5 Ways to Help Your Child with Autism Cope with Stress
Anxiety and stress tendencies are not out of the ordinary for children with autism. While it is common for all children to express fear in certain situations, for instance, separating from their parents, for those on the spectrum, their fears arise from the fact that they typically have verbal communication challenges. They could for instance be worried about not completing their homework or not being accepted by their peers. These children may not communicate their anxieties in a verbal form, but you will notice signs of uneasiness or anxiety through certain actions like obsession, an aggressive resistance to change, and even ritualistic behavior, which can be easily mistaken by others.
Here, observation is key as a parent. You may have already identified some repetitive behaviors in your child like violence, which points to stress, anxiety, or something that’s bothering them. The next important step is to help them learn how to cope with such situations without reaching higher stress levels or showing unnecessary aggression. In that instance, if you are not near them, the world may not understand and be cruel to them, which aggravates the situation further, and this often affects them deeply.
Because children with autism develop more slowly than others socially, they often find it overwhelming to abide by socially accepted norms or even just to cope with them. For example, a child with autism may struggle to understand what someone else is thinking or doing, something that their “typical” friends would not struggle with. These children’s stress factors will relate to the unpredictability of the people around them and certain situations they will find themselves in, which they will either take time to understand or will not understand at all. Because they may never tell you when they are irritated or anxious, you can watch out for the following indications in their behavior:
- An increased difficulty in sleeping
- Uncontrollable rocking, jumping, or spinning
- Temper tantrums or behavior meltdowns
- Harmful actions like biting or banging the head on the wall
- Avoidance of or complete withdrawal from social engagements
- Attachment to routine
It is not out of the ordinary for an autistic child to have tendencies towards stress and anxiety attacks; it is quite common for them to express their feelings of fear in certain kinds of situations. Since they may not express their anxieties verbally, it is up to the parent to understand and read the signs through certain actions carried out by their children:
- It is important to understand the child and their needs. Since those children suffering from autism may have trouble communicating their emotions, the parent must be able to read their child’s signals, which they express in their behavior or feelings of uneasiness. Here, the key is to understand what is making the child feel anxious or stressed out. A few of the common triggers that can lead to stressful situations in children are certain changes in routine, such as a usual class they attend getting cancelled due to some unforeseen incident; certain changes in their environment, for example, you move houses or make certain changes to the home itself; or fear caused due to particular objects or activities, which may include going alone to the toilet or sleeping alone on their bed.
- Make a list of the details you’ve identified as situations or circumstances that make the child anxious and then help them to manage those situations. Give time to your child; allow them multiple opportunities to practice dealing with those situations in a safe environment. It is the responsibility of the parent to make the child understand and teach them what anxiety is and what it makes them feel. Create visuals so that the child is able to understand what happens in each of the part of the body when they get worried or scared.
- Help the child learn about what can be done to calm them in such situations. The parent can help the child come up with a “toolbox” of techniques to calm them down the moment they start to feel anxious or stressed out. A few such steps can be counting numbers in their head from one to ten; taking slow, deep breaths for five counts; trying to draw attention by reading certain books; closing their eyes for a few moments; going to a quiet location in the house; or running around the lawn five or six times until they feel relaxed. Your child may not learn all these things in a day; you as the parent will need to make your child practice these strategies over a period of time, when they are calm. Once the child is well aware of these strategies, then you can push them gently to try them out the moment they feel scared or anxious.
- Just making them aware doesn’t end the work; making them practice those strategies is also important, so try to utilize some of those techniques the moment the child encounters stress or anxiety.
- You can also seek the aid of a psychologist to help the child cope with stress since they are highly trained in managing such mental health conditions.