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8 life hacks for autism parents

8 autism life hacks for parents

Updated: September 16, 2023 · 7 Minute Read

Jeryn Cambrah

Written by:

Jeryn Cambrah


  • Techniques like “first, then” boards and using visual timers can help with difficult transitions for kiddos on the spectrum.
  • Clever products like noise-reducing earplugs or over-the-bed-tents can make you and your kiddo more comfortable and reduce sensory overload.
  • Genius but simple tricks, like covering public toilet sensors with Post-It notes or leaving easy snacks accessible to your child all the time, can avoid unnecessary stress for your autistic child.

8 autism life hacks for parents

These 8 parent-approved life hacks that can make life a little bit easier!


1. Loop Ear Plugs


Loop offers three different kinds of earplugs that are inconspicuous and won’t draw attention from nosy people. They come in fun colors and are uniquely designed for comfort (all-day wear!) and style.


Quiet: This earplug muffles sound and drops the noise around you by about 5 decibels, regardless of where you are.


Experience: These unique Loop earplugs tune out sounds so you can focus on what’s important. These are great for tuning out noises from car rides, concerts, or other loud places so you can focus on what matters.


Engage: An innovative pair of earplugs that filter out excess noise without hindering your ability to hear and hold conversations with people. Ideal for parents of kids who enjoy stimming loudly, you’ll be able to hear your child but “take the edge off” overwhelming sounds.


You can purchase a pair for yourself and your child (if age-appropriate) for a more stylish way to reduce noise around them and prevent sensory overload. Loop’s philosophy is “live life at your volume,” and this autism parent is grateful for the option. 😂


You can check out Loop Ear Plugs here!


2. The Post-It Note toilet trick


If you’re using a public restroom with your child and it’s got an automatic flusher, cover the sensor with a sticky note so that it doesn’t flush while your child is still in the stall! It’s a simple trick but can save your child unnecessary stress. (Psssst. You can also bring along hand sanitizer to avoid using the noisy hand dryers — or just let your child’s hands air-dry.)


3. Buy multiples of your child’s favorite clothing


When you find a clothing item your child loves, such as pajamas, t-shirts, socks, or underwear, buy multiples. This way, you don’t have to fuss with your child about what they’ll wear — everything is already kid-approved. No more itchy pajamas or t-shirts with tags shall enter this house! My son’s night-time wardrobe consists solely of over-sized Hanes t-shirts I buy in large packs. 😂


(Pssst. This also works for favorite toys or comfort items. We once bought 3 of a specific Elmo toy my son was obsessed with. Two years later, we only have one Elmo left😅.)


4. Use a visual timer to help with transitions


A visual timer counts down the time your child has left for an activity or place and slowly reveals a picture. My son’s BCBA introduced us to this concept because he has such a hard time with transitions. We use the timer to let him know how much time he has when we arrive somewhere, and display it somewhere he can easily see it so he can keep tabs on how much time he has left. The color of the counter also changes from green to red when time is running out, so there’s lots of visual cues your child can pick up on that time’s almost up.


Here’s the visual timer we use:


5. Leave favorite snacks visible and within reach


If your child is nonverbal or struggles with knowing when to eat or even food hoarding, try leaving quick and appropriate snacks out somewhere your child can reach them. This can be things like bowls of pretzels, crackers, pre-washed and prepared fruit, cereal bars, or trail mix. If food is visible and easily accessible, your child can take what they need and avoid becoming hangry (hungry + angry, you know, when your child is grumpy because they’re hungry??). This is a godsend in our family, because I often miss cues he’s hungry (until it’s too late), or he doesn’t realize he’s hungry and won’t eat. Having food out means he can help himself and avoid getting too hungry. This is also great for fostering your child’s independence.


I tend to leave an Uncrustable or some other food + a drink out for my son overnight, in case he wakes up hungry in the middle of the night or wakes up before me, he can satisfy his hunger and is able to play calmly or go back to bed.


Psssst. I also recommend always having a water cup available at all times, one that your child can’t play with or spill. Thirst may not be easy for your child to communicate, and it can cause them to become grumpy or even destructive. Keep your kiddo hydrated!


6. The “turn one thing off” rule.


If your child is overstimulated or feeling overwhelmed, try eliminating one source of sensory input at a time until they’re able to regulate and feel calmer. I’ve started doing this with my son, and it’s been wonderful. For example, we usually have the TV on at night turned to a soft music station (it relaxes him, and he’s scared of the dark — and no, night lights won’t cut it), he also enjoys phone or tablet time before bed. Take into account these lights and sounds plus the washing machine, the refrigerator, the dogs making noise, the air conditioner running and the ceiling fan — that’s a lot for one person to process!


When my son sometimes becomes overtired or overwhelmed at bedtime, we start by turning off the TV. If he’s still upset, we remove the phone/tablet. Usually that’s enough to help him regulate, but if not, we also can turn off the fan, unplug the fridge for a while, or keep eliminating sounds/lights until he’s calmer. He fusses for a bit, but then he’s grateful for the reprieve. This applies not just at bedtime, but anytime your child is feeling overstimulated. Gradually decrease the level of sensory input until your child is able to regulate — but choose wisely, every kid is different and some sensory input may actually be helping your child.


7. Create a First, Then board


If you have a child with autism or ADHD who struggles to stay on task, has difficulty with transitions, or has anxiety with daily tasks, try a “first, then” board. This was another tip from my son’s BCBA, and it was a total game-changer for our family. It makes transitions so much smoother. We actually lost our first, then board (🤦‍♀️), but now my son is verbal enough that we can just speak “first store, then house” or whatever our plans may be. Using visuals is always helpful for kiddos, especially those who are nonverbal!


8. An over-the-bed tent helps your child sleep soundly (and independently)


If your child has difficulty sleeping by themselves, is sensitive to light, sound, or just enjoys enclosed spaces, an over-the-bed tent (like the one above from Privacy Pop) can help your child rest. Not only is it a place for sleep, it’s a place for creativity, dreaming, and privacy. You can find over-the-bed tents or bed canopies that cover the entire bed, or only half of it. They are made from breathable materials and zip from the outside, so your child won’t roll out of bed in the middle of the night but can feel cozy and safe.


I always loved confined spaces as a kid because they felt soothing to me. In our old house I created a calming space for my son in his bedroom closet (complete with LED color-changing lights and fluffy blankets). A bed tent can also serve as a calming low-stimulation space for your child to recover from a meltdown or just relax if they’re feeling overwhelmed.


Privacy Pop tents are a bit expensive, but you can find alternatives at retailers like Target, Walmart, and Amazon. Here’s a few options to get you started:



For more info about the possible benefits of a bed tent for your child (or you!) check out this article from PopSugar.



Parenting can be rough, but thankfully there are tricks and practices that can help things run a little smoother for you and your special needs child. Preparation, visuals, and clever products can be game-changers!