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What can support and help a dysregulated autonomic nervous system / sympathetic nervous system?

Gavin Hoole

A dysregulated autonomic nervous system, specifically an overactive sympathetic nervous system, can be challenging to manage, but there are several approaches that may provide support and help.

Here are some strategies that can be beneficial:

Stress management:

Reducing overall stress levels is crucial in regulating the autonomic nervous system. Engage in relaxation techniques such as deep breathing exercises, meditation, mindfulness, yoga, or progressive muscle relaxation. These practices can activate the parasympathetic nervous system and counterbalance sympathetic activity.

Regular exercise:

Engaging in moderate physical activity can help regulate the autonomic nervous system. Activities such as walking, swimming, or cycling promote relaxation and reduce sympathetic activation. Consult with a healthcare professional to determine the appropriate exercise routine for your specific condition.

Healthy lifestyle habits:

Maintaining a well-balanced diet, getting adequate sleep, and avoiding stimulants like caffeine and nicotine can contribute to a healthier autonomic nervous system. These habits support overall well-being and can help regulate sympathetic activity.


Biofeedback therapy involves monitoring and providing feedback on physiological processes such as heart rate, skin temperature, and muscle tension. This technique can help individuals gain awareness and control over their autonomic responses, allowing them to self-regulate their sympathetic nervous system.

Mind-body practices: Practices like acupuncture, tai chi, and qigong have shown promise in regulating the autonomic nervous system. These techniques focus on balancing the body’s energy flow, promoting relaxation, and improving overall well-being.

Professional support: Consult with healthcare professionals who specialize in autonomic nervous system disorders or dysregulation, such as neurologists or autonomic specialists. They can provide specific guidance and recommend appropriate treatments or therapies tailored to your needs.


In some cases, medication may be prescribed to help manage autonomic nervous system dysregulation. This is typically done under the guidance of a healthcare professional and may involve medical prescription-specific symptoms or underlying conditions.

It’s important to remember that every individual’s experience and needs may vary, so it’s advisable to consult with a healthcare professional who can provide personalized advice based on your specific situation.

Further to those above, here’s a development pathway for consideration in a neurodiverse person with autism to support the regulation of their autonomic nervous system and sympathetic nervous system:

Comprehensive assessment:

Begin by conducting a thorough assessment of the individual’s specific needs, challenges, and strengths related to their autism and autonomic regulation. This assessment should involve input from healthcare professionals, including neurologists, psychologists, occupational therapists, and other relevant specialists.

Sensory integration therapy:

People with autism often have sensory processing difficulties. Occupational therapy with a focus on sensory integration can help individuals develop strategies to regulate sensory input and reduce overstimulation, which can positively impact autonomic regulation.

Communication and social skills training:

Many individuals with autism face challenges in social interactions and communication, which can contribute to stress and dysregulation. Providing targeted training in these areas can help improve emotional regulation and reduce sympathetic nervous system activation. Speech therapists, behavioural therapists, or social skills groups can provide guidance and support in these areas.

Emotional regulation techniques:

Teach the individual coping strategies to manage emotional dysregulation, such as deep breathing exercises, mindfulness techniques, visual supports, or social stories. These techniques can help shift the autonomic nervous system towards a more balanced state.

Structured routines and visual supports: Establishing predictable routines and utilizing visual supports, such as schedules, visual timetables, or social scripts, can provide a sense of predictability and security, reducing anxiety and sympathetic activation.

Sensory accommodations:

Create an environment that is accommodating to sensory needs. This may involve providing sensory-friendly spaces, noise-reducing headphones, fidget tools, or other sensory supports tailored to the individual’s sensory profile.

Physical activities and sensory breaks:

Incorporate regular physical activities and sensory breaks into the daily routine. Engaging in activities that promote body awareness and sensory integration, such as trampoline jumping, swinging, or applying deep pressure, can help regulate the autonomic nervous system.

Collaboration with educators and support staff:

Collaborate with teachers, aides, and support staff to implement strategies and accommodations in educational settings. This may involve sensory breaks, modified learning environments, visual supports, and individualized behaviour plans to support autonomic regulation.

Family and social support:

Engage the family and wider network in understanding the individual’s needs and providing support. Encourage open communication and the development of strategies that can be implemented across different environments.

Ongoing monitoring and adjustment:

Regularly assess the effectiveness of interventions and strategies and make necessary adjustments based on the individual’s progress and changing needs. Maintain open communication with healthcare professionals and support teams to ensure a comprehensive and personalized approach.

As a reminder, this pathway is best customized based on the specific needs, strengths, and challenges of the individual with autism.

Thus, Collaboration with professionals who specialize in autism and neurodiversity is essential to tailor the approach to the individual’s unique requirements.

In summary, supporting autonomic nervous system regulation in individuals with autism involves a comprehensive approach tailored to their specific needs. Strategies may include sensory integration therapy, communication and social skills training, emotional regulation techniques, structured routines, sensory accommodations, physical activities, collaboration with educators and support staff, and family and social support. Ongoing monitoring and adjustment of interventions are crucial, and collaboration with professionals specializing in autism is highly recommended.

By Gavin Hoole

References: –

“Autonomic Nervous System Dysfunction in Autism Spectrum Disorder: Clinical Implications and Perspectives for Treatment” – Porges, S. W. (2017). This article discusses the autonomic nervous system dysfunction in autism and explores potential treatment strategies and interventions.

“The Polyvagal Theory: Neurophysiological Foundations of Emotions, Attachment, Communication, and Self-regulation” – Porges, S. W. (2011). This book provides an in-depth understanding of the polyvagal theory and its implications for emotional regulation, social engagement, and self-regulation.

“Sensory Processing in Autism: A Review of Neurophysiologic Findings” – Marco, E. J., et al. (2011). This review article examines the neurophysiological findings related to sensory processing in autism and discusses the implications for intervention and sensory-based therapies.

“Autism Spectrum Disorder and the Autonomic Nervous System: State of the Art and Future Perspectives” – Ming, X., & Brimacombe, M. (2017). This review provides an overview of the autonomic nervous system dysfunction in autism and explores potential treatment approaches and future research directions.

“Evidence-Based Practices for Children, Youth, and Young Adults with Autism Spectrum Disorder” – National Clearinghouse on Autism Evidence and Practice (2020). This resource offers evidence-based practices for individuals with autism spectrum disorder across various domains, including sensory integration, communication, and emotional regulation.

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