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Five techniques to calm an angry child with Autism Spectrum Disorder

Five techniques to calm an angry child with Autism Spectrum Disorder

Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) is a condition affecting between one in eighty eight and one in one hundred children. It was recently redefined in the new diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders (DSM-5) and many people are confused about how to understand the new criteria.

People with ASD must now show “persistent deficits” in two separate “domains”. These are (1) social communication and social interaction impairments and (2) restricted, and repetitive patterns of behavior.  There must be at least two repetitive behaviors in addition to social communication deficits. These can include “stereotyped or repetitive motor movements”, “insistence on sameness or inflexible adherence to routines”, “highly restricted, fixated interests”, or hypo or hyper reactivity to sensory input.

Parents of children with ASD are familiar with the phrase that if you have met a child with ASD, you’ve met one child with ASD. The severity of the condition is so variable, that it is impossible to present any stereotype of an ASD that makes sense, but there is still good evidence that parents of children with ASD live with behavioral problems on a semi-regular basis. Learning to manage these behaviors can make parent’s lives much easier.

Change who’s in control by “Entering and Blending”

There is a concept in the marital art Aikido called “entering and blending” that shows great promise in managing the aggression that can occur with ASD.

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By entering you step towards your attacker, positioning your feet so that they are slightly aside of the attackers path and then making “close and authoritative contact”. If an ASD child is pushing towards you, let their energy come at you as you move to the entering position, then firmly but gently, grasp their wrist or hand, and turn to go with them. In doing so, you are signaling your willingness to engage, whilst still providing yourself with a path to let the energy pass by without harming you.  There should be no pain or aggression in this action.

By entering you have also blended with the child by coming to face in the same direction as they are moving, and most importantly, you are looking at the situation from their viewpoint without giving up your own viewpoint that their behavior is unacceptable.

Entering and blending can also be a verbal technique that allows you to avoid responding to every sentence your child says with a counter sentence and perpetuating the argument. By blending and entering we give a little, turn to see their viewpoint, and try to resolve the situation from that position using their words.

It’s a powerful technique.

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Change the Stimulation Level

ASD may have a sensory component, and increasing or decreasing stimulation can be a useful way to control an explosive situation. There’s a lot of experimentation required, because not every ASD child will react in the same way. For some, turning the lights down may be intolerable and induce profound anxiety, whereas others will find the reduction of stimulation to be soothing.

One clue can be found in “stimming”; self stimulatory behavior where repetitive motions or sounds are made by the child in response to their sensory situation. Stimming can occur when children are happy or sad. My son likes to flap his hands when he’s having a great moment.  He also kicks the floor in a particular way when he’s happy or angry. It’s important to watch well and keep notes about what triggers stimming.

Stimming can tell you exactly what’s going on – or completely confuse you – but it is at least some real evidence of what the mood of the day is. If you can find a “happy” stimming situation, try to adapt the current sensory input to match that situation. If there are only negatives then remove the triggers for these and see if the situation improves.

Change the conversation

One of the key elements of an ASD diagnosis is repetitive behavior or fixation on certain types of objects or concepts. My son has been through a range of such fixations. The first occurred at the age of two when we had to stop every time he saw a flag and take it home with us. This morphed into the world of drains, and he and I spent many a cozy day standing over a drain and discussing its most intricate life story. Then came sharks and we’ve finally settled (for now) on marines.

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While it can be very difficult to maintain a conversation about drains for two hours at a time, I can rest assured that if I can shift the topic to something he is interested about then we can engage. Then I can direct the conversation and tease it around to the problem at hand. Patience is essential.

Change mood through exercise

The literature on the relationship between mood and exercise is extensive. If you can get the blood moving then endorphins will fire, and a euphoric feeling, sometimes called a “runners high”, can change your mood. Nowhere is this more true in children who have fewer filters and access to a more immediate response to endorphins.

You probably aren’t going to get your child to go for a run when they are really angry. Try instead for small gains; keep them walking around after you, even if that means a trip around the entire house four or five times. Chances are they’re so keen to yell at you that they’ll come without even knowing what they are doing. It’s a dirty trick, but it works.

Sometimes simple things like tickling work. It’s hard to be angry if someone is tickling you, but be sure that they aren’t so angry that you’ll just make it worse. Get down on the floor with them, wrestle, tickle and just turn a tantrum into fun. Sometimes they’re really just bored and a little physical engagement can do the trick.

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Change the Scene

We’ve touched on the fact that some anger is a product of boredom, and one of the best antidotes to boredom is a change of scenery. Walk outside. Don’t ask them to come and they probably will anyway because they are bored. Sit down on the grass and start picking daffodils. Pass them carefully over and ask them to pick the petals off and place them in a pile. If they ignore you – fine.

Changing the scene is almost never something you want to ask the child about. Just do it, and you’ll ignore a load of negativity and pointless banter.

It’s important not to treat changing the scene as a reward for bad behavior. Do not take your child to the lego store because he had a tantrum. Instead have yourself or your husband make paper airplanes with him and try to get them all in the fireplace. Start a christmas list. The options really are endless in the modern day and age.

Don’t think that there’s a different, better child ‘hiding’ behind the autism. This is your child. Love the child in front of you. Encourage his strengths, celebrate his quirks, and improve his weaknesses, the way you would with any child. You may have to work harder on some of this, but that’s the goal. – Claire Scovell LaZebnik

Featured photo credit: Jonathon Kos Read via media.lifehack.org

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Published on May 7, 2021

20 Energizing Brain Breaks For Kids

20 Energizing Brain Breaks For Kids

From coaching martial arts to children as young as four years old, I very quickly came to the understanding that if I wanted to help kids progress their skills, I needed to find a way to help them focus more consistently in my class.

There are two key ways I found when it came to improving my students’ level of focus:

  1. Make what we’re doing more interesting. Nothing is off the table here—from having ninja clowns on the rampage in a lesson to including popular games with a martial arts theme, tapping into the student’s love of fun to help them focus.
  2. Introduce brain breaks.

Brain breaks are small mental breaks that help the kids stay more focused. Think of the brain as a fuel gauge that shows the information you can consciously hold in your mind at any given moment. When the kids are focused and working hard on their tasks, the meter is usually full. They can easily concentrate and pass experiences into their long-term memory.

But when the needle starts to drop, you may observe that your kids are feeling anxious or looking restless. New information, experiences, and knowledge are not getting processed from the staging area or working memory into the long-term memory.[1]

It’s here that brain breaks make the most difference, as they allow us to “top-up the tank” or reset the gauge so that we can continue to learn and focus and at a higher level.

If you’ve been home tutoring, you’ll appreciate that brain breaks can help kids in many ways. They can reduce stress and frustration. Think of those times when you’re helping your kids solve a difficult problem. It’s taxing for you both and when compounded with the energy loss after a day at school or watching TV. The stress effect can be compounded, and it’s here that brain breaks can be a lifesaver.[2]

The following is a selection of brain break ideas for kids. You’ll see that some are physical activities while others are more relaxing. It’s always great to test them out to see which ones connect the best with your children.

It’s okay to repeat the same brain breaks. Having a clear name and mission to a break can help keep your child excited, knowing that they’ll have the opportunity to take part in a future round of the activity.

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Active Brain Breaks

Here are some active brain breaks for kids that you can try out.

1. Swapsies

Have the participants stand behind a chair. Call out a character trait, like “everyone with brown eyes.” You then swap places with someone else who has the same characteristic. If you have nothing that matches, you stay put!

Examples: “Everyone with trainers on.” “Everyone who is left-handed.” “Everyone who is wearing yellow.”

2. Dance Party

Put five or six different types of songs on Spotify, including a classic like “baby shark or the hamster dance.” Dim the lights if possible and have the kids dance to the tunes. Then, change the tunes and change the dance style. It’s silly and fun.

3. Freeze Dance

Similar to Dance Party except that when the music stops, students have to stay perfectly still until the music restarts. You can make this even more fun by trying to make the students smile. If they smile, they are out and have to sit down.

4. Keep It Up

Students must keep a balloon from touching the floor. You can add multiple balloons. You can make it more competitive by having different balloons of two different colors and split people into teams. Whoever keeps the balloons up the longest or the team with the most balloons in the air with a timer of 60 seconds wins.

5. Simon Says

This brain break for kids is an old favorite. You can also mix it up with martial arts moves, Fortnite dances, superhero moves, etc.

6. Animal Movement

Move like different animals. It’s fun for younger children. We use Flamingo where you stand on one leg, crawl like a bear, stand like a meerkat, run like a cheetah, and walk like a penguin.

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7. Find It Fast

“Find It Fast” is a scavenger hunt variation. Call an item out in the room and kids have to stand by it. For example, find a clock, find something with a face, find something smelly, find some money, find a phone, etc.

8. The Frog

Physical Challenges can be excellent fun. We have one in the martial arts class called “The Frog” where you squat like a frog, then lean forward so your head and feet are off the floor. These are all old yoga poses, so have a look through a booklet or website for some safe ideas. Other examples are grabbing your nose with your left hand and touching your knee with your right elbow.

9. Pizza Delivery Time

Give the students paper plates and tell them to hold the plates above their head on a flat hand. They then run around the room and try to keep the plate in their hand. You can make it more challenging by having other students try to knock others’ plates off. There’s usually a 3-star jump penalty if your plate touches the floor.

10. Limbo

We use martial arts belts and the students take turns going underneath the belts. Fun music creates an awesome atmosphere here.

11. Human Knot

Split the group of people and have everyone link hands under and over. That’s making knots between everyone in the group. Have the other students try to untangle them and return everyone back into a circle.

12. Feather Balance

This brain break for kids works well with gentle music, and you can use a balloon or a straw if you don’t have a feather handy.

13. Stack them high

The students should have plastic cups and paper squares. The goal is to make a tower as high as possible, or it could be to make a triangle or even a pyramid.

Relaxing Brain Breaks

We talked about brain breaks for kids that are being used to energize the students. But they can also be used to calm and relax them. We’re more familiar with the term mindfulness, but it’s the same idea. These are brain breaks for kids that reduce stress and anxiety.

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14. Meditation

Meditation

is a popular way to reduce anxiety. There are lots of great examples already pre-recorded on YouTube that you can follow along with. Below is a useful classroom meditation example.

15. Kaleidoscope

Kaleidoscopes are fun ways to relax. They are mesmerizing and like a peaceful vortex that sucks you into them. Below is a great example of a visual online one you can use.

16. Reading/Listening to a Story

When I surveyed the members of our martial arts club about how their kids employ brain breaks at home, there was a clear winner among the families—listening to a story or reading a story. The feedback was that the process of daydreaming a little helps the kids to recharge. But it goes without saying that the story needs to be engaging.

17. Doodling

My personal favorite way to brain break as a kid was to doodle. Doodling gives your child a few minutes to draw anything they want. It can be calming for them, and it’s a lot more fun if you have different types of pens or crayons available to use. Add some soft music, and you have a simple way to take some time to relax.

18. Coloring Sheets

Coloring sheets are another way to relax the mind. There’s lots of great coloring in pads available, but here are some links to public resources shared on the internet that are great examples.

19. Deep Breathing

Deep breathing

is an epic way to help your child slow down. It is a quick way to relieve anxiety so that they feel more ready for the next task ahead.

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Try this: put your hands on your tummy, breathe in through the nose, and feel your belly expand like a balloon. Hold it here, then slowly breathe out through the mouth while feeling your stomach get smaller. Repeat this 10 times. Use the following counts: breath in for 4 seconds, hold for 4 seconds, and breath out for 4 seconds.

20. Going Outside

Go outside was the second most popular response from our parent’s survey about brain breaks for kids at home. Fresh air always feels nice. You can combine this with a treasure hunt, looking for different colored cars, types of birds, or even types of trees, if you’re familiar with these.

My personal favorite is using a mushroom spotting app on our phones and finding a mushroom or toadstool, then using the app to identify its name. This is surprisingly engaging for children. But a few safety rules about not touching them is important. It gives kids a change of scenery and helps revitalize the senses, providing a welcome break from their homework.

How Often Should You Introduce Brain Breaks?

The key to brain breaks is their timing. If you can introduce them before you notice that your kids are entering deep fatigue or their loss of focus has set in. You’ll find a great balance between breaks and effort.

I’ve observed from my martial arts coaching that younger students have a smaller amount of working memory than older kids. My formula is for five minutes of technical training, we provide five minutes of brain breaks for students under seven years old. Plus, we coach to 15 minutes of training to five minutes of brain breaks for children under 12 years.

Final Thoughts

Implementing calming brain breaks for kids is a really efficient way of introducing brain breaks. You have a quick way to allow your students to learn about regulating themselves. Balancing their mind and energy is a useful skill, and you can take this with you everywhere you go.

Our martial arts center revolutionized our approach to coaching by using brain breaks for kids. We found that although we were teaching less technical skills, there was now consistent progress from the students. Plus, everyone was less anxious, happier, and are having more fun. This is a win overall.

If you’ve been having challenges with your kids focusing at home, maybe try a mixture of the calming and active breaks to see which types work best for your kids.

Featured photo credit: Robert Collins via unsplash.com

Reference

[1] SimplyPsychology: Working Memory Model
[2] BrainFacts.org: Kids Need Brain Breaks — And So Do Adults

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