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Just Breathe: How Deep Breathing Helped My Autistic Son Self-Regulate

Deep Breathing Autism

Controlled deep breathing is one of the best skills to learn for coping with anxiety, sensory overload, irritability, and more.


Deep breathing has worked for my son in many ways. He has many sensory issues and can get quite irritable for many reasons. He gets uneasy and anxious when there's a sudden schedule change or if there was an unforeseen event. We needed to find something to soothe him because we all know life isn't predictable. That's when we discovered Diaphragmatic Breathing also known as Deep belly breaths.

Deep belly breaths are long breaths taken in through the nose, held for 3 seconds, and exhaled through the mouth. When you do this type of breathing, you put one hand on the chest and the other on the abdomen. This is to observe if you are filling your chest with air or if you're filling your belly with air. You want to do the latter and avoid 'chest breathing.' The goal is to practice enough, using this method, until you can get the technique right.

A good way to explain this to your child is to pretend the belly is a balloon and they're filling it up with air. You can also mirror your child and practice with them using the one-hand-on-chest and one-hand-on-belly method. Controlled breathing is a helpful technique for adults as well. I've used it many times and find myself much calmer and relaxed afterward.

This exercise worked well for my son. He learned to calm himself in many situations. At first, we had to prompt the breathing then he began to do it on his own. It is amazing to be at a point where he can do this and avoid a meltdown and manage his behavior 80% of the time. That may seem far out of reach for many, I know it did for me, but it's possible.

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Deep belly breathing, also Diaphragmatic breathing is known to:

-Calm the body
-Manage pain
-increase blood flow or circulation
-decrease tension in the body
-promote mindfulness

There are other breathing techniques worth looking into such as alternate nostril breathing, pursed lip breathing, and 4-7-8 breathing but I found the deep abdomen breathing worked for best for him and convenient to use when he is out in public.

You can also add other techniques to the breathing exercises such as closing eyes and visualization or stretching.

Have you tried any of these techniques with your autistic or special needs child?