Most of us have experienced nervousness or an anxiety attack, or at least know someone who has. With children or adults on the autism spectrum, what might be nervous jitters or a minor anxiety attack can show as a full meltdown, often in reaction to daily life stressors. These breakdowns can be especially challenging in public, but with a few coping strategies at the ready, you can be prepared for anything.
The first step in dealing with a public meltdown happens before anything even starts through prevention strategies. Prepare for an outing with social stories - give an example of a common situation, like going to the grocery store, and describe the noise or crowds that may be encountered, and how the problem will be dealt with, whether it’s with a hug to calm down, leaving, or earplugs.
Involve your child in the event, have them put groceries in the cart or pick out a book at the library. Have distractions prepared, like a small toy to play with or a game, and teach your child coping strategies they can use when they’re stressed. You can also use rewards for good behavior as knowing that they will get to do their favorite activity when they get home or get a treat for being quiet and well-behaved at the store can be a great motivation.
When meltdowns do happen, even when prevention strategies have been practiced, know your child’s triggers and their coping techniques. Help them take deep breaths, or do whatever they may need in order to calm down and reduce the stressors. If you know crowds are a problem, keep that in mind when you’re going to a busy place. You could also have your child give you a certain sign or have a system in place as a way for them to tell you when they start to feel overwhelmed so you know how they’re feeling and have time to act before it escalates.
Be prepared to be flexible. Sometimes triggers are unavoidable, but if you’re prepared for anything, you’ll be fine. If you know you’re going to a family party, for example, tell your child what to expect, and give them a timeline. Promise to be there for two hours, and stick to that. Routines can help in lowering stress and keeping anxiety at bay. Know what you need to bring to help your child, and try to stay calm. When a breakdown strikes, if it’s possible, stop what you’re doing and focus on helping your child. Try using their coping techniques together or provide a distraction.
In addition to what you can do for your child, you also should have support. Lean on family and friends for advice, support, and help, and consider therapy or professional help for both your child and the family. Creating effective coping strategies and learning to deal with anxiety will take time, practice, and immense patience.
Autism Speaks. Autism & Your Family. Retrieved from https://www.autismspeaks.org/what-autism/autism-your-family
Danneman, Ilana. AngelSense GPS Blog | Strategies for Autism Related Anxiety. Retrieved from https://www.angelsense.com/blog/7-strategies-reducing-anxiety-kids-autism/