I have been trying to come up with the best way to open this article for days, but I keep shutting myself down because for me to talk about a Calm Down Kit I need to describe a meltdown and I’ll have to go there emotionally, and I just don’t want to.
My son has autism, and the first time he had a meltdown in public I also melted down. Nobody prepared me for the screaming or the crying or the biting.
Nobody told me what to have on hand that may help and nobody offered me a helping hand that day he broke down…at his school.
My son was hurting and scared, and even though I was right there with him, I was useless.
I got angry. Really angry.
I wanted to rant and rave and write an evil blog post giving everyone a piece of my mind. It was easier for me to be mad at that moment than feel the sadness of being ill-equipped to help my son.
Eventually, I came to my senses and decided I’d keep rants to myself and channel my anger into finding resources for all of us.
Nothing hurts like seeing your child in pain, and we need more help for our autistic kids.
Look, I know this isn’t the first special needs blog you’ve been to today. Heck, I’m lucky if you’re still reading this, because I know you don’t need words, you need a plan.
You’re probably frustrated because even though you very deliberately searched for what to DO to calm your child during a sensory meltdown every site you’ve landed on tells you how to prevent one.
Well, first they tell you how to determine the difference between a tantrum and a meltdown. Which is really important because you use different strategies to manage each one. I explain how to do that in this post Autism Meltdowns & Tantrums: There Is a Difference, Here’s Some Help
For today, let’s skip to the plan.
You want to be proactive so that you and your child can regain some control.
Keep it safe-make sure your child is safe and remove any dangerous objects or potential threats to his safety or other’s
Keep a diary or journal so you can look for possible triggers or antecedents to avoid meltdowns in the future.
Look for warning signs so you can avoid a full-blown meltdown. Red ears, foot tapping, pacing, heavy breathing, and high pitched speech are signs of frustration, anxiety, and meltdown potential. If you recognize them early enough, you may be able to defuse the meltdown.
Stay calm throughout the situation.
Take your child out of the stressful environment (many meltdowns occur in social settings/busy public places) and get him to a calm, quiet area.
Try offering a distraction to keep the meltdown from escalating.
Be prepared. Be Prepared. Be Prepared.
As an autism mom, I know firsthand that you can remove every sensory trigger known to man and map out your day like Magellan and your kid will still have an autism meltdown out of the blue.
It just happens.
And when it does, you want to be ready.
That’s where the Calm Down Kit comes in. It’s full of tools and strategies you can use once the infamous autism meltdown has begun to either distract your child or lessen the magnitude of the meltdown after it starts.
A tantrum & a meltdown are different, but a tantrum can lead to a meltdown. Sometimes you can defuse it. Kind of like a bomb.
What Is A Calm Down Kit?
Full disclosure-I didn’t coin the term Calm Down Kit.
A Calm Down Kit (AKA Emergency Meltdown Kit, AKA Sensory Tool Kit) is just a collection of items that help calm your child’s sensory system. It’s the stuff you need to have on hand “just in case.”
Now, you can buy calm down or sensory kits from stores online, but you usually don’t get the option of individualizing them.
On top of that, they aren’t cheap-the ones I found started at $150 and went up to $499 with no option to customize.
That’s a big thumbs down! In my opinion, they’re ripping folks like us off when we are desperate. That is so very wrong.
You know your child’s needs better than anyone, so I think you should decide what goes in or out of the “kit.” Creating your own Calm Down Kit is much more economical and personalized. I feel like going the DIY route is your best bet.
There are no rules on what you can include in your kit. The most important thing to remember is to focus on what works for your child. Ask yourself:
What calms him down?
What soothes him when he is restless?
What types of activities does she love to do?
If you’re drawing a blank right now, don’t sweat it! Here’s a list of 50 Tools Every Autism Mom Should Have in Her Calm Down Kit.
I’ve attached links to the quality ones I’ve used and recommend. These are my affiliate links, so I may receive a commission if you make a purchase. (Then I’ll do a little happy dance because I’ll feel validated.)
Now, a few of these suggestions may be confusing, so there’s an explanation at the bottom for those less traditional items!
50 Tools Every Autism Mom Should Have In Her Calm Down Kit
- Bottles of Bubbles
- Calming Music
- Liquid Motion Timer
- Stress Ball
- Light Up Fidget Stress Toy
- Calm Down Strategies Cards
- Weighted Blanket
- Sensory Chew Necklace
- Noise Cancelling Headphones
- Color Spinners
- Glitter Wand
- Light Up Rail Twirler
- Coloring Book
- Favorite Stuffed Animal
- Fidget Cubes
- Pressure Vest
- Soothing Night Light
- Vibrating Roll Pillow
- Silly Putty
- Massage Ball
- Lavender Essential Oil
- Sensory Sox
- Mini Trampoline
- Tent Tunnel
- Slow Rising Squishies
- Balance Ball
- Rescue Remedy Stress Spray
- Stretchy String
- Fidget Chair Stretch Bands
- Pipe Cleaners & Popsicle Sticks
- Calm Down Bottle
- Hugo Warmkins Sensory Monkey
- Freddy’s Fidget Toys for Classroom
- Puzzle Fidget Cube Toys
- Chewy Tube
- Crawl & Calm Resistance Tunnel
- Sensory Scarves
- Tickles the Turtle Pet Massager
- Texture Squares
- Emotions Putty
- TwiddleClassic Fidget & Comfort Muff
Bubbles| Bubbles will help your child relax by taking deep breaths to blow the bubbles. (You can do all kinds of awesome things with bubbles-even encourage speech…read about that here & then go buy a bunch of them!)
Calming Music | Soothing sounds have been reported to help people on the spectrum relax. Try Somewhere Over the Rainbow or You Are My Sunshine on your smartphone.
Stress Balls | Small self-regulation tool that will keep fingers busy by promoting movement & tactile input. (DIY them with a balloon & Sensory balls-it’s a fun activity!)
Weighted Blankets & Pressure Vests | Weighted blankets & vests mimic deep pressure touch stimulation. Research has shown that deep pressure touch releases serotonin, a chemical in the brain that works as a neurotransmitter that regulates mood, sleep, and sensory perception.
Chew Necklaces & Tube | Chewing can provide oral sensory and proprioceptive input. Your child’s oral sensory system is another avenue to explore for calming and self-regulation. You could also try chewing gum or crunchy snacks.
Noise Cancelling Headphones | Use these if your child if overwhelmed by the noises of a large crowd or any sound that you have identified as a trigger for him. You may want to get two so you can keep a pair in the car-just in case.
Light Up Rail Twirler | I’m recommending this visual sensory toy for your calm down kit because we have one and it not only holds my son’s attention but it’s also durable and portable. Visual sensory toys usually have a calming effect on kids with autism. Keep this in mind when selecting items for your calm down kit.
Sensory Sox | Improves self-calming. Here’s a photo because this is something I think you need to see to understand. The best way I can describe it is like a cocoon for your child. I can say from experiencethat for sensory seeking kids it’s one of the better products out there. And no, it’s not just a blanket…I had to explain this to my husband who thinks he knows it all:)
Mini-Trampoline | Of course, you won’t be carrying this around in the trunk of your car in case of emergency meltdowns (but technically you could since this one folds), but a trampoline at home is a grand idea. Jumping on a mini-trampoline may bring comfort to a sensory overloaded child and may be enough to de-escalate a meltdown. Trampolines are all wonderful for heavy work and other activities, so I highly recommend investing in one. If you want to get a large sized trampoline for outdoors, check Facebook to see if anyone is selling a used one. You can get a great deal that way-I know we did!
Tent & Tunnel | Sometimes a quiet, calm place to settle down is all you need to calm an autism meltdown. A pop-up tent or tent tunnel is an economical and logical choice. Check the camping aisle too-remember to think outside the box. Make your own tent with an old sheet!
Harmonica | Really? Every autism mom should have this in her calm down kit? Yes! Along with whistles, flutes, and maybe even a saxophone on down the line! The idea here is to regulate your child’s breathing to get her to take deep calming breaths in and out. Playing the harmonica or blowing a whistle makes it fun.
Stay-N-Play Balance Ball | One of my favorites. Perfect for the classroom or any autism mom’s home calm down kit. This ball is ideal for high energy overloaded kids. It stays in place so it can be used as a seat in the classroom or at home. Check out how it stays in place!
Parenting a child with autism can be challenging and stressful, to put it mildly. Finding resources and help can often feel like looking for a needle in a haystack. As a result, moms and other caregivers get overwhelmed and stressed.
Remember that you are not alone. Reach out if you need help!
I know this was a ton of information to take in. I also understand that we all lose our senses a little during a meltdown.
So…I wrote the Ten Commandments of Parenting During A Meltdown to make it easy to remember what to do!
Want a Free Copy?
All you have to do is sign up for the WTYM newsletter & you’ll get it in minutes!
Paul Collins wrote, ‘Autists are the ultimate square pegs, and the problem with pounding a square peg into a round hole is not that the hammering is hard work. It’s that you’re destroying the peg.’
I hope I can help you find a way to help your child manage his emotions in a way that doesn’t destroy the peg and motivates him to reach his full potential.