Before implementing any therapeutic strategies, such as breathing, deep pressure, or tapping, it’s important to calm children or adults who are anxious or showing high levels of behaviour.

A simple strategy is sorting objects using colours.

Sorting is good for hand-eye coordination, fine motor skills, and focus.

Using colours allows the individual to identify a colour and link it to their behaviour and emotions. I often use a traffic light system; red is dangerous, yellow is brewing, green is OK. Let the individual choose the colour and identify what it means to them. Ask them: ‘What does it feel like? Sound like? What colour is it?’

Use a safe corner for the activity; a safe place where they can release emotions. Don’t make the area restrictive – let the individual move around if they want to.

You could use different coloured pasta, rice, paper and cups for sorting exercises and the individual may want to use a peg, tweezers, spoon or their hands to sort. It’s important to work with the things they like and enjoy doing if you are going to help them bring their focus back to the present.

The task could be to sort red pasta into red cups, yellow pasta into yellow cups, and green pasta into green cups. It could be to place red pasta onto red paper, or green paper onto a green cup. You may want to separate the different coloured objects out on the table and ask ‘Where does the red go? Where does the yellow go?’ and then let the individual complete the action. Use whatever method works best for the individual.

You may need to ask questions: ‘Shall we go for green?’ or ‘Where does the red go?’ You may need to be instructive: ‘Put the yellow pasta on the yellow paper’, or you may need to let the individual choose how they want to complete the task. You could make it game or make it a race: ‘Ready Steady Go!’ A countdown can also work well.

Always praise each completed task and then remove it: ‘Well done! It’s finished.’ When the whole activity has ended, let the individual put everything back in its storage box, and say ‘It’s gone.’

Make the activity fun. Building a rapport and being interactive is key to enabling the individual to focus. Rapport also means they will copy your behaviour. Your tone of voice is important so be sure to align yours to theirs.