Emotional autism is a troublesome condition for many kiddos and parents. Symptoms can include challenges with self-regulation, such as difficulty expressing emotions, avoiding situations that may be overwhelming or upsetting, and impulsiveness.
Fortunately, there are a number of self-regulation activities that those with emotional autism can take up to help them manage their symptoms and get back on track.
Such activities may include yoga and other forms of physical activity, deep breathing exercises, journaling, talking to a trusted friend or family member, and engaging in creative activities like painting or drawing.
Here are our favorite autism self regulation activities for kids:
Autism and emotions
Autism is often characterized by the difficulty many individuals have in expressing their emotions. Often, they are seen as lacking emotional range due to an incomplete ability to recognize facial expressions, voice tones, and other nonverbal cues that give away a person's feelings.
However, this doesn't mean that autistic people don't experience or feel emotions. In fact, research has found that autistic individuals are typically just as emotionally astute as their non-autistic peers. What can be tricky, though, is simply understanding how emotion works and being able to communicate those feelings through words or body language.
With proper support and guidance from trained professionals or friends and family members, autistic individuals can learn to understand their own unique expressions of emotion - resulting in an improved quality of life for all involved.
Ultimately, the key takeaway is that autism does not make people emotionless; it merely requires a different approach to experiencing and displaying emotion.
Through understanding this distinction, we can better empathize with and support people on the spectrum.
5 self-regulation activities for autism
While autism and emotions are often seen as incompatible, they don’t have to be mutually exclusive. With dedication and insightfulness, people with ASD can make strides towards better managing their emotions.
Self-regulation is essential for managing the symptoms associated with autism, yet it can often be a difficult skill to teach. There are several activities that make learning self-regulation easier and more accessible to those on the spectrum.
1. Sensory mapping
It’s no surprise that people with autism often struggle to regulate their emotions, leading to feelings of overwhelm. Autistic individuals tend to rely heavily on the senses when communicating and interacting with their environment, so it stands to reason that using similar methods for self-regulation could prove beneficial.
Sensory mapping is a technique that helps individuals with autism make sense of their emotions and reactions by linking specific stimuli with how they feel. This process involves carefully monitoring external sensory inputs such as sights, sounds, smells, touch, and temperature, and then pairing those physical sensations with internal emotional states.
This makes it easier for someone with autism to recognize and manage their feelings before they get out of control.
It also gives them tools they can use in different situations — such as deep breathing exercises or using an object or activity that brings comfort — so they can better cope when facing challenging environments or times of high stress or anxiety.
The ability to map out these sensory combinations provides autistic individuals with a valuable resource for maintaining emotional balance and improving self-regulation!
2. Learning meditation and deep breathing techniques
Learning meditation and deep breathing techniques is a powerful self-regulation tool for those on the autism spectrum.
Autistic people often have difficulty managing their emotions due to difficulties in controlling impulses or responding to environmental stimuli. This can lead to an overabundance of energy that can be difficult to process and manage. That's where meditation and deep breathing come in.
Taking time out to slow down, focus on the breath, and observe or explore one's inner experience can help bring balance and stability back into body and mind.
Meditation can be particularly beneficial as it encourages practitioners to stay present with whatever emotion they are feeling without judgment. It helps build self-awareness, acceptance of emotion, and improved emotional regulation, all of which are fundamental for any autistic individual striving for a calmer life.
In addition, deep breathing is known to reduce stress levels and boost feelings of calmness by activating the parasympathetic nervous system—a key component when regulating mood swings caused by sensory dysregulation.
3. Music therapy
Music therapy has been recognized as a powerful tool when it comes to helping people with autism manage their emotions and behavior. Research shows that listening to pleasurable music, playing an instrument, and creating rhythm can act as tools for improving self-regulation skills for those with autism.
Music therapy helps to engage the whole brain at once—logic, emotion, motor control, language, and imagination are all involved in the process—which allows individuals on the spectrum to better connect with their physical experience and regulate their emotions.
This can help them be more conscious of sensory overload issues without necessarily having to verbalize what is happening inside themselves.
Additionally, because music uses multiple channels of experience simultaneously, cognitive processing plus auditory input plus motor control, it provides a kind of “shortcut” toward emotional stability and self-expression as opposed to trying to string together abstract thoughts into feelings or cognitions into behavior.
4. Guided imagery
Guided imagery has become an increasingly popular tool for helping those on the autism spectrum to manage their emotions and behaviors more effectively. It allows the individual to take a step back from a situation in order to gain perspective, reducing stress and allowing them to think more logically and make better decisions.
Through guided imagery techniques, individuals might be taught how to relax their muscles, slow their breathing, or imagine themselves in calming settings.
This can help reduce anxiety, frustration, and other common triggers of problematic behavior. Even more importantly, using guided imagery an individual can gain insight into themselves - recognizing thoughts, feelings, and preferences that may otherwise have been subconscious.
By developing emotional regulation skills through guided imagery, those with autism can learn self-management strategies that will allow them to respond more positively to challenging situations in the future.
5. Emotions chart
For many autistic people, understanding and labeling feelings can be difficult and overwhelming - leading to disruptive behavior that is difficult for everyone to manage. This is why an emotions chart can be such a valuable tool for self-regulation when it comes to autism.
By breaking down complicated emotions into more simple categories, those on the autism spectrum can quickly identify the feeling they are having in a straightforward way. The chart also then helps them use strategies to effectively manage how they react in order to remain calm and productive, rather than overwhelmed and anxious.
An emotions chart provides autistic people with the autonomy to understand their own triggers and behaviors, helping lead to greater self-awareness and acceptance, as well as improved communication skills along the way.
An emotions chart is therefore an extremely helpful tool for self-regulation when it comes to autism due to its clarity of communication and ease of understanding.
Autism self-soothing techniques: Final thoughts
For those living with emotional autism, self-regulating techniques can be an invaluable tool for managing the daily challenges of the condition.
As sensory difficulties are typically a major part of autism, teaching kids various self-soothing methods can help them to cope with perceived “overloads” and maintain emotional equilibrium.
These methods also provide opportunities for kids to work on building skills such as problem-solving, cooperation, creativity, and patience — all vital ingredients in their growth and development process. For these reasons, developing effective autism self regulation techniques is one of the most important tasks caregivers can undertake on behalf of children diagnosed with an autism spectrum disorder.
With practice, these youngsters will be empowered to take charge of their own reactions and master key life skills that serve them well into adulthood.