Saturday, July 13, 2013

Free Printables - Sensory Time Outs

Consequences, time outs, punishments - whatever they are called at your house they have been a topic of much trial and error for us.
Our girls very regularly do 'naughty' things. 
They destroy furniture by chewing on it, draw on things they shouldn't draw on, are very rough with their belongings and often hurt us and each other in their over excitement (I have been headbutted in the face so many times it's amazing I still have all of my teeth). 
They crumble up their food all over the floor, flood the bathroom sink and pull all the buttons off their clothes.
I could go on, but you get the idea.
The problem for me has always been how exactly to deal with these behaviours. Although it seems 'naughty' they are all actions motivated by an unmet sensory need; they chew on the furniture because they are hyposensitive and need the deep pressure chewing provides. They injure us so often because they lack spatial awareness, get easily overstimulated and find it hard to regulate their emotions. They crumble their food because the tactile experience is calming and they don't realise the mess they are making until it's too late. They yank the buttons off their clothes because they hate the feel of them.
So what to do? 
How can I discipline our children for their behaviour when it is just how their brains work? I wouldn't send my child to their room for having an asthma attack, so how can I punish my Autistic child for behaving in a sensory motivated way?
On the other hand, they have to learn that it is not OK to headbutt people or smear food everywhere. It's not acceptable to chew on everything you can lay your hands on, and destroying your clothes is not cool.
Our approach to discipline has been to use 'Sensory Time Outs'. The idea of these Time Outs is to give a consequence for a negative behaviour but also redirect the child to a more positive way of meeting their needs. 
When Bubble is jumping all over the furniture we will tell her it's not OK, and give her a Time Out card for the trampoline or the swing. We set the timer and off she goes until the buzzer sounds.
When Squeak is screaming because it isn't her turn during a board game, we tell her that is not the way to behave and give her a Time Out for skin brushing. She sets the timer and off we go.
Giving them a negative consequence for these behaviours ("I've told you not to jump on the furniture, go to your room", "stop screaming or you won't be allowed to play any more") do nothing for our girls but frustrate them. Their sensory needs are still not met and now they are also in trouble. They can't calm down because their avenue for self regulating (jumping and screaming) have just been taken away.  
This system has been working well for us. It provides consequences but also teaches better ways of self regulating than trashing furniture or screeching the house down. Quite often after the sensory time out is complete they are calm enough to resume whatever we were doing.
Don't get me wrong though. It did not work right away. 
At first the girls did not want a bar of our Time Out cards and it took quite a few weeks of reinforcing them and usually partaking in the Time Out ourselves (jumping on the trampoline with them, or doing fine motor activities together).
They are also not appropriate for every negative behaviour. Our girls both have Autism but they are also both just kids, sometimes all they are doing is testing the boundaries and seeing how far they can push them.
But in general it has been a success. Not only does it provide consequences appropriate to the behaviours but also helps to teach self regulation and self awareness.

I have included a copy of our Sensory Time Out cards in this post as a free printable. 
We have ours printed, cut into cards, laminated and hung on lanyards.

Right click to open and print.


  1. This is great Carrie. It's a great way to look at it.

    Two of my children have special needs, and I do have had to adjust my expectations and how I deal with things...and YES learn how to distinguish between what is behavioural and what is need based. My goal has been, like you, to teach my kids how to regulate themselves. I can say now, with my daughter that is nearly 12, that it all pays off. She has struggled with organisation, anxiety and attention difficulties which affects her learning...but over the years of stragegy and support, she is EXCELLING at school. She's orgnaised (it's really amazing) she's learned how to deal with stress (better than I in my 20's!!). Miss 7 has still a long way to go and her needs are very different but she too is starting to regonise in herself, when she's stressed (which happends very easily and A LOT) and this is the first step. So keep doing what you're doing. xx

  2. It beats yelling and screaming that's for sure. So glad it's working for you!

  3. I've never thought of doing this, but it does make sense if a child's sensory diet is a bit out of whack. This would work really well for my Mr M. Thank you so much! xo P