Children with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), also known as Autism, are often unable to cope with sudden changes to their routines. The feeling of anxiety overwhelms them, often to the point that they are unable to focus on anything else apart from the stressors. Often a child is unable to respond to you verbally especially if the child is in a highly distressed state.
These are some of the ways to work effectively with your child in reducing their anxiety:
Look at things that affect your child biologically
Many children are hypersensitive to things that affect them biologically, and in particular those on the autism spectrum. You have to first be hyper aware of your surroundings. Be aware of the intensity and colour of the lights you have at home- try dimming the lights to see whether there is a change in your child's behaviour. Provide earmuffs whenever your child appears overwhelmed by the sounds around him.
Provide visual cues
It is crucially important to always make sure that your child is well aware of what will happen next. In a fast-paced world, where everything is changing, providing a sense of security will help your child to overcome the fear of not knowing what will happen next and this will help to alleviate the anxiety of facing the majority who do not react just like them. Come up with interesting drawings or pictures to explain to your child the events for the day; e.g., wake up – bathroom – dress – breakfast – check schoolbag – leave the house . You could even turn this routine into a fun activity by providing paints, colour pencils, crayons, cardboard papers etc. for your child to pick in order to make your schedule for the day with him. This way, your child will learn to anticipate and will be able to know what comes next. Be consistent in providing these visuals daily in order to reassure your child.
Provide a fidget
There is a large variety of toys and equipment which may provide your child with relief or distraction to enable him to cope. Fidgets are toys or things to fiddle with and these often have a calming effect for some children. Wiggle seats and therapy bands placed on the legs of a chair are used to help children sit for an activity. Therapy balls are an alternative way of helping your child to train his core muscle strength, while allowing an avenue to channel excessive energy. For some, weighted blankets are able to help reduce anxiety as some children favour the sensation of something heavy over them. However, there have been studies which do not find the weighted blanket useful. As every child is unique and will react differently, it is always advisable to try out various activities until you are able to find the right match.
Read picture books with/to your child
Children with Autism generally find it difficult to understand the basis of feelings even though they are highly sensitive to the change of emotions among people. Hence, the possibility of getting overwhelmed and confused with different emotions might lead to your child feeling highly anxious. Story telling time can be turned into a fun activity to provide the vocabulary for your child to link an emotion with a picture cue. Picture books which identify and explore a person’s feelings will inherently allow your child the chance to learn to identify emotions better. Make sure to come up with different games to ensure that your child is able to practice in understanding emotions. For example, books such as Exploring Emotions (Bayley, 2004) and Worry Busters! Activities for Kids Who Worry Too Much (Rainbow Reach) (Weaver, 2011) can be an avenue for you to mimic different emotions depicted in the pictures shown and get your child to guess what you could be feeling. Another book worth investing in would be The Zones of Regulation®: A Curriculum Designed to Foster Self-Regulation and Emotional Control (2011, Social Thinking Publishing) which teaches a child to identify and label emotions based on colours. Get your child to colour a huge sheet of art paper in columns of different colours and always refer to that art paper whenever you want your child to tell you how he/she is feeling through non-verbal means.
Come up with a list of relaxing activities for your child
Again, providing visuals which can be pulled out whenever your child experiences a meltdown will ensure that your child is being provided the tools to help in the process of calming down. For example, studies have shown that certain activities such as diaphragmatic breathing (belly breathing) is effective in reducing a person’s stress level, which in turn helps an individual to relax. Teach your child to breathe through his belly by placing two small toys, one on his chest and the other on his abdomen area. Next, encourage your child to breathe in slowly through his belly by getting him to try raising the toy on his belly.
Lastly, always remember to provide positive comments about what your children have successfully achieved, instead of always looking at what they can't do. Remind them that you are proud of their ability to try, and not just their ability to get things right. After all, as quoted by Hilary Craig, the founder of Hils Learning Centre “provide love, care, reassurance, consistency, build on their strengths, advocate for their rights, build confidence and remember to alleviate the fear that is ever present when there is no certainty”.
Children with autism may be different but they are not any less. We at PurelyB are here to encourage and support you towards building a healthier family. Come, join our community and discover more helpful tips. Sign up as a member today!