Three sensory enrichment techniques to help your child with autism cope with tragedy

Tragedy can hit anyone, anywhere, at any time. This article is about three techniques to help your child with autism recover after a tragedy.

A trauma is a violent emotional experience which affects the body and the brain.

Trauma modifies how the brain perceives the environment and in the case of autism it exacerbates the existing daily stress and takes it to a painful level of anguish.

A traumatic experience or tragedy suddenly depletes the level of brain serotonin and the consequences are almost instantly visible: your child with autism will loose sleep, show no interest in feeding, will be more agitated than typically the case, may show some regression in what was learnt, such as potty training.

The body is physiologically changed by tragedy as well, and it responds very weakly to additional environmental assaults such as viruses or any minimal additional stress. Stress and tragedy go hand in hand with repetitive ear or throat infections.

Knowing that brain and body are more fragile, we suggest three techniques to help your child with autism recover and suffer less.

3 techniques to help you recover from tragedy

Silence and breathing

Silence is a source of power.

It is a luxury children rarely enjoy, especially when sensory overload is a concern. The house is busy; the school, the street, and the park are busy and loud.

After an emotional outburst set a time in the house for a period of silence.

For example, you may go into a bedroom and close the door, unplug everything that rings and buzzes, and tell everyone in the house to sit with a book. You can sit on the floor or the bed where your child can come to you to cuddle or at least know that he can.

Have a fragrance floating in the room, or sprayed on the bed and window drapes. It can be any aroma that you know your child likes and that seems to help him relax. Many people find lavender relaxing.

Now, focus on breathing deeply and slowly. We are not giving advice about doing yoga, so feel free to insert here additional breathing techniques that you know help you regroup.

Your child may be surprised or confused at first by the change of pace and composure. However, if you have short sessions of silence throughout the day, he or she will feel the benefits of having no auditory information at all.

If you can lead your child in deep breathing it will help refuel the oxygen levels in the brain. Shallow or irregular breathing is one of the body’s physiological responses to anguish.

The effect of deep breathing will be made more beneficial if the room is filled with a soothing scent.

After the emotional outburst and then the moment of rest, you must allow your child to leave the room if he wants to and return to normal activity.

Speaking of auditory input, remember that for the first few days following the tragedy, it is wise to avoid high-pitched sounds around the house, whether it be in music, phone rings, or the doorbell.


The benefits of this procedure that we call the “spa treatment” are plentiful. The biggest ones are that the spa provides relaxation, and helps improve the levels of brain dopamine and serotonin.

The spa treatment is a moment of connection between your child with autism and yourself. Nothing during the routine is demanding on your child; everything is meant to be soothing.

The procedure may happen in the bathroom, mostly. Prepare a comfortably warm bath for your child. One of the things that warm water will do is provide some relief from physical pain which often appears after a tragedy.

Again, make sure that you help the brain with a pleasant aroma. You can add a scented oil to the bath. Here too lavender may be a good choice, or maybe vanilla.

Dim the lights.

It is not a time for cleaning but to let the body relax and for the senses to receive fundamental repair information. It may be that spending a minute or two in warm water will take care of most of your child’s hygiene requirements as well.

The next step after the warmth of the bath is to wrap your child in a bathrobe or large towel that has been warmed up in the dryer, or by laying it over a heating vent. No brisk rubbing to dry off your child, only a gentle wrap.

Lay him down on a thick towel on the floor, or let him sit comfortably to receive a massage. Start with the hands and then you may proceed to the head and/or the feet.

Massage is a great technique for relaxation, recovery and self-awareness.

Doing this spa routine daily in the first two weeks will rapidly show its effects on your child’s sleep and mood.

Smell and soft touch throughout the day

Here is an important exercise: Throughout the day, take a break and bring a pleasant aroma to your child and expose him to a gentle touch experience while s/he is smelling.

Touch may happen anywhere, but s/he has to really like it. It can be the forehead, the top of the foot, or any area that is not over sensitive. You will know it is working when you see the shoulders droop and the person’s breathing slow down. You will see him/her “melt” before you.

So, again, as he or she is receiving the sensory input from the scent, you give him or her a soft back rub or any gentle touch that feels pleasant.  Make it last as long as your child accepts it, three seconds one day, a minute another.

Do this routine as often as possible and, at bedtime, slide a scented tissue into the pillowcase to ensure better sleep.


Nature has provided the most simple tools to help the brain rebuild motivation, a sense of beauty and understanding, and organize memories, with the use of pleasant scents.

Neuroscience explains that smelling a pleasant aroma has an immediate effect on the brain. It does not change what happened or the size of the trauma, but it helps gradually to compensate for and possibly even rebuild what the trauma destroyed.

It helps your child find joy in what is there for him.

Some tips

Have a vial of essential oil available and visible in the house. Bring it to the nose of your child.

Children with autism have a reluctance to inhale, so, holding the scent at proximity to the person’s nose will be sufficient.

No one goes through life without meeting tragedy but children with autism have less capacity to recover well. Using these Sensory Enrichment techniques will help you help your child to move out of the trauma.

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