For many children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD), the world can often be too stimulating. Overstimulation can cause a child to become overwhelmed when exposed to excessive stimuli from the environment.
This inability to process the incoming information can cause high levels of distress. If a child with ASD has the right tools, they can often self-regulate to reduce the risk of overstimulation. Hopebridge Autism Therapy Centers offers parents tips on helping their children avoid overstimulation. Develop a Plan With Your Child Talk with your child as soon as you know you’ll be going someplace that might be overstimulating. They may be able to avoid overstimulation if they feel they have some sense of control. Tell them what to expect, if possible, and let them know what activities will be available to participate in, but also give them the option to just be a spectator. Provide the information of when you’ll arrive and when you’ll leave.
Take Them to A Quiet Place
Sometimes, your child needs to take a break from an overstimulating environment. You may be able to schedule quiet times when they can be more isolated to help regulate their system, but be aware of the signs that they may become overstimulated. Provide a calm space where they can go that has decreased noise, light, and crowds. The area could be as simple as a bathroom or a small area filled with calming items like a beanbag chair or a light that is dimmable.
If you know that certain stimuli cause distress, bring aids to help avoid the stimulus. For example, sunglasses and hats can block bright lights, ear plugs can reduce noise, and wipes can remove stickiness. Anticipating your child’s needs can be a significant way to prevent overstimulation.
Learn to Recognize When Your Child is Overstimulated
Children often signal when they are overstimulated. Examples of signs of overstimulation are:
● Aggression or irritability
● Complaining about the noise, light, textures, feelings, or covering their eyes and ears
● Tensing muscles
● Flapping their arms
● Showing low energy
If you recognize that your child is overstimulated, you can begin calming techniques or remove them from the environment and retreat to a calming space.
Use Calming Techniques
Depending on the age and needs of your child, implement techniques that can help calm them once they start to become overstimulated. Such techniques include the rule of one- this means that only one person talks with your child at a time, and they ask your child to do only one thing.
Also, calm your child by allowing or encouraging activities that provide deep pressure, such as wrapping themselves in a sheet or blanket or playing with Play-Doh, as they can be inherently stress-reducing. Or, keep a box of calming items your child can touch, such as fabric swatches or stuffed animals. Also, teach them to breathe deep, calming breaths. Another technique is a steady movement with the use of a rocking chair or a swing set that can provide a calming environment for your child. Teaching them to do these activities or to request specific items when they feel stressed can reduce overstimulation, as well.
For children on the autism spectrum, overstimulation is common and even expected. However, it doesn’t have to be synonymous with a negative outcome. Teaching a child to advocate for his or herself in these situations, when applicable, can be empowering. Otherwise, recognizing your child’s triggers and providing them with the necessary calming tactics and materials can ensure their comfort and avoid overstimulation and/or potential behaviors. Additional guidance can be provided by an Occupational Therapist that can formulate a sensory diet using a variety of techniques that can help regulate your child.