Over the years, I have found that anxiety seems to come up over and over for both children and adults on the spectrum as the number one factor keeping people from leading a socially engaged and productive life.
As surprising as it might sound, summer is actually a good time to talk about this. If you are a parent or teacher, you may know that talking to your child or student on the spectrum while they are in the midst of a distressing situation just doesn’t work. It is far more effective to review the problem or figure out solutions when the child is calm and no longer feeling anxious.
For most of us, it’s the middle of summer: no school, lots of sun, less pressure, and many children and adults tend to feel less stressed. This is why it is a good time to make plans for you or your child now, which might reduce anxiety in the coming fall.
Let’s start by looking at some of the main causes of anxiety:
- New social situations
- Breaks in routine, especially if it’s unexpected
- Overwhelming sensory input, such as loud noises, things touching the skin, or big crowds
- Being worried you are going to make a social mistake, like saying or doing the wrong thing
- Lack of sleep
It is also important to recognize that sometimes anxiety can be irrational with no identifiable cause.
If you find you are in a period of low stress and anxiety, here is a toolbox of strategies that you can use for yourself or your children to keep anxiety at bay:
- Set up fixed routines and prepare for what’s coming.
- Simplify life by reducing the number of classes, interventions, groups, or activities.
- Find quiet, non-social time to rejuvenate. For adults, this is also important even if you are part of a couple.
- Discover what is calming and build it into the daily routine. It might be music, exercise, reading, computer games, knitting, birdwatching, or playing with a pet.
- Get help or find another way to accomplishing the “must-do” daily living activities. For children, perhaps the volume of homework can be modified or done at school to keep it from becoming overwhelming at home. For adults, time intensive chores such as cleaning or cooking can be accomplished by services such as hired cleaners or healthy meal prep options, which require minimal effort. Review the list of things to do and create priorities so the focus can remain on essential things.
- For older teens and adults, find one person you can talk to who you trust. This person can be a guide, help interpret social situations, and be a sounding board.
- Learn when disclosure of your diagnosis will make life easier. For parents, discuss disclosure with your children before the immediate situation arises. Practice conversations and role-play can help a child gather their words and feel more comfortable and confident when they need to speak up.
Of course, it is impossible to avoid all anxiety provoking situations, but by taking steps to identify and address common stressors, you or your child can hopefully reduce anxiety and be better prepared to navigate situations when they occur.