung-fu fighting. Do pretend kicks or punches into the air or into a cushion.

Big ball throwing. Catch a big fit ball or beach ball and roll it back.

S. Sensory Strategies

Squash playdough. Feel it squish and squash through your fingers.

Drink a hot chocolate. Or other hot drink and sip it slowly.

Have a glass of water. Hydration is important. Drink it with a straw.

Give or get a bear hug. Hug for 20 seconds as tight as you can.

Blow out the candles and smell the roses 5 times. Practise your deep breathing for calm.

Go to your bedroom and hide under the covers. Feel the warmth of being under heavy blankets.

Roll a ball under your feet. What different sized balls can you roll?

Be tickled all over. Laugh and avoid the tickle monster that’s coming to get you.

Deep pressure massage. Lie down and get a firm back rub.

Teddy hug. Grab the largest soft toy or cushion you can find and give it a big hug.

Hang upside down. Get picked up by your legs and hang upside down.

Shoulder rub. Receive a shoulder and back rub or use a back scratching tool.

Push or carry. Find a heavy item like a medicine ball and push it along the floor or carry it.

Squishes. Lie on your tummy and put a big pillow or weighted blanket on your back.

Fidget Toy. Play with a fidget ball, toy or other sensory toy.

S. Even more Sensory Strategies

Blow a whistle. Find a whistle, harmonica or other wind instrument and blow.

Blow straw bubbles. Blow bubbles in a glass of water using a straw. 

It’s a wrap. Wrap yourself up in a blanket, sheet or weighted blanket like a swaddle.

Wheat bag. Heat up a wheat bag and hold the warmth close.

Cool towel. Wet a cloth and hold it to the back of your neck.

Cool faces. Splash cool water onto your face or hold a wet cloth to your brow.

Iced. Suck on an ice cube and hold it in your mouth until it melts.

Face painting. Play pretend face painting or makeup with a finger tip and guess what’s being drawn.

Back letters. Have someone draw letters or shapes on your back and guess what they are. 

Hair brush. Get a brush or use fingers to comb your hair.

Hair dryer. If you don’t mind the noise, feel the warm air of a hair dryer on your face and body.

Scent it. Smell a candle, essential oil or diffuser and breathe deeply.

B. Break Strategies

Grab a book. Read quietly from a good book for 10 minutes on the couch.

Count backwards from 100. Or forwards. Or skip count. Remember to breathe.

Repeat a mantra. Say “I am calm” and “I’m a problem solver” and “Mistakes happen I’m still a good person.”.

Count to 5. Stop, Close your eyes, Count to five, then Act.

Say “I am loved”. You are loved by your parents and all your family.

Play music. Get your headphones and listen to quiet 60 bpm music on the couch.

Handy craft. Do colouring, painting, drawing or other craft with your hands.

Blow bubbles. Get out the bubble wand and blow with your deep breaths.

Belly Breathing. Do belly breathing with a teddy on your belly – watch it rise up and down.

Take a break. Go lie down in bed on your pillow and take a break.

Talk to an adult. Call a parent or grandparent and have a debrief.

Square Breathing. Follow along with square breathing using an online video.

Watch a calming video. Find your favourite calming video and watch it quietly.

Chalk drawing. Go outside and do chalk drawing on the ground.

Grounding. Sit down and pay attention to the weight of your feet on the ground.

Listen. Sit quietly and listen to your surroundings. How many sounds can you hear?

Meditation. Listen to a meditation podcast and relax your mind and body. 

Count. Look around you and count how many items of different colours you can see.

How to use calming activities for autistic kids

We’ve made a pack of these calming strategies that you can download.

You could print out the list of 63 calming strategies and:

  • Pin them up in the living area as a poster to look at.
  • Cut them into strips and place them in a large glass jar. Label the jar “recipes of calming” and select a strip when calming is required.
  • Cut them into strips and select the strategies that work for you. Rate them 1-5 in order of impact (1 for being useful for a little calming, 5 for being useful in times needing a lot of calming) and create a poster of strategies on the 1-5 scale.
  • Print them off all on one page as a parent quick reference. When you’re at wit’s end and need a new strategy, refer to the quick reference page.
  • Print them out and have kids select 5-10 strategies from the list. Stick them onto a page and have kids create their own ‘recipe of calming’ reference page. This could go into an exercise book, on a desk or locker door at school.
  • Make a ‘calming go-bag’ with strips of calming instructions along with materials like playdough, balls, colouring or bubbles that match the calming strategies.

Download the posters of calming strategies to make your own ‘Recipes of Calming’ jar. It will land in your inbox in the time it takes a cup of tea to brew.

63 recipes of calming sheets

Get your download of 63 Calming Activities

Which of the 63 strategies work for you? Our kids both have different sensory profiles and interests so we’re had to create unique recipes of calming for each of them. Let us know what emotional regulation tips you have!

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