Inside: Mindfulness for Autism – 5 big ways it will help. Includes exercise instructions, book recommendations, and free printables.
Having a child on the spectrum is really hard.
I know this because my son has autism.
Is there a way to help kids like my son regulate their big emotions?
I think so…
And the best part?
You can do it yourself, right now.
And today I have superpower tools for you to teach your child.
5 insanely helpful mindfulness tools for kids on the spectrum, that you can use right now.
Before you move on, be sure to sign up for our FREE 12 Mini Mindfulness Exercises for Kids. Our printables are designed to teach kids growth mindset, mindfulness, confidence, and much more. Click below to make sure you’re on the list! Once signed up, you will also gain access to our entire library of free printables!
Table of Contents
- What is Mindfulness for Kids:
- Why I turned to Mindfulness for my ASD son
- Three big benefits of starting a mindfulness practice with your kids are:
- Mindfulness for Autism – 5 BIG Ways It’s Helped
- Five BIG ways mindfulness has helped my son:
What is Mindfulness for Kids:
Mindfulness is a practice of generating a new way to relate to events and situations in your life.
It helps our kids self-regulate, focus, gain awareness and even sleep better.
And Mindfulness for kids with autism, particularly high functioning autism is especially helpful.
Mindfulness encourages paying attention in a particular way, on purpose, in the present moment and non judgementally, as the master of mindfulness Jon Kabat Zinn so brilliantly puts it.
Well, these skills build self-awareness and self-management.
I used to sit helplessly and watch my three-year-old son become so enraged, red-faced and clenched fists, I swore his head might pop off.
It’ frightening, for me and for him.
My son is a highly passionate kid who has high functioning autism disorder (ASD). He struggles with emotional regulation and inflexible thinking (among other things), but his symptoms have improved since introducing him to mindfulness practices.
It’s more beneficial than any type of counseling or therapy Liam is/was enrolled in.
What’s even better:
When I saw first-hand the results with my son’s behavior, I decided to create my own guide, to outline exactly what we’ve been doing.
This now popular guide is called Mighty Mindful Kids, and you can get it right here!
I compiled 40 of the most successful mindfulness activities we’ve practiced, into one helpful printable e-Book.
Some of my favorite (and most successful) exercises in this book help my son count when he’s angry or explain that his body feels stormy when he’s frustrated.
My son also loves the exercise that asks him to blow all his worries and anger into an imaginary bubble. Then he watches the bubble float away or he can choose to prick the bubble and watch the worries dissolve and vanish.
Mighty Mindful Kids focuses on five main area’s:
- sleep and mornings
I’ll go into a little more detail below how I use these exercises and the profound results I’ve seen in my son, but if you are interested in picking up a copy of my digital eBook, Mighty Mindful Kids, you can right here.
Why I turned to Mindfulness for my ASD son
Many parents of ASD kids (and non-ASD kids too) are turning to mindfulness and meditation, hoping it will help their kids.
High functioning autism can be a difficult diagnosis, generally speaking, kids with more severe autism are not expected to just suck it up, but people on the higher end ARE expected to do just that.
Many kids who have high functioning autism do not get the same supports and therapy as kids on the more severe end of the spectrum, yet these higher functioning kids still have significant struggles.
- They often suffer from extreme sensory issues to noise, lights, crowds, tastes, smells and touch, it can be debilitating.
- Anxiety and depression are much more common among people with high functioning autism
- Sleep disorders
- Inflexible and rigid thinking
- Problems with planning and managing everyday life
- Strong emotional dysregulation, difficulty with transitions and change
- Even difficulty following verbal instructions
A lot of the therapy for these kids falls on the parents and many parents feel lost, hopeless, forgotten, and misunderstood (I know because I’ve felt all of these things).
Want to know the worst part?
I felt neglected by our public system for help.
So I took matters into my own hands, and having practiced Mindfulness myself for more than a decade, I thought I’d give it try.
Three big benefits of starting a mindfulness practice with your kids are:
- Reduced stress, anxiety and depressive symptoms in parents
- Decreased challenging behavior in children
- Enhanced mother-child interactions.
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As a parent with a child with autism spectrum disorder, life is filled with ups and downs. I can attest to periods of wonderful calm followed by an abrupt shift to episodes of crazy behavior, behavior that disrupts our entire family.
Some days I’m walking around on eggshells trying so hard not to “set” him off, and other days, he’s so helpful and sweet, I wonder if he really does even have autism.
Does any of this sound familiar?
Mindfulness can help!
Mindfulness for Autism – 5 BIG Ways It’s Helped
My son is always smiling, always, he lights up a room. And you should see his smile when we are doing these exercises.
He is only three (well four this month) but he loves the engagement and focused attention I’m giving him. Not only are we bonding but he is learning lifelong skills.
But do you want to know what’s even more amazing:
The change I’ve noticed in his behavior.
In order to teach mindfulness to your kiddos, you should know a little about mindfulness yourself.
Well, I’ve got you covered there:
Mindfulmazing has a FREE 7-day beginner’s guide that will teach you ALL the essentials.
So don’t forget about self-care mom. Because you matter too. And I know first hand how much we put our own needs on the back burner.
So even though the benefits of mindfulness for parents is out of this world (and you can read more about that here), I’m going to focus today on how mindfulness can help your child.
Mindfulness will teach your kids:
- Kindness and an open heart (avoiding judgment of others.)
- Instead of evaluating everything, learning to open yourself up to becoming aware without evaluating.
- Being aware – experiencing life with “fresh eyes,” and learning to look at everything as if for the first time.
- Patience — learning how to breathe and count.
- How to stop being ten steps ahead of ourselves – try to just “be” in the present moment.
- Acceptance of the way things are. (Release control) Life might not always give us what we want, but acceptance is key.
Five BIG ways mindfulness has helped my son:
1. Emotional Regulation
If Liam starts to have a meltdown, we start counting.
Immediately he is calmer.
We haven’t had an hour and a half long meltdown, since I can’t even remember when, and they used to happen often.
Another effective strategy is breathing awareness:
- Focus attention on the breath, and this provides an anchor.
- Take a few minutes each day to pay attention to our breath.
- Just noticing the inhaling and exhaling.
- If our mind wanders, we bring it back to the breath.
I normally combine breathing and counting together for emotional regulation.
We count to 10 and breathe in for 1, exhale for 2, inhale for 3, exhale for 4. This is very effective at calming heightened emotions.
And do you want to know the best part?
Liam is becoming conditioned to this exercise, like Pavlov’s dogs, so much so, that before we even get to three he is immediately calmer. He is associating the rhythmic counting with calmness, and this is exactly what we want.
The good news is you can start counting and breathing at any age.
Kids are selfish by nature, (aren’t they?) Does the me, mine, don’t touch stage ever really end? Tack that on with a child who struggles with empathy and you’ve got a super beast on your hands!
It was a goal of mine to teach my child about kindness and gratitude.
Before you move on, be sure to sign up for our FREE Kindness Rocks printables. Our printables are designed to teach kids growth mindset, mindfulness, confidence, and much more. Click below to make sure you’re on the list! Once signed up, you will also gain access to our entire library of free printables!
We’ve been practicing exercises at bed-time where we discuss all of the people who helped make our day happy today.
You could talk about your little one’s teachers, siblings, friends, parents, grandparents, aunts or uncles.
We also perform a nightly exercise I call, warm fuzzy wishes, where we send well wishes out into the world.
This consists of wishing people in our lives well.
For example, “I hope brother Scott does well at his soccer game tomorrow” or, “I’m sending grandma healing vibes.”
And here’s the amazing part:
This exercise finds us sending handwritten letters or thank-you cards to friends, grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins, or teachers. Or purchasing a small gift for someone we love or even donating a gift or toy to charity.
And Liam is now recognizing that other people have thoughts and feelings and he’s learning that the world doesn’t center around him.
Fun Idea: Just last week we made kindness rocks, (from our kindness rocks challenge) and on our nightly walk, we left these on neighbors doorsteps to find. You can do that too, it’s fun and easy. For more information, click here.
My son now gets excited about making other’s feel good.
It’s more than I could have asked for. This state of mind doesn’t come naturally to all kids, and sometimes we need to teach our kiddos that kindness can be a wonderful thing.
Our kids are an empty canvas, and we have a lot of control over what we fill them up with.
Mornings have always been tough for us. And I’m not going to lie, they are still tough. The toughest part of our day.
My son seems to have heightened sensory issues in the morning. (I’m starting to think it’s more heightened control issues or anxiety issues) and consequently is always on the verge of a meltdown.
Do you feel my pain?
But, we now start our mornings differently. When we wake up, we say our morning mantra’s. We repeat the following phrases:
- I am safe and loved
- I am happy and healthy
- I will be kind and compassionate today
- I will never give up
- I am blessed
- I am smart
- I believe in myself
- I choose to be happy
After our morning mantra’s we engage in a three-minute silly puddy stretch to wake the body up.
From Mighty Mindful Kids
After we complete our stretches (and we breathe) my son is in a much calmer state. I’m not saying he’s perfect, but his mood is much improved.
These exercises avert his attention from focusing on the way his clothes feel, it’s a healthier focus.
Like many kids with ASD, my son deals with sensory overload.
We can try 10 different pairs of socks in the morning to no avail, he still screams, “it has bumps.”
This is crazy.
I gave up and bought insanely expense Bombas socks, (worth every penny) these socks help — but he still fusses.
Liam lacks the ability to filter his senses and it often leads to emotional breakdowns. He also lives in high levels of stress and anxiety. His cup is always full, and as his parent, it is my job to teach him to recognize when he’s had enough.
Awareness of the present moment can help kids process what’s going on around them. They can start to filter their senses.
We always go for what I call a “watchful walk.” This consists of going for a stroll and paying attention to all the sights, sounds, and smells around us.
This is a simple, fun exercise, and it helps kids recognize their senses, and recognition is the first step to gain some control over impulsive reactions.
Autism is not a problem that can be fixed, but mindfulness is a practice that can help those affected deal with the challenges more effectively.
Another favorite exercise of ours is when a tense moment arises, we shout, “freeze” or “freeze-frame,” and freeze our bodies instantly.
I’ve previously explained to my son that we have pressed the pause button, like pressing pause on our favorite cartoon or show.
This exercise helps us see how difficult emotions fade away if we don’t engage with them.
My child is very busy. (very, very, very) Is there a rule about using very three times in a row? Well, that’s just how busy he is!
I’ve also been working on focus with him, we do mindful listening exercises and blindfolded snack time (among others). These exercises help him sit still and focus his little brain for a little while. And our brains are a muscle, the more we practice the stronger the muscle gets.
We also focus on becoming aware of thoughts and feelings. The more we become aware of our thoughts and feelings, the more we can regulate them in productive ways.
My son loves the train station visualization:
These are only a few of the profound benefits I’ve seen since practicing mindfulness with my son.
My child isn’t perfect, (or by any means cured) but he’s come a long way.
My advice is to start small, maybe do one or two exercises each day for a week, and no longer than five minutes per exercise. I would also suggest you learn alongside your child, reap the benefits yourself (who doesn’t want to feel less stressed?)
Modeling mindfulness is the best way to teach it to our kids!
And before I go, because I’m so obsessed with these exercises, I’ve included another short visualization. The Rainbow Smiles exercise:
Don’t forget to snag your copy of Mighty Mindful Kids, it’s less than the price of a couple of cups of coffee!
Please tell me below your struggles. Let’s connect and help each other navigate this crazy journey.
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Tina Williamson is the writer and founder of Mindfulmazing, a peaceful parenting blog that guides busy moms and dads to tune into what matters most, and, ultimately, create a happy life! Tina shares strategies and advice for raising responsible, mindful, and resilient kids.
In 2019, Tina created the popular eBook, “Mighty Mindful Kids,” a mindfulness activity book that helps kids with focus, emotional regulation, awareness, and connection. This helped so many families (including her own) that she created several printable resources for parents, teachers, and therapists.
Stay tuned for Tina’s Amazing Me Growth Mindset Journal for Kids being published in the spring of 2021.