Managing Anxiety in Autism: A Parent's Perspective
Rose Mabiza • 5 mins read
13 November 2023
According to the National Autistic Society, anxiety is more common in autistic people than neurotypical individuals. However, it can be challenging to pinpoint the exact cause of anxiety as there are several factors involved, and everyone's experience is different. As a parent of an autistic child, my journey has made me understand how anxiety can impact individuals on the autism spectrum.
In time for this year’s Mental Health Awareness Week, which focuses on anxiety, I will share my son's anxiety triggers, how it affected him and how we managed it, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Anxiety in autism: Common triggers
Anxiety can intensify autism symptoms. As a result, it is crucial to identify and manage triggers to prevent them from affecting my son’s daily life.
One of the most significant triggers for my son's anxiety is changes in his daily routines. He thrives on predictability and structure, and any significant changes can throw him off balance, leading to anxiety and meltdowns. Also, he has difficulty communicating his thoughts and emotions, which can cause misunderstandings, resulting in severe frustration and anxiety.
Identifying triggers is crucial in managing anxiety levels in autistic people. In addition to changes in routine and communication difficulties, other common triggers include sensory overload, social situations, and transitions. To avoid these triggers, I try to create a safe and comfortable environment for my son, free from distractions and noise.
COVID-19 and autism: A challenging combination
The Covid-19 pandemic has affected everyone's daily routine, but it has been incredibly challenging for autistic people. Before the pandemic, my son followed a structured routine every day, which helped him feel in control. However, his routine was disrupted when the school closed, and he found adjusting to the new normal challenging. This change significantly triggered his anxiety, and he began to experience meltdowns frequently.
My son struggles with expressing his feelings and thoughts. This made it difficult for us to explain the situation and why his routine had changed. Consequently, he became more anxious and overwhelmed, resulting in more meltdowns.
From fear to freedom: Overcoming anxiety and taking control
Managing anxiety in autistic people can be a complex and challenging process. However, it is essential to understand the triggers and make the environment work.
My experience has taught me the challenges that come along with managing anxiety. Here are some of the things that help me manage and overcome my son's anxiety struggles:
- Arranging day-to-day activities to reduce uncertainty
- Being sensitive to what he wanted and needed
- Understanding the triggers
- Limiting changes to routines
- Making sure he has enough sleep
- Ensuring he ate healthily
- Providing a safe and friendly environment.
Anxiety is a big deal for people with autism and can make life really tough. To manage it, you need to figure out what triggers your anxiety and find ways to keep it under control. COVID-19 has made things even harder, but there are ways to cope and get through it.
As a parent of an autistic child, I've learnt that everyone's experience is different, so there's no one right way to deal with anxiety. But by sharing my son's story and what's worked for us, I hope to help others who are going through the same thing. Just know that you're not alone, and help's always available if you need it.
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Click on the links below to read more articles from Rose:
- My story – A mother, a wife and a woman
- Why I’m now telling my story publicly
- The burden of speaking for many women
- How I got into health and social care
- Autism acceptance: A mother’s journey
- Embracing our autism journey as a family
- Dealing with stress and autism at home
- My autistic child’s potty and personal hygiene training
- From Anguish to Adventure: Tips for Traveling with an Autistic Child.