Understanding the Stress Response

These strategies may be effective in preventing the cycle of an emotional stress response. They can help an autistic teenager or young person regain control with minimal adult support. Strategies to try include:

  • Physical Support
    • Removing the source of the problem, if possible, or removing the teenager from the situation, e.g. sending him or her on an errand, taking a message to someone else, checking on some of his or her responsibilities
    • Sometimes standing close to the teenager can be enough to support him or her through a difficult situation, particularly, if you have spent time building rapport; you are the person he or she trusts to recognise and meet his or her needs. Dr Brian McClean reminds of benefits of taking time to build this rapport with the student or young person
      • Once the teacher or parent has noticed the student’s anxiety  (Potential signs of anxiety), he or she can either communicate nonverbally, maybe using eye contact, with the student as a means of reassurance or simply let the student know that the discomfort has been recognised by another (Communicating difficulty without words). Often the student will use this as an opportunity to engage in some of the previously mentioned Calming strategies.
  • Structure and Schedule
  • Redirecting – ownership
    • Redirecting involves helping the teenager to focus on something other than the task or activity that seems to be upsetting or difficult. One type of redirection that often works well is drawing or cartooning the situation to figure out what to do. Others types of redirecting include:
      • Social Autopsies: a method designed to examine a social skills problem. Looking at
        1. What was the social error?
        2. Did anyone come to harm?
        3. How could it be done differently?
        4. What do I need to look out for in the future?
  • Quiet Area
  • Empathy followed by support
    • Talking and working through problems together can help, coming up with solutions together or ways to handle difficult situations is a useful skill.
    • Further ideas are available from “Executive Function in the Classroom: Neurological Implications for Classroom Intervention” Harriet Greenstone (2011), http://www.learninglandscapes.ca/images/documents/ll-no9/hgreenstone.pdf
  • Movement and Reflection
    • Walk and think – no talking needed.
      • The adult using this technique merely walks with the student without talking.
      • On this walk, when the teenager is ready, the teenager can say whatever they want without fear of discipline or logical argument.
      • The adult should be calm, show as little reaction as possible, and never be confrontational.


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