Developing Self Calming

Using Breaks as a Tool

Sensory tools are great to be used during other activities, but sometimes students/children actually need a ‘break’ away from the group as an effective tool.

Break Cards (see examples below)

Remember sometimes when feeling anxious, children with ASD have difficulty communicating effectively, so this is why we use visual cards to request a break. You can use in two ways: 1. The student requests the break. 2. You give the student the card as you see anxiety/emotions/disengagement rising.

There are a range of strategies you can use for breaks and here are some to get you started:

Sensory Breaks

  • Chewing (allowing to chew gum, chewy tube, etc)
  • Quiet area
  • Listening to music
  • Watching liquid timer
  • Humming, rocking
  • Sit under a table with blanket over it
  • Carry heavy books, box
  • Lying under a gym mat, weighted vest, etc

Physical Breaks

  • Mini trampoline
  • Rolling on large exercise ball
  • Star jumps, jumping
  • Push up against wall
  • Walk, run

Relaxation Breaks

  • Counting
  • Breathing
  • Music
  • Imaginary world (some students escape into an imaginary world, this is particularly common for girls on the spectrum).

Some children need specific help to learn to regulate their emotions. Here are five key tips to help them learn to understand and regulate their emotions. This is particularly helpful for students who have meltdowns, shutdowns, anxiety and have often not responded to other strategies.

Five Key Steps to Developing Self-Calming Strategies

1. When children are calm and focused, talk with them about how they know when they are feeling or getting upset. Help them to identify internal cues for these feelings (what does it feel like in your head or tummy?) Write these down or draw them in pictures or colours. This will help them to identify the feelings.

2. Talk with them about things that may soothe and calm them. Talk about the things that you use to soothe and calm yourself to give them some context. Help them to practice some of the calming strategies on their list. The list can include things like:

  • Taking a walk, drawing, listening to favourite music, jumping on a trampoline.
  • Watching TV, reading, playing a favourite game.
  • Holding a favourite toy, squeeze balls, stress balls, stuffed animals, etc.

3. Create a plan for both home and school and which strategies are more useful and appropriate in each situation.

4. Decide on specific people with whom they can discuss these strategies when they are calm.

5. Have the child imagine the feelings and sensations of rising anger and rehearse the calming strategy. When he is beginning to get angry the child will have difficulty remembering what to do. With the practice sessions we are endeavouring to make these actions automatic. Teachers can practice calming strategies each morning in the class before the day begins, a good strategy that all children can practice.


Many families and teachers have reported that animals can be another way of helping children to calm themselves. Many schools are introducing animals (dogs, guinea pigs, fish, etc) as a strategy for reducing anxiety.