Reducing Anxiety and Managing Anxiety
Unfortunately, we can never get rid of or remove everything that causes anxiety. Anxiety is a natural part of life and something that everyone experiences at some stage. However, there are a few strategies that may help teenagers with autism understand and manage their own anxiety.
- Find out what ‘triggers’ or causes the teenager with autism anxiety
- This can be done through observation, conversation and/ or using visuals
- Some of the common triggers for anxiety include:
- Changes in routine or environment (Link to transitions section)
- Unfamiliar social situations
- Sensory sensitivities – Anxiety escalates in sensory-rich environments e.g. a noisy supermarket, playground, classroom; or as a result of exposure to disliked sensory stimuli such as a child crying, light touch, smells. (Link to Sensory Resource)
- Fear of a particular situation, activity or object – for example, sleeping in their own bed, going to the toilet, balloons, spiders or vacuum cleaners etc.
- Once the ‘triggers’ have been identified, work with the teenager to develop individualised appropriate strategies for dealing with these situations
- Give the teenager lots of opportunities to practise dealing with these things and situations in a safe environment
- It helps if other people in contact with the teenager with autism are aware of the ‘triggers’ and agreed strategies for handling these situations
- Help the teenager recognise anxious feelings
- Teach the teenager with autism: What is anxiety? What does anxiety feel like? And, what to do to calm down.
- Visual strategies and social stories may help.
- See http://www.moodjuice.scot.nhs.uk/anxiety.asp
This image is from a book, Stallard, P. (2002) Think Good Feel Good: A Cognitive Behaviour Workbook for Children. Wiley-Blackwell.
- Teach the teenager with autism to manage his or her anxiety, to take ownership of it, by offering an array of relaxation and calming strategies that could be implemented when he or she notices the early stages of his or her anxiety (social stories and visuals may help the teenager learn how to access and use relaxation and calming strategies). These may include:
- Managing the sensory environment e.g. noise, temperature, lighting, eye defenders, personalised music on headphones, going to a calm area where sensory stimulation is muted (see sensory resource)
- Teaching deep pressure techniques and strategies (see deep pressure techniques sensory resource)
- Counting slowly to 10
- Taking five deep, slow breaths (breathing resource or see http://www.modelmekids.com for other related videos)
- Try humour see https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bM06o26PCDQ
- Using gym equipment or weights under supervision
- Doing a set number of jumps on the trampoline see http://www.health.com/health/video/0,,20742595,00.html
- Looking at or counting a collection of favourite or special things
- Reading a favourite book or listening to calming music, playing a video or tablet based game
- See research into Minecraft and Autism http://www.cnet.com/uk/news/minecraft-helps-kids-with-autism-build-richer-lives/
- Closing eyes for a few moments
- Writing down the problem then tearing it up into small pieces
- Going to a quiet, calm area (see calm area sensory resource)
- Guided imagery e.g. computer software e.g. see Phillips Vital Signs App https://itunes.apple.com/gb/app/vital-signs-camera-philips/id474433446?mt=8
- Social stories about how to recognise anxiety and how to relax (see The Mental Health Foundation pdf mindfulness or Mindfulness a personal perspective)
The teenager should practise these strategies when calm.
Some teenagers find it helpful to be warned about a change or an event a day in advance (technology can be helpful e.g. texting on a smart phone or emailing teenager about change). Some like to know a week in advance. But for some, too much warning can mean they worry until the event happens.
A psychologist, cognitive behavioural therapist or mental health occupational therapist might be able to help if your child is very anxious. You can ask your GP for advice and to recommend a psychologist or therapist.
Read previous: ← Potential Signs of Anxiety