Many of us are regularly put in situations that give us some degree of anxiety – sitting through traffic, working on a deadline, planning an event, etc. Even something as seemingly minor as having lunch with an acquaintance can make us feel anxious. Maybe you’re worried about making a good impression or unsure how to keep the conversation going.
Fortunately, these are not life threatening situations. There are many ways to cope with uncomfortable situations and how you handle them may differ from someone else. You might leave earlier to avoid rush hour traffic while others may shift their schedules around. You might work extra hours to meet a deadline while others may delegate smaller tasks.
For individuals with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), however, commonplace situations that might be minor annoyances for us can have crippling effects for them. Because individuals with autism often have difficulty communicating verbally, they may act out aggressively or even engage in potentially harmful behaviours.
If you have a child with autism, understanding what triggers anxiety can help you develop more effective coping strategies for him or her. Here we’ll look at common stressors that trigger anxiety on the autism spectrum and what you can do to help your child cope.
Unstructured time is just what it sounds like – There’s no schedule or routine on what to do next. Examples can include recess, lunch time, or free time when all work is completed. Many children enjoy unstructured time as it gives them the freedom to choose any activity they want. But these less structured parts of a school day can be particularly difficult for autistic children.
A diagnostic criteria outlined in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) is that individuals with ASD show repetitive behaviours. It’s why maintaining a routine is so important. Some ways to help your child include providing structured activities during unstructured times and a quiet area to play in.
Many individuals on the autism spectrum are hypersensitive to bright lights and loud sounds which they may find overwhelming. Other situations that may trigger anxiety can also include crowded spaces and even certain smells. Prolonged exposure to such triggers can result in withdrawal or meltdown – When an individual becomes so overwhelmed that they lose behavioural control.
There are different ways to handle sensory issues. If your child is hypersensitive to bright lights, making changes to the environment can help. Examples include reducing fluorescent lighting, using blackout curtains, or providing sunglasses. If your child is sensitive to sounds, you can help by providing ear plugs when going to a crowded place and soundproofing your home to reduce external sounds.
Individuals with autism often find social situations difficult for a number of reasons. They might appear withdrawn or simply prefer to play alone. Certain situations like large gatherings or crowded spaces can increase anxiety even further.
You can help by practicing new social skills with your child such as how to acknowledge and respond when meeting someone new. You can also work with your school to ask about any particular social difficulties they have noticed and work on improving those. As you work on building social skills, it’s important to take things slowly. Start with the basics and then gradually progress in stages.
Alex Morrison has worked with a range of businesses giving him an in depth understanding of many different industries including home improvement, managed IT services and health care. As the owner of Integral Media, he is now utilising his knowledge and experience with his rapidly increasing client portfolio to help them achieve their business goals.