Supporting children who are triggered in sensory situations


How can we help? Try using some of the strategies above but when unsure follow the steps below.

Remove children from situations which trigger their behaviour and speak to them in a calm, quiet voice.

  • Step 1 Identify the places or situations where a meltdown occurred. Take notes, review the situation to identify what’s causing the behaviour (eg tugging on clothing, another child lent on them, it was just before they had to wash their hands).
  • Step 2 Create a strategy for the child to manage the situation. This may be a quiet space, a song or some sensory equipment recommended by the family or a therapist for example a weighted blanket. Refer to the strategies discussed on previous pages.
  • Step 3 Complete your child’s information using the ‘Likes, Tolerates and Dislikes’ table handout.

Sensory scenario- sensitivity to noise

Step 1 Sophia becomes upsets and hits other children as they transition to the mat from the bathroom at group time.

Step 2 Educator decided to transition other children to the mat first and let them settle, then encourage Sophia to join the group. Educator made sure the activities had low sounds and children’s voices did not become too loud. Slowly Sophia was introduced to other sounds and was joining the group without becoming physical.

Sophia doesn’t cope well in loud groups. Educators support her to cope by very slowly introducing situations where the noise becomes louder and she has time to regulate her senses at each stage. Educators closely observe Sophia during each volume increase.

Educators can set up an activity with Sophia and two friends and some soft pillows as drums. We start drumming with our hands onto the pillow one at a time. We watch Sophia very carefully for signs when she has had enough, stop the children and be still and quiet, then slowly introduce the drumming again. This first step may take weeks until we can slowly move on to louder instruments.

But remember we must be very careful and take it very slowly.

Reflect on this scenario. What could you be doing that escalates children’s behaviour?  What strategies can you put in place to create a sensitive and supportive learning environment for children with Autism?


Sensory scenarios- sensitivity to touch

Scenario 1

Step 1 Wiggly, fidgety children may find the pressure of the mat hard. It could feel like concrete to them and sitting hurts.

Step 2 Find a pillow for the child to sit on. It might be trial and error to get one that’s the right thickness for that child. Also look up fidget toys on the internet and see what you could make for them.


Scenario 2

Step 1 Tyler loved cars, but hated things like clothing and water on his skin.

Step 2 Use something Tyler was  interested in educators slowly introduced a sensory experience. They stuck some double-sided tape on the roof of Tyler’s favourite cars, then rolled them in the sand. Tyler grabbed his car but let it go because of the sand. Educators slowly introduced the car again and played with other cars, showing him what to do on the car track. Eventually he held the car and played with it. They repeated this for a week, and then put the car in some shaving cream. Again he became distracted and disliked it at first, but slowly he drove his car through the shaving cream. After many weeks, Tyler was washing his car and his hands under the tap.

Reminders for the Environment and Educator practices

  • Set up small places where the child can feel safe and ‘chill out’
  • For children with sensory issues ensure temperature is comfortable and noise level not too loud. Be aware that certain scents ( eg perfumes, deodorants, washing powders) may affect child
  • Avoid situations and events that trigger meltdowns
  • Use short stress busters to redirect escalating behaviour ie count backwards or sing favourite song
  • Recognise when the child has gone beyond the point of reason – give the child space, calm down, quiet down, slow down
  • Let small things go – pick your battles and don’t become distressed with the child
  • Integrate child’s special interests into curriculum and ensure the routine is flexible
  • Adjust activities when sensory issues may be affecting child’s behaviour eg a resource makes a particular sound, shape, smell, colour and feel.


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