31 Best Autism Calming Strategies That Can Work for All!

Autism calming strategies are calming strategies that anyone can benefit from. That’s a great thing. Today we’ll explore effective calming techniques for autistic meltdowns. Additionally, we’ll discuss the reasons behind meltdowns and how to identify signs of distress beforehand. In the end, it’s all about knowing your child (or yourself) and tuning in to what’s right for them. 

Illustration of a little girl with brown hair and tan skin with her eyes closed and mouth in calm smile.

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31 Autism Calming Strategies

Below you’ll find 31 of the best calming autism strategies. Use the ones that resonate to help you or your child cope with big feelings in the moment. Or incorporate them into a regular practice to maintain a sense of calm.

It’s important to allow your autistic loved one to experience the benefit of your calmed nervous system. And this means staying calm (or at least some semblance of regulation) will be helpful.

The greatest tool you have in hard situations is a regulated and calm you.

Breathe Deeply

Breathing exercises can be a beneficial relaxation technique for everyone regardless of neurotype.

However, when an autistic child or adult is feeling overwhelmed, deep breathing can be a lifesaver.  Specifically, deep breathing exercises are a great strategy for reducing anxiety.  

Additionally, deep breathing is useful in moments of meltdown AND as a practice to maintain a sense of calm and awareness 

When we take deep breaths, the calming part of the autonomic nervous system (parasympathetic nervous system) begins to lower heart rate and blood pressure. This helps redirect focus and restores a sense of calm. Here are five deep breathing exercises.

1. Tracing Fingers with Five-Finger Breathing

  • Place your finger at the base of your opposite thumb.
  • Slowly trace around the fingers of the opposite hand starting with the thumb.

2. Box Breathing

Box Breathing is an excellent autism calming strategy that helps you practice deep breathing in a systematic way.

  • Breathe in for a count of four.
  • Hold your breath for a count of four. 
  • Exhale for a count of 4 and continue while tracing around an imaginary box.

3. Lazy 8 Breathing

  • Draw an Infinity Symbol or the number 8 (on its side).
  • Trace the symbol with your finger for a few minutes to shift attention and create a sense of calm.
"Lazy 8 or Infinity Breathing" in teal text against white background with large multi-colored rainbow infinity symbol under it as an autism calming activity example

4. Diaphragmatic Breathing

Diaphragmatic Breathing supports deep restorative breathing by filling the belly with air. This is in opposition to shallow chest breathing associated with anxiety and fear.

Using the belly to breathe sends calming signals to the brain and body. Ultimately, this regulates the neurotransmitters serotonin (calming) and dopamine for optimal functioning.

  • Place one hand on the chest and one hand on the stomach.  
  • Then breathe in through the nose for at least a count of three.
  • Exhale for a count of four.
  • Repeat and slowly work up to ended periods of at least 5 minutes.

5. Blow Bubbles

little girl with down syndrome who has blond hair in braided pigtails blowing bubbles happily.  She's wearing a brown shirt and standing in front of a brown background.

​Blowing bubbles can be an excellent way to help neurodivergent toddlers and younger children practice deep breathing.  

Stock up on bubbles or learn how to make bubbles. Then use bubble blowing at the first sign of distress, anxiety, or dysregulation.

Also, blow bubbles with your autistic child as part of your daily lifestyle to encourage deep breathing and joyful connection.

Have more fun with a DIY Bubble Wand for Kids to Make.

Supporting Autistic Loved Ones

One of the best ways to help your autistic loved one find a calm state of mind is to stay regulated. This is NOT easy.  

However, your emotional and physical regulation is crucial to the success of helping another regulate.  This means that these calming activities are for you too.   

Practical ways to help engage your autistic child in the process of learning to self-regulate is through co-regulating with them.  Help them feel safe by being available and encouraging.

  1. Engage
    • Place your child’s favorite stuffed animals or plushies on their belly to go along for the “deep breathing ride”. 
    • This helps them feel safe and gives them a place to focus their visual attention.
    • Further, focusing on a favorite stuffed animal is one of many visual prompts to send the body cues of safety. 
  2. Model
    •  Breathe deeply alongside your child to support your child to enter a calm state.
  3. Incorporate
    • Rather than only engaging in autism calming strategies in the heat of the moment, incorporate them as part of your daily and weekly routine.
    • Create a family culture that supports emotional regulation and social-emotional learning by being open about feelings, emotions, and how to experience the hard ones with self-compassion.

6. Yoga

There are numerous benefits to yoga and other body movement practices. Try this parent and me yoga for your family. Adding a kid’s yoga practice to your family’s weekly routine to encourage a calm nervous system. And both yoga and deep breathing can strengthen deficits in interoceptive sensory awareness.

7. Progressive Muscle Relaxation

Progressive Muscle Relaxation is a mix of mindfulness practice and exercise. This makes it an awesome autism calming strategy.  

These activities guide you in deep breathing while consciously focusing on tightening and relaxing your muscles.  

This is a great way to encourage calm before engaging in stressful situations (taking a test, going out into public places, etc.)

Progressive Muscle Relaxation for Kids

Check out this Progressive Muscle Relaxation video by GoZen. It’s an excellent calming tool to incorporate into your family’s routine.

Proprioceptive Sensory Activities for Calm

Occupational therapists refer to proprioceptive sensory input as deep pressure or heavy work. Proprioceptive activities are excellent calm-down techniques because deep pressure releases the calming neurotransmitter serotonin.  

Please note that activities that support proprioception can be done with or without touch by another person. Some calming proprioceptive sensory activities are as follows.

8. Roll on a foam roller

Foam rolling is an excellent source of proprioceptive input for autistic children and adults.

It eases muscle pain, supports the lymphatic system, and generally supports a healthy nervous system. We use our foam roller often and it lives in our family room.

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9. Joint Compressions

I’ve been doing joint compressions with one of my neurodivergent children for years. It’s an excellent source of proprioceptive input, and the physical touch between child and parent deepens the emotional bond.

Joint compressions are a quick and easy calming activity that costs nothing and can be modified to suit the environment.

Remember to listen to your child. If your autistic child is non-speaking, they still have a voice. Please read their cues. If they do not want you to touch them, don’t.

Joint Compressions as an Autism Calming Strategy

Learn how to do joint compressions with your child with this video tutorial. Support your child’s proprioceptive sensory needs and promote a sense of calm.

10. Weighted Blankets

Using a weighted vest or weighted blanket is a wonderful way to support a calm nervous system.

I love my weighted blanket. The deep pressure of the blanket is regulating and a huge part of my calming routine.  

11. Bear Hugs as an Autism Calming Strategy

If your child crashes into walls, or people, or generally likes to wrestle, there’s a good chance they love bear hugs. Bear hugs provide calming sensory input that can be a perfect calm down strategy wherever you are.

12. Play-Doh

Playing with Play Dough is an excellent sensory experience that supports calming input. Additionally, it helps strengthen the fine motor muscles in the fingers, hands, wrists, and arms.

13. Squeeze

Friend, squeezing a stress ball, squeeze ball, or any squishy toy is an easy way to release tension.

14. Coloring Books and Crayons

Coloring in a coloring book provides children with deep pressure in the fingers, hands, and wrists. This is a bonus as it supports developing fine motor skills in a non-threatening way.

Ultimately, proprioceptive physical activity can offer an immediate sense of calm, especially when overstimulated. 

Remember, these activities can help your child (or you) release pent-up stress energy to avoid a meltdown. These mindfulness coloring pages for kids are a great coloring tool.

30+ Calming Autism Strategies in white font against teal background with a photo of a little blond boy lying on the floor with his legs crossed above him

15. Give Them Space

When an autistic child or adult (or anyone) is in the middle of a meltdown, please give them the dignity of privacy.  

If you know my story, you know we went through hell for years with one of my amazing children. Over the years, I’ve changed everything about the way I parent.

In my 4-step parenting framework, I call this next calming strategy “Removing the Audience.” Friend, give them space. Walk away. Take a breather.

When a child is overwhelmed or experiencing emotional outbursts, it’s easy to get stuck trying the list of coping strategies at once.  However, that can unintentionally add to the stressful dynamic.  

Ensuring that your child is safe from self-harm while giving your child privacy can go a long way.  

Create a Safe Place

Felt safety is a concept often discussed in trauma-informed circles. The idea behind felt safety is that children (or adults) must perceive the world as safe.  

When stress and anxiety are high the body perceives the world as unsafe.

When trying to support an autistic person to experience calm, it’s important to support a sense of safety.  One way to do so is by making sure that they have a safe, cozy, and calm place to retreat.

Ideas for Creating Your Child’s Safe Place

Here are some ideas to ensure a safe environment while honoring your child’s need for privacy. 

16. Comfort Objects

Have a designated safe place for your child that’s filled with their favorite comfort objects. Add a soft blanket and pillows.

17. Find a Space When Not Home

While your child’s (or your) safe place will often be in your home, when visiting friends or relatives, identify a quiet space ahead of time.

18. Remain Present if Preferred

Give them space, but stay in the same room, offering a calm presence. 

19. Excuse Yourself if Preferred

One of the best calm-down techniques is to leave the person alone.

If your child has a safe space and wants that alone time, give it to them. Allow them to take some time alone to self-regulate. 

20. Parallel Play

Parallel play can be a way to give your autistic child space. Playing side by side in silence, without the pressure of having to communicate.

In the end, these ideas are jumping-off points to support an autistic or neurodivergent child or adult.

What ideas can you come up with?

21. Sensory Toys

Filling your child’s calming place with well-chosen sensory toys can be especially helpful.  Try creating a sensory bin with some of the following sensory tools.

  • Bean bags for squishing
  • Light up toys for calming visual input
  • Various fidget toys 
  • Stress balls
  • Sensory bins with noodles, rice, beans, and toys
  • Kinetic sand for calming tactile input

If and when you notice signs of anxiety in your child, pull out a preferred fidget or stim toy to support them. There are so many different strategies you can use with a variety of sensory tools.

close up of a blue swim cap and goggles against white background

22. Swimming

Many autistic children gravitate to water for its calming properties.   This makes swimming and water play a great tool for calming self-regulation. 

Swimming has multiple benefits to support emotional and nervous system regulation (calm).

  • Calming proprioceptive input,
  • Develops gross motor skills,
  • Strengthens core and other large muscle groups, 
  • Supports coordination and bilateral integration of the brain and body,
    • Bilateral coordination (integration) refers to the efficient use of both sides of the body.
  • It can boost self-confidence and improve mental health

If you’re looking for ways to enhance pool time, check out these printable pool exercises.

23. Use the Bathtub

If you don’t have access to a swimming pool, try a warm or hot bath.  

Submersion in water provides the body with several similar benefits. It can be calming, and therapeutic, and offer a full sensory experience.  

Support Stimming and Movement Calming Strategies

Many autistic people stim as a way to regulate their nervous system in a healthy way. Often, that can look like rocking or swaying back and forth, for example.

Slow rhythmic linear movement is calming (this is why we rock babies, right?). Support your autistic loved one’s natural self-regulation stims always.

24. Swinging

Rear view of a little girl wearing a striped dress swinging outdoors on a swing. "Swinging outdoors is an excellent calming strategy."

Other rhythmic activities include swinging on a sensory swing or on a backyard swingset is a great calming activity.

25. Trampoline Time

Jumping on a trampoline has incredible benefits for health. Specifically, it’s an excellent activity to provide both proprioceptive and vestibular input.

This makes jumping on trampolines beneficial for autistic and other neurodivergent individuals.

Further, cardiovascular exercise is calming to the brain and body and supports sleep and attention.

26. Go to The Park

Going to the park (preferably a fenced-in one) can provide a number of options for movement and emotional regulation.

Playing gives kids the opportunity for bodily autonomy whether playing on the swings, monkey bars, the seesaw, or the slide.

Don’t forget to let your child safely climb up the slide to increase muscle tone and release feel-good calming chemicals.

27. Rock in Rocking Chairs

"Rocking can be calming for autistic children and adults." Written over a photo of a padded grey rocking chair with a grey pouf on the floor next to it.

Sitting and rocking in a rocking chair offers calming rhythmic movement. Put one in your room or your autistic child’s room if that sounds like a fit.

28. Hop in the Car

I can’t begin to count the number of times I’ve scooped up my son (or myself) and hopped into the car for a car ride. Moving through space, the rhythm of the engine, and the visual input looking outside the window can quickly support calm.

Friend, use your wisdom about yourself or your child, and pick what works for you.

29. Get Outdoors and Here’s Why

Being outdoors in nature is a natural and free calming strategy. Go to the park, on a hike, or just step out into your backyard or patio to promote calm.

Vitamin D and the full spectrum of sunlight on the skin and in the eyes support the body’s circadian rhythm.

Sun exposure supports the body’s regulation of both serotonin (the calming neurotransmitter) and melatonin (our sleep neurotransmitter).

30. Focus on Sleep

Sleep is essential. Support both your and your autistic child’s sleep with the sun, nutrition, and nutritional supplements such as magnesium.

Additionally, for an autistic child, sticking to a predictable routine at bedtime can support a sense of calm. Again, this is not always easy. As part of my story, sleep deprivation nearly killed us all. I get it. Do your best and give yourself lots of grace.

31. Remove the Noise

Autistic and other neurodivergent individuals often struggle with sound sensitivity. Remove auditory stimulation by using sound-blocking headphones, turning off the TV, or other loud noises.

More on Supporting Sensory Needs

You don’t need a sensory processing disorder diagnosis to have sensory preferences and needs.

Every human being is born with eight sensory systems and is impacted by sensory needs daily. Those include the basic five senses:

  1. Sight (visual)
  2. Touch (tactile)
  3. Taste 
  4. Smell (olfactory)
  5. Hearing (auditory)

As science has progressed, experts have identified three other sensory systems.  

  1. Proprioceptive sensory system
    • Proprioception has to do with the brain’s awareness of body position in space and is supported by deep pressure.
  2. Vestibular System
    • The vestibular system relates to our sense of balance and stability.
  3. Interoceptive System
    • Interoception describes one’s awareness of their internal experiences.  
    • For example, hunger, the need to use the bathroom, etc.

Again, proprioceptive input is a form of sensory input that gives us an awareness of where our limbs are in space. When we have adequate proprioceptive input, messages are sent to the brain to promote a sense of groundedness. 

Autism Meltdowns are Not Tantrums

Whether an autistic meltdown stems from sensory overload or is a full-blown panic attack, it’s imperative to keep one thing in mind. Autism meltdowns are not temper tantrums.  

Even more, the person experiencing the meltdown is not giving you a hard time but rather is having a hard time. Viewing a meltdown through this lens helps you better offer the compassion and support needed to get to the other side.

But, what exactly is an autistic meltdown?  

What is an Autism Meltdown?

Historically, autism has been defined by people who are not autistic. This includes parents of autistic children, family members, doctors, researchers, and teachers.  

Rarely have autistic people themselves been asked to share their expertise. For the sake of the next generation, this needs to change. Friend, the best way to learn about Autism is from the lived experience of autistic people themselves.

Learning from Autistic Adults

According to autistic advocates Yenn Purkis and Tanya Masterman, authors of The Awesome Autistic Go-To Guide

” We have meltdowns or shutdowns because our brains have been overloaded… from too much sensory input… social interaction… or some other activity that we find stressful.”

p. 55 The Awesome Autistic Go-To Guide

In January of 2023, researchers interviewed thirty-two autistic individuals to get their insight into meltdowns.

We know that different people experience meltdowns for different reasons. However, here’s how these autistic participants described their meltdown experiences. Most of the respondents described meltdowns in terms of feeling overwhelmed by:

  • Information
  • Sensory input
  • Social and emotional stressors

They experienced extremely powerful emotions such as:

  • Sadness
  • Anger
  • Fear

Further, in those heightened states of overwhelm, they expressed:

  • Feelings of being out of control.
  • Difficulty expressing themselves to others.
  • A need to remove themselves from the triggering circumstances.
    • This is in line with what parents often witness in young children and teens.  
    • Kids often avoid stressful situations that trigger meltdowns by eloping, for example.   

In the end, listening to autistic voices offers parents of autistic children valuable insight from which to learn.  

Recap: Autism Calming Strategies That Work!

Ok, Friend. We’ve discussed several autism calming strategies to support autistic kids and adults.

In truth, with a little strategy and planning, you can create an autism calming strategy game plan. It’s not always realistic, but prevention can be key to avoiding overwhelm that leads to stress and meltdowns.

It’s not always easy, but worth it just the same.

Again, these tips and activities are effective for anyone having a hard time.  Try one at a time. And slowly, over time, you and your autistic loved one will reap the fruit of a more regulated nervous system.

If you need more support, check out these resources:

31 Best Sensory Toys for Autism and Why They Work 2024

How to Get an Autistic Child to Sleep: 9 Tips That Work

Anger Management for Autistic Children (Not ABA)

Zones of Regulation Review & Emotional Regulation Printables

11 Best Feelings Picture Books for Kids (Every Family Needs)

47 Emotional Regulation Activities for Kids Every Mom Needs!

caucasian woman wearing black v-neck long-sleeved shirt sitting crossed legged with a black and white havanese dog in her lap

About the Author:

Lindsay is a trauma-informed educator with a Master’s Degree in Teaching. Her mission is to support moms to equip neurodivergent kids (ADHD, Autism, Dyslexia, Anxiety) to thrive as exactly who they’ve been created to be. Wait until you hear the story that led to it all…

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