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Overwhelming art

Create colourful collages to show how it feels for someone to be overwhelmed and think about what we can all do to help.

You will need

  • Craft materials (for example, tissue paper, pipe cleaners, stickers)
  • PVA glue
  • Glue sticks
  • Coloured pens or pencils
  • Scissors
The big 5 things
PDF – 214.5KB

Before you begin

  1. Hand out copies of 'The Big 5 Things' information sheet. 

Run the activity

  1. Everyone should read out the ‘Big five’ things from the factsheet. The person leading the activity should ask the group to think about what might cause a ‘meltdown’ or a ‘shutdown’ and what it might feel like. The group should think about ordinary things they do every day and what these activities would be like for somebody who is autistic.
  2. The person leading the activity should explain to the group how feelings of being overwhelmed, anxiety and confusion can cause meltdowns and shutdowns. Point out that these feelings may lead to a ‘flight, fight or freeze’ response.
  3. You could explain this in more detail with a chart that shows what this looks like: Flight: run away. Fight: shouting, screaming, crying, kicking, lashing out, biting. Freeze: completely silent, unresponsive
  4. Everyone should split into small groups. Some groups should use the arts and crafts supplies to create a collage of things that cause meltdowns and shutdowns. The other groups should use the supplies to create a collage of things that show what a meltdown or shutdown feels like.
  5. The person leading the activity should bring the group back together to share their collages. Each group should explain why they made their collage in that way (for example, why they chose a certain colour or image).

This activity helps contribute towards some of the UN's Sustainable Development Goals. Find out more about the SDGs, and how Scouts across the world are getting involved.


The group has seen some of the actions and environments that can cause a meltdown or shutdown. Find out what the group would do to help prevent this from happening. How should they react to a person who seems to be misbehaving, but who is actually just overwhelmed?

Autism is a ‘hidden disability,’ meaning that it can be difficult for others to spot when an autistic person’s behaviour is a result of someone or something that has made them uncomfortable. What could be done to educate people about hidden disabilities and create a friendlier world for everyone?


All activities must be safely managed. Use the safety checklist to help you plan and risk assess your activity. Do a risk assessment and take appropriate steps to reduce risk. Always get approval for the activity and have suitable supervision and an InTouch process.


Supervise young people appropriately when they’re using scissors. Store all sharp objects securely, out of the reach of young people.

Glue and solvents

Supervise young people appropriately when they’re using glue and solvent products. Make sure there’s plenty of ventilation. Be aware of any medical conditions which could be affected by glue or solvent use and make adjustments as needed.