Stress is a part of life even for everyone, not just children on the spectrum, but for a child who has autism or other behavioral needs or difficulties, some additional help learning to cope with difficult situations may be necessary.
Here are some ways that you can help your child cope with stress:
1. Create a Safe Word or Place – Communicate to your child the importance of letting you know when there is a situation that is uncomfortable for them. Take the time to help them come up with a safe word (code word) that they can say when they find themselves feeling stressed about a given situation. If they are experiencing stress at home or at school, talk to them about finding their “safe place” – their bedroom, the classroom, etc. That way when they feel like things are becoming overwhelming, they can go to their “safe place” and unwind before rejoining a group activity, a family party, etc. It is also good to practice taking a break in places where there is no quiet area and to practice stepping away from a stressful situation, counting to ten, or visualizing a calming environment.
2. Role Play – it is important to be open with your child about things that can occur in school and the community that can cause them stress, such as not getting their way, being made fun of or called names, hearing the word “NO” from a peer, family member or teacher etc. It is ideal to prepare your child with autism for situations like this. One good way to do this is to create a set of situation cards (think of the game clue) have 3 sets of cards that allow you to pick a location (school, grocery store, park etc.) a situation (not being picked for a team, not getting a toy you want, not being able to play with a friend etc.) and some phrases that your child might hear in a situation like this (you’re to slow, we don’t want you on our team, you can’t have that candy bar, it’s not your turn, etc.) pick a card from each category and role play the situation, all the while talking to your child about appropriate responses and behaviors and throwing in other situations that can arise. You can turn this into a family game and each person in your family can take a turn picking cards for everyone to act out. This will allow you to show your child with autism how to overcome obstacles and make good choices.
3. Find A Way To Help Reduce Their Stress Reducer – Giving your child a stress ball to squeeze or directing them to jump on a trampoline, taking a deep breath and counting to 10, are just some examples of how your child with autism can exert their energy in a positive way when under stress. Teach your child on the spectrum to resort to using their items rather than reacting physically when they find themselves getting stressed out or upset will help calm them down and regroup.