The reality is that whilst as adults we are in control of our own destinies, as children that often isn’t the case.
For children and young people it can often feel like they are at the centre of a demand machine being pulled this way and that way without any control over their own lives.
Whilst this increases anxiety levels for many children and young people in the Spectrum, for those with pathological demand avoidance the anxiety can be so overwhelming that they are forced into a flight of fight response.
It is therefore essential to find ways as parents and teachers to make our children feel more in control of their everyday lives. More control will lessen the anxiety they feel, which in turn will make them better able to take part in activities that we need them to.
So how can we do this:
Give Simple Choices
Try to build choices into events. We can’t always choose the events that need to be done, but we can choose how we approach them.
For example, if you’re going out for a meal as a family, or heading to a new classroom as a teacher be open and considerate. Tell the young person you know that new places can be hard, and ask whether they would rather sit near the door or near the window. You are in one brief question both showing them that you care and that you want them to have the control they need to feel less anxious.
Let Them Choose The Order
Involve children and young people in making their own schedule for the day/ lesson. Give them slips of paper containing the things that need to be done and ask them to put them in the order they want to do them in. By doing so you are giving them the power to organise preferred and non-preferred activities in the way that they can best cope with them.
Allow Them Some Control Of The Rules And The Consequences
Sit down as a family or as a class and decide on the rules that matter together. Make a poster containing the house/ class non-negotiables for everyone to stick to, and add mutually decided consequences to the list. Once decided upon, everyone signs the runes. If a rule is broken, there’s no need for anger or recriminations, just calmly refer back to the list and ask the child/ young person what happens now. Again putting them in control.
Make Sure That They Have Access To Things That Allow Them To Cope
Whether there are visitors arriving, you’re going somewhere new or you know the task in hand will be difficult- ask the child or young person what will make it easier for them to manage. If they struggle to give you suggestions at first, the following can be trialled to see if they help:
- Listening to music on headphones throughout a trip.
- Taking an iPad to enable them to feel in control during dinner out.
- Wearing a particular outfit that makes them feel more comfortable (being able to keep their hood up can be helpful to some).
- Regular breaks – either to engage in activity or to sit quietly away from the noise.
- Access to their special interest.
- Time out cards so they can ask to leave a situation if they need to.
Giving them control of their own coping mechanisms will not only make them feel in control, but it’s a first step towards self regulation from which they will really benefit.
How else do you like to try to enable the young people you know to have control of their own lives?
If you do want to learn more you might find our autism section a useful place to start. It’s full of different strategies to try out.
Why not join our private Facebook Group, which brings parents and teachers of children on the spectrum together to discuss strategies to help at home and at school.
Or if you’re looking for more personal support, why not check out our Consultancy Services.
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And of course if I can be of any help then please just shout (or drop me an email).