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Emotional/self-regulation are activities or behaviours children may display to help them feel calm. 


There are two main ways your child may self-regulate:

  • Big physical movements/activities
  • Deep pressure

The self-regulation activities children may display might not always be the most appropriate.  As self-regulation is essential for most children with autism this needs to be replaced by an alternative that gives the same or better sensory feedback. 


Big physical movement

These activities are usually an attempt to stimulate the vestibular (balance) system.


Movements displayed

Activities/equipment to support movement needs (some of these can be done within sensory breaks)

Running everywhere

·         Stop and start running

·         Changing direction

·         Shuttle runs


·         Row row the boat

·         See saw

·         Balance boards

·         Wobble cushion (can be used all of the time)


·         Trampoline/trampette

·         Exercise ball

·         Space hopper

·         Star jumps

·         Whole class can access Jump Start Johnny (YouTube) or Go Noodle (subscription required)


·         Egg chair

·         Sit in spinning tops

·         Chair on wheels

Dangling upside down

·         Hanging over an exercise ball

·         Lie over a chair

·         Bending over and touching toes


·         Use a twiddle toy

Constantly out of seat during lessons

·         Give jobs such as handing out books, sharpening pencils, taking messages to office before start of tasks.


Deep Pressure

Deep pressure can help to relieve anxiety by regulating the sensory system. This can be misunderstood and appear as challenging behaviour e.g. pushing others


You can experience deep pressure all over your body however the shoulders and hips may be more effective.

Deep pressure displayed

Activities/equipment to support deep pressure some of which would be appropriate within a sensory break

Pushing/hitting (shoulders)

·         Push ups off the wall

·         Body board to lie on and pull self along the floor

·         Rolling on top of an exercise ball and pushing forwards and backwards with hands on the floor

·         Row row the boat

·         Pushing wheel barrows/ push chairs with weight in

·         Pushing hands against another’s hands

·         Climbing on outdoor equipment

·         Wheelbarrow races (walking on hands)

·         Back pack with weight/weighted items to hang over shoulders

Climbing on furniture

·         Climbing frames outside

·         Climbing on PE apparatus

·         Push and pulling objects

·         Resistance bands to pull

Throwing (shoulders)

·         Throwing bean bags, balls etc

·         Back pack with weight/ weighted items to hang over shoulders

Pulling hair (shoulders)

·         Stretchy fiddle toy that can be pulled and gives resistance

·         Back pack with weight/ weighted items to hang over shoulders

Nipping/ Scratching (shoulders)

·         Soft sensory ball that can be pulled between thumb and forefinger

·         Material to scratch

·         Back pack with weight/weighted items to hang over shoulders

Kicking/stamping/bouncing (hips)

·         Kicking footballs

·         Trampoline/trampette

·         Bouncing on an exercise ball

·         Balance boards

·         Wobble cushion

·         Kick bands round chair legs

·         Resistance bands

Seeking out tight hugs/

Squeezing into small spaces/lying across desks

·         Rolling exercise ball over the child whilst they are lying on the floor

·         Massage rollers

·         Lycra to wrap round and hug self

·         Lying underneath blankets

·         Weighted items to lie across knees/shoulders when sitting

Head banging on objects, hitting themselves in the head, pressing head into others

·         Head massage

·         Head massages (metal with beads)

·         Caps and hats

·         Alice bands

·         Ear defenders

·         Sweat bands

Biting/chewing/grinding teeth

·         Chewy tubes may need to try different textures and density

·         Food (apples, carrots, chewing gum- age appropriate)

·         Vibrating toothbrush/vibrating toys held against jaw

·         Material (if chewing clothes need something similar such as old cuff/collar from jumper/polo shirt that is too small)


·         Blowing bubbles

·         Milkshake breathing


Points to remember

  • All self-regulation activities should be monitored and supervised at all times by an adult.
  • Sensory breaks should be timetabled and directed by the adult to get the most from the sessions. A visual task strip would be helpful to show what the child needs to do within the session.
  • The AOT are not trained Occupational Therapists and all information is given as a basic introduction.
  • More information can be found through the NAS website.


Examples of equipment