How to Lessen Anxiety in Children With Special Needs

How to Lessen Anxiety in Children With Special Needs

Anxiety is a natural response to feelings of stress. While any child can experience anxiety, children with functional needs (commonly referred to as special needs) may experience anxiety more often and more intensely. These more intense feelings can sometimes be the result of one or more of the following:

  • Their disability makes it more difficult to understand what is happening around them.
  • They may be bullied due to their disability.
  • Their disability affects their daily life.
  • They feel different from other children.
  • They’re learning to cope with their disability.

Persistent anxiety issues that disrupt everyday life can make children with special needs feel inadequate, shameful or guilty. Support, empathy and accommodations are essential in order to understand each child’s feelings and address them in a way that lessens their anxiety.

There are many ways to reduce anxiety in children with disabilities. Calming strategies and techniques can help children cope with these anxious feelings. When children with special needs know how to manage their anxiety, they can feel more in control of their environment and responses as well as more confident about participating in daily life.

How Anxiety Manifests in Children With Special Needs

Children with special needs who experience anxiety can be triggered by various scenarios and conditions and display many symptoms. It’s important to understand the manifestations of anxiety in a child with functional needs. Teaching your child with special needs about anxiety symptoms helps them understand what is happening to their body. As their caregiver, you can help your child navigate their anxiety and feel empowered.

Causes and Symptoms of Anxiety

The causes or triggers of anxiety differ for each child and may depend on the disability. For example, children with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) can feel anxious if their routine is changed. In some cases, a medical condition can cause anxiety. If this is the case for your child, talk to a medical professional about treatment options.

Some common causes of anxiety in children with functional needs include:

  • Environmental changes, like moving to a new city.
  • Inability to complete a task as planned.
  • Sensory issues like understimulation or overstimulation.
  • Social situations like parties or gatherings.
  • Unexpected changes in routine, like school closures.
  • Worry over an object, event or activity, like an upcoming test or a missing book.
  • Detecting anxiety in others.

Anxiety manifests in many mental and physical symptoms that are different for each child. As a result, anxiety in children with special needs can sometimes go undetected. These symptoms can even be interpreted as noncompliance or a lack of discipline.

The most common signs of anxiety in children with special needs include:

  • Crying or screaming
  • Emotional outbursts
  • Fast heartbeat
  • Flapping hands
  • Headaches
  • Meltdowns
  • Poor focus
  • Restlessness
  • Sleeping difficulties
  • Social avoidance or withdrawal
  • Stimming
  • Stomach aches
  • Sweaty palms

Sensory Stimulation and Overload

Sensory-related anxiety is common in children with ASD and other functional needs. Your child’s sensory system — and the stimulation and overload of it — can affect emotional and behavioral regulation and lead to anxiety.

Each child has a different sensory threshold. When your child has too much stimulation, their central nervous system is overwhelmed, which prevents them from understanding the input.

Since many children with sensory processing disorders cannot self-regulate, the overstimulation can lead to sensory overload, which may cause sensory-based meltdowns. A sensory meltdown is a physiological response to feeling overwhelmed by too many stimuli. Sensory meltdowns are a response to what your child is feeling.

A sensory meltdown may then trigger a fight-or-flight response. This response is caused by the nervous system interpreting sensory inputs as threats. If your child is experiencing overstimulation, they may feel threatened and unable to act logically, leading to anxiety symptoms like crying or screaming.

Types of Anxiety

Types of Anxiety

Here are the most common forms of anxiety that present in children with special needs:

  • Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD): OCD is characterized by obsessive and repetitive behaviors. Children with OCD may feel compelled to do something a specific way or a certain number of times to prevent something bad from happening. These obsessive thoughts and compulsive actions can interfere with or take over daily life.
  • Social anxiety: Social anxiety occurs when a person feels overwhelmed about social situations and interactions. Signs of social anxiety include avoiding social interactions, maintaining little to no eye contact during conversations, having difficulty interpreting social cues, and experiencing symptoms like a racing heartbeat, sweaty palms and shakiness during conversations. Social anxiety is common in children with ASD since autism can affect social behaviors.
  • Specific phobia: A phobia anxiety is when someone develops a fear of a situation, place or object. Your child will try to avoid situations where the phobia could present itself, leading to a restricted lifestyle. For example, a child with a phobia of bees may not want to play outside. If your child has a specific phobia, be aware of situations where their phobia could present, especially if your child is non-speaking (commonly referred to as non-verbal).

Eight Calming Strategies for Children With Special Needs

If your child with functional needs experiences anxiety, they need support to help manage their symptoms. Calming strategies are an effective way to relieve anxiety. Remember that your child will respond to some methods better than others, so you may want to try more than one strategy to find what works best.

Learn how to reduce anxiety in children with autism and other functional needs through these calming strategies.

1. Use Self-Soothing Techniques

Self-soothing techniques can help reduce and control anxiety. You and your child can try various strategies — some may work better than others, and your child’s abilities will determine which you can use.

Some effective self-soothing strategies include:

  • Breathing exercises
  • Counting to 10
  • Meditating
  • Visualizing

2. Get Active Through Exercise

Exercising every day — or at least regularly — benefits physical and mental health, making it a great way for children with functional needs to manage anxiety.

Exercise routines should be based on your child’s abilities and interests. When your child is interested in the activity, they’ll be more encouraged to exercise and want to get active every day. Some physical activities you can do with your child include:

  • Basketball
  • Biking
  • Dancing
  • Soccer
  • Swimming

3. Help Them Express Their Emotions

Help Them Express Their Emotions

When your child feels an emotion, they need a healthy and productive way to express their feelings. Repressed emotions — an emotion felt but not expressed — can make your child feel anxious.

A safe space can help children with special needs express their emotions, such as sadness, irritability and anger. Teach your child that emotions are valid and expressing them is good. When children feel permitted to express their feelings freely, they often won’t feel as overwhelmed or intimidated by their emotions. Expression also prevents repressed emotions and subsequent behaviors.

For children who are non-speaking, you can help them express their emotions through communication devices. You can print icons showing faces with certain emotions, and your child can point to the card that matches their feelings. You can also have your child pick out a card and ask them to put a name to the emotion.

4. Create a Coping Toolbox

A coping toolbox for children with special needs who experience anxiety has toys, fidgets, books and other tools they can use to handle their emotions when feeling anxious. These devices help children use the calming strategies that work for them to self-regulate and improve their tolerance to anxiety-producing scenarios.

Here are some ideas for things you can put in your child’s coping toolbox:

  • Books for self-guided reading
  • Coloring books for creative expression
  • Fidgets for stimming
  • Sensory toys for calming or stimulation
  • Social stories for emotional self-regulation
  • Toys and games for playing
  • Visual schedules for activities and tasks

In addition to physical objects, you can include apps designed for children with ASD in your coping toolbox. These apps cover various topics, including:

  • Behavior management
  • Communication
  • Creativity and art
  • Learning
  • Scheduling and organizing
  • Sensory and relaxation techniques
  • Social skills

5. Create a Safe Sensory Space

A sensory room is a safe space where a person with functional needs can regulate and calm down when feeling anxious or overwhelmed. These areas should include toys and other objects that provide the right amount of sensory input.

Sensory spaces work well for children who feel anxious from sensory overload. You can create a sensory room based around your child’s unique needs, whether that means toys that provide calmness, or options like a stuffed animal that lights up and sings a song or one that vibrates.

6. Communicate Expectations and Plans

Communicate Expectations and Plans

Children with ASD may have difficulty transitioning between activities, especially when moving from an activity they enjoy to one they do not. You can use various tools to help make the transition smoother and reduce anxiety. When your child knows what to expect, they can better visualize and anticipate the activity. The positive example can encourage them to transition to the next task.

You can communicate plans and activities using tools like:

  • Social stories: A social story is a narrative that models a particular scenario and what will happen. You can read the social story to your child before doing that activity so your child will feel less anxious. They can anticipate what will happen and see a positive example of responding to the situation. Social stories can illustrate activities like a grocery store trip, brushing teeth or washing hands.
  • Video modeling: Video models are a social story in a different format and show a positive example of transitioning to a new activity. Children who watch video models of the activity they’ll do next can better transition because they know what to expect.
  • Visual activity and task schedules: The visual schedule includes a picture of the task and the time when they’ll do the activity. The picture tells your child what they should do, and the time indicates when the activity will happen. This tool gives your child a sense of control, which can reduce anxiety.

7. Plan Quiet Time

Quiet time helps children with functional needs because it supports regulation throughout the day. You can plan quiet time in your child’s schedule before they feel overwhelmed by the day’s activities.

During quiet time, your child can play with toys that help calm them. Our Peaceful Play Bundle features toys that soothe and calm while providing the right stimulation, increasing visual attention and encouraging exploration. Children who are able can settle into the Beanless Bag Chair to cuddle with the Vibrating Rabbit, enjoy the light show from the Jellyfish Soother or play with the Fish Play Mat.

8. Consider a Therapy Option

If you haven’t already tried it, consider therapy for your child. Therapy can provide additional support for children with functional needs who have anxiety. Many types of therapy can benefit children with special needs, including:

  • Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT): CBT helps children alter their behaviors and beliefs to cope during difficult situations. A therapist will work with your child to help them change their thoughts about a situation — the cognitive — and their reactions to a situation — the behavioral.
  • Exposure therapy: Exposure therapy can help reduce your child’s anxiety triggers. A therapist will work with your child to identify their triggers. Then, your child will be exposed to their triggers a little at a time in a safe setting. As your child gets used to the trigger, their anxiety may decrease or disappear.
  • Pharmacological interventions: Medications can help children with functional needs manage their anxiety by reducing symptoms or the anxiety itself. Each option works differently — some are taken daily, while others are taken when your child is experiencing anxiety. Your child’s doctor can help you determine if a pharmacological approach is right for your child and decide which medication may work best.

Ease Your Child’s Anxiety With Calming Toys From Enabling Devices

Enabling Devices supports these various techniques to help ease your child’s anxiety. We have many calming toys that can help a child with functional needs cope with their anxiety. Some of our products include:

  • Twiddles: Soft, cuddly objects decorated with various materials to provide stimulation and produce a calming effect.
  • On-the-Go Sensory Buddies: Soft plush backpacks shaped like animals that are filled with sensory toys like Bubble Poppers, Spiky Character Balls, Marble Slide Fidgets and more.
  • Weighted Puppy: A soft puppy-shaped wrap that lays on the neck and shoulders to provide calming pressure and improve concentration, attention and self-regulation.
  • Fiber Optic Lamp with Bluetooth Speaker: Sets acalm tone in a sensory space through tactile lights and auditory stimulation.

We provide assistive technology, toys and other products as well as support and resources to help individuals with special needs participate fully in the world. Contact our team today for more information about our calming toys for anxiety.

Ease Your Child’s Anxiety With Calming Toys From Enabling Devices

What are Switch Adapted Toys and Games?

Switch Adapted Toys and Games

If you’re looking for toys that fit the unique needs of individuals with disabilities, Enabling Devices offers trusted, adaptive solutions. Our toys are specially designed to engage children with special needs and help them have fun as they explore. With switch-activated toys, users can learn cause and effect and build their comfort with new sensory input.

Tailoring Play to Functional Needs

Children and adults with disabilities understand and discover the world differently than people without disabilities, but many toys and products don’t cater to their needs. With an adaptive toy, play is more accessible for individuals with disabilities who want to explore the world. They also help loved ones join in on the play and learn about how the person sees the world and processes information.

Toys that engage the senses in a safe, comfortable environment help those with functional needs engage with their environments on their own terms. These toys let kids and adults experience new sensory input while still in control, making the experience less scary and more relaxing for them. They also provide stimulation for sensory-seeking individuals.

Types of Accessible Toys Available From Enabling Devices

To accommodate the unique ways adults and children with disabilities play, we sell a large selection of accessible toys. The major types of toys we offer for individuals with disabilities include:

Switch Adapted Toys and Switch Activated Toys

An adapted toy activates with an external capability switch. Adaptive switches let children and adults with disabilities engage with electronics by using a button press, eye blink, mouth puff or other motion. The user can use their switch to tell the toy to move, make sounds or flash lights. Using an adaptive switch, kids can also enjoy popular traditional toys, such as toy cars, interactive plush toys, board games and early learning toys just like their peers.

Switch activated toys are unique products that can help many individuals with different disabilities have fun, learn new skills, strengthen existing skills and become more comfortable exploring new sensory experiences. Enabling Devices designs and builds toys with specific learning goals in mind. For example, a toy might be designed to help eye-tracking skills, improve fine motor skills or reward certain actions. Others are designed to meet a wide range of needs and sensory-motor abilities.

Sensory Toys and Products

Sensory toys and devices for individuals with functional needs stimulate any of the five senses for therapeutic benefit. Some products are designed to relax and soothe, while others are designed to engage the user or acclimate the user to sounds, lights, vibrations and textures. Sensory products can be useful for children with auditory, visual or tactile sensitivities.

These children’s toys let the user get used to certain sounds, lights and colors in a fun and exciting way, which may help them feel calmer when facing new stimuli in a different environment. Toys and games for kids with autism or functional needs help them enhance their senses while meeting their needs. Ask us about our sensory room design and quote services for help creating the ultimate sensory space.

Soft Play Sensory

Soft Play Sensory

Soft play toys and cushions create a comfortable and safe place for someone to play and relax. They can provide a tactile experience or offer protection for a child who needs extra cushioning. They’re an ideal way to help someone enjoy play in an environment that reduces anxiety and frustration. With a more comfortable place to play, individuals can better engage with sensory stimuli and focus on learning.

Communication Devices and Development Products

Communication devices enable children and adults who are non-speaking to communicate. These special needs tools not only give them a voice but can also be used as teaching tools, building a person’s language skills starting with one message, moving on to two message choices and so on. Many of our products also make communicating fun with bright colors, custom recorded messages and tactile experiences. People of all ages and abilities can use these devices to communicate with others.

Benefits of Play for Children and People With Disabilities

Everyone learns through play, and playing lets people with disabilities learn skills on their terms. Accessible toys and products offer a number of benefits.

1. Communication and Social Skills Development

Play lets children and adults with disabilities communicate and share with others. If someone can’t express their feelings through language, they can show their reactions to sensory toys and new experiences. Playing with others lets people learn social skills and see how others share ideas.

2. Sensory Stimulation and Calming

Individuals with sensory processing disorders can feel over or under-stimulated easily, causing anxiety, focus issues or hyperactivity. Fidget/stim” toys and sensory toys offer the stimulation or relaxation needed to feel calm and focused.

3. Motor Skills Development

People with disabilities can improve their fine and oral motor skills through play. Toys that encourage grasping, eye-hand coordination, chewing and manipulating the mouth help someone develop these capabilities and strengthen their muscles.

4. Visual Tracking and Attention

Visual impairment and low vision make it challenging to keep track of an object’s position. Devices and toys that are brightly colored and make enticing sounds promote visual tracking and attention. Specially designed adaptive switches also help people with visual impairment play with toys, activate devices and use technology.

5. Cognitive Development

People with disabilities can use a wide range of tools and devices, including switch adapted toys, to stimulate their minds and learn concepts such as cause and effect, directionality and object recognition. Some toys introduce letters and numbers, or animals and their sounds, or body parts. Adaptive toys help people with disabilities take important steps toward future learning. They can also build sensory-motor skills needed for handwriting or keyboarding, for example, in preparation for school.

When and Where Can Children Use These Toys?

Children with disabilities can use products, toys and devices from Enabling Devices anywhere! Special education classrooms stock a range of products for their students. Parents also have toys at home and for on-the-go to both keep their kids entertained and reinforce skills taught in the classroom or in therapy. Toys can be used to help focus, calm or comfort a child in a new situation.

Toys and devices from Enabling Devices are helpful tools to have when traveling, visiting public places or taking children with disabilities to a new location where they may feel overwhelmed or over-stimulated. From noise-canceling headphones to toys and games that provide a pleasant distraction, kids can use our devices to make the world more comfortable and accessible for their needs.

What Custom Options Does Enabling Devices Provide?

Everyone should have the chance to play with the toys and devices they like and need. If you have a certain adapted product in mind but can’t find it, our design experts may be able to help. We design and manufacture many of our products right here in the U.S.A. Because we do it right here, we can sometimes accommodate modifications of existing products or the creation of a custom product for our customers. Contact us to learn more.

Whatever options you’re looking for, we’re here to provide trusted solutions so children and adults with functional needs can experience play for themselves. Our team understands each individual is unique, and we’re committed to creating toys and devices that match those unique needs. Our goal is to provide switch-activated and other special needs toys to help each adult and child with a disability play, learn and interact with the world.

What Custom Options Does Enabling Devices Provide?