Using Numbers to Help Your Autistic Child Remain Calm During Chaos

In a world full of chaos, it can be difficult to calm an autistic child. Sometimes it’s as simple as giving them numbers to focus on. In this blog post, we’ll discuss how numbers help children with autism stay calm during chaotic times. We hope these ideas will help any family impacted by autism.

Our Story

My autistic son is six years old. Recently, we celebrated his father’s fiftieth birthday (Don’t tell him I told you how old he is!). People and their pets came and went throughout the weekend. Although Barclay is excited when new people (or pets!) come over, I knew this many people over this long period could lead to some challenges. I did my best to prepare him. We told him who was coming, what time they’d arrive, and when we thought they’d leave. Having all the details ahead of time meant he knew what to expect.

When the first group arrived, he said, “There were three people. Now there are six people and three dogs.” Each time someone came or went, he either added or subtracted the number of people and pets. I immediately knew why. Adding and subtracting numbers was his way to have some control over the disruption in his routine. Math makes sense. I was so proud of him for finding something on his own to help him stay calm and avoid sensory overload.

Other Ways to Use Numbers

  • Have your child count up or down as a distraction during unpleasant experiences (dental visits, haircuts, etc.).
  • If your child is impatient in the car – perhaps they need to use the restroom or are thirsty – count vehicles by color, type of vehicle, count traffic lights, anything you can count as a distraction.
  • While standing in a line or waiting in an office, count objects in the room or other people as they come and go.
  • During mealtimes, count the number of food items. Subtract items as they are eaten. (Funny story, my mother-in-law required her boys to eat the same number of peas as their age – this is a creative way to use numbers to get children to try a new food!)

Hopefully, some of the suggestions help you develop your own ideas of how to use numbers to help your autistic child. Eventually, as my son did, they may soon be able to use numbers independently when they need a strategy for self-regulation.

When we work on a child’s self-regulation, we are creating a stable internal platform that makes growth possible; any and all kinds of growth.

Dr. Stuart Shanker

Published by

Amy Nielsen

Amy Nielsen is a former children's librarian of nearly twenty years. She now spends most of her time obsessively pounding on a keyboard. She is the author of It Takes a Village: How to Build a Support System for Your Exceptional Needs Family, Goldilocks and the Three Bears: Understanding Autism Spectrum Disorder. Her upcoming YA Worth it debuts in May of 2024. She is also a freelance writer for The Autism Helper. When she's not writing, she and her family are most likely crusing the waters of Tampa Bay.