I’ve written before about how as a parent, anxiety spoiling the good things for my daughter, makes my heart break. This is therefore a topic that means a lot to me.
Anxiety can be such a hard thing for children on the Spectrum to overcome and therefore as parents we need the biggest toolkit of strategies possible to help us to help them.
This post aims to provide you with that toolkit, and whilst not all strategies will work for all young people I hope that the pick and mix approach will give you the best chance of finding the right ones for your family.
So What Can You Do To Help?
Take photographs of your child doing things that they enjoy and are successful at. Either display them or put them in a book, so that if they get anxious before attempting them again they have a visual reminder Of how much they enjoy them.
Start a ‘Happy Book’. Encourage your child to write in it (or dictate to you if writing is something they find difficult) after they have done something they find difficult. Make sure you also write messages of pride in the book, to remind them that you know how hard these things can be.
Make The Most Of Familiarity
Try to arrange for someone familiar to meet you either at home so your child has someone to travel with, or outside the door of the venue they are going to to ease the transition between home and the activity.
Write A List
Encourage them to try to write down the things that make them feel anxious about going and look at the list together to see which of these can be changed to make them less worrying.
Keep calm (easier said than done I know) and avoid giving ultimatums like, if you don’t go today that means you won’t be able to go next week. The added pressure is likely to cause more anxiety and therefore make them less able to attend.
Use A Code Word
If you are going to the event/ activity with them, give them a code word or signal that they can use to get out if they decide things are too much. Once they are there, they will probably decide not to use it, but knowing they can may give them the security to do something they may otherwise struggle with.
Think About Proximity
If you aren’t staying at the activity, knowing that you will remain in close proximity can also be helpful. Whether that’s lurking outside the door or sitting in your car in the car park, knowing they can get to you if they need to can really help to reduce the anxiety levels of some children.
Agree on a time limit, whether that is five minutes, half an hour or an hour. After that time return to give your child the opportunity to leave if they want to. Often once they have started the activity young people will choose to stay, but knowing you will think they have been successful even if they have only stayed five minutes can make a huge difference to their mindset.
Think About The Day As A Whole
Arrange non-anxiety causing activities for both before and after. Young people with autism often talk about only being able to expend so much energy and activity on social activities in a given time. Really thinking about how you sandwich the activity could make a big difference to their ability to cope with it.
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).