This article was provided by Ryan Novas on behalf of National Autism Resources.
For those with an autistic child, it is a parent’s nightmare to face a tantrum with no way to calm them down. That is why it is important to have a calming room or area set aside for your child that helps ease distress before a tantrum starts, or to send them to in order to ease the distress. Here are three versions of a calming room you can create to help when your child is about to have a tantrum.
The HUG room
The hug room is popular for calming any child down, especially one on the spectrum. The hug room needs to have calming items that provide a sense of security and warmth, and a cocoon-like hug. In this room, provide a weighted blanket or snug embracing vest (in case your child won’t lay down). Both of these are like bear hugs, which can be comforting and calming for children with autism. Another great item to have in this space is a crash pad (used by many therapists and parents in combination with a weighted blanket), or a large or stuffed animal or pillow that the child can hold on to or hug. You want to make sure the animal or pillow does not have parts that can be ripped off and chewed on or cause damage in another way. You’ll also want all other items to be soft and safe to throw to protect the room or others in case your child does have a full-blown tantrum.
The SOOTHING SOUNDS & SCENTS room
One thing that can work very well for some children, especially with tantrums brought on by overstimulation, is a room with soothing sensory experiences. In this room, block or mute outside sounds–TVs, stereos, and people walking or talking near the room so it’s as quiet as possible. Once your child is in the soothing sounds room, you’ll need to have a place for them to relax or lay down. You can use a bed, a crash mat, or something else they can fall asleep on or even just sit on with their eyes closed. Silence or a soft gentle background ‘hum’ or soothing sound helps, such as from meditation CDs, music or birds or flowing water.
You can also try products like the Twilight Turtle which has soothing sounds and even includes a light show of constellations (also perfect for the 3rd room, below). Noise blocking earmuffs and headphones make great additions for this room if your child needs to be removed from all noises. These also provide a kind if ‘hug.’ You can combine them with a scent or scented toy or stuffed animals to calm your child. Think about little pillows stuffed with lavender flowers, or an air freshener they like.
The VISUALLY CALMING room
- For a visually calming room, remove overly bright colors and small points like those from a static night-light that plugs into the wall. Instead, find something like the Tranquil Turtle above or even liquid motion lamps or light projectors with calming colors and patterns. You can also try adding black out curtains on the windows to block bright sunlight–the point is to make light easy on their eyes. Darkness may help the lights do a better job.
The most important thing when creating a calming room is to make sure it meets the needs of your child. Include features that are most effective for him or her. Don’t forget to exclude or remove anything that is easily thrown or could hurt your child or others or cause damage to your house.
Addendum: I’ve seen these other things used to calm people to prevent overstimulation or impatience. The first two were in a psychiatric unit for calming recovering mental patients.
- A bubbling aquarium, or a virtual aquarium on a computer monitor
- An image of a fire or rippling surface of water, available as a CD or as special lighting
- A mobile or motion toy powered by a solar cell
- A clock with a pendulum
Have you discovered something that works for your child? Please share.