It's been several months since the world was turned upside down by COVID-19. Life has changed a lot due to social distancing, hand hygiene, new rules in public places and constant and unpredictable changes. The opening of society brings with it new challenges. The “new normal” will continue to evolve, and depending on where it goes, there could be a return to restrictions or the implementation of new measures as more is known about COVID-19 and its spread.
In this new environment, it is important to think about teaching calm and relaxation strategies before anxiety builds up. WhilepredictabilityWhile there can be a lot to help reduce anxiety, in a rapidly changing world this isn't always possible. Avoiding, managing and planning for potentially challenging situations will only do so to a limited extent, especially when the way we operate in the community has greatly changed and will continue to change, often with little or no notice.
Recognize the signs of overload
An autistic person may not be able to tell you that they are feeling overwhelmed, anxious or angry. You may see external signs like:
- Sensory avoidance (hand on ears, closing eyes, withdrawing somewhere).
- Sensory seeking behavior (bumping into furniture, crawling in a small, confined space).
- increased repetitive behaviors, such as B. Touching the same objects over and over again.
- run away or run away
- withdraw, not bind.
- increased stimulating behaviors such as B. rapid and intense rocking, pacing, self-talking, hair curling, hand movements.
- increased echolalia.
- self-injurious behavior, such as head banging, picking, or skin picking.
Some of these behaviors may be an attempt to calm down, while others may be signs of anxiety or discomfort.
Teach interoceptive awareness
Interoception is the eighth sensory system. The interoceptive system has small receptors that are located throughout our body, in our organs, muscles, skin, bones, etc. These receptors collect information from our body and send it to the brain. The brain helps us understand these messages by making us feel things like hunger, fullness, itching, pain, body temperature, nausea, needing to go to the bathroom, physical exertion, and sexual arousal. Interoception also allows us to feel our emotions.
interoceptive awareness(AI) is commonly affected in people with Autism Spectrum Disorder. They may not feel when their internal system is off. They are not aware of their interoceptive signals telling them they are hot, thirsty or tired. They need AI to regulate themselves. AI is also associated with executive skills such as problem solving, flexible thinking, intuition and problem solving.
Teaching AI is a way to help a person on the spectrum understand what their body's internal signals are saying and how to respond. Since the onset of COVID-19, my 21-year-old daughter, Julia, has described feeling her chest heaving. Together we realized that this was a sign of fear. So we came up with a plan of what to do when that feeling comes on, which is to do Wii Fit for 20 minutes to alleviate that feeling. We also do at least 3 bike rides a week to keep the 'chest rising' in check. These strategies help Julia come up with her own solutions, increasing her independence and reducing the chances of falling apart as things evolve. This "high" phase is often overlooked, which can lead to challenging behavior.
If you want to learn more about intercepting and augmenting AI, read on.Kelly Mahler-Webinarwhich provides a wealth of instruction on the subject.
10 ways to stay calm
Once you spot the signs of anxiety, overwork, or discomfort, try some of these ideas to stay calm.
- Offer an escape plan.We talk a lot about this in ourLow arousal focus exercises. A person may only need to leave the area to regain control and reduce stimulation. At home, this could be a bedroom. My son's classroom used to have an individual tent. My son listens to classical music when he needs a break or reads to himself.
- Do you have a sensory basket or box. Ours has things like fidget spinner, squeeze ball,mess toyand Fidget for your digit. Some kids like to chew, others need deep pressure. If you need some ideas to tinker with, check it outArticle.
- Develop some simple exercises or routines that are relaxing.i really like the bookactive imaginationbecause it has a lot of relaxing exercises/games. Illustrations provide clear instructions and no complicated material is required. there is one tooSeriesvonbooksforKinderwritten by occupational therapist Lauren Brukner, which teaches you how to recognize anxious feelings and then instructs you what to do to feel calm and regain control. However, most of her books are aimed at children between the ages of 7 and 14.doThey are for 4-7 years.
- Try teaching meditation or meditation techniques.Our son has developed his own classical music over the years. Every Monday he spends an hour meditating in his room. He closes his eyes and takes a deep breath. Make a coloring book too. There are alsobooksin mindfulness practice, but remember that not everyone with autism can do this successfully. Find more mindfulness ideas hereArticlewhich also has a great reference section.
- teach self-regulation.Kari Dunn Buron has written a great children's book entitledWhen my worries get too bigwhich teaches techniques like deep breathing and counting. She also created a6 minute videoaround the remarkable book.
- Detour.While it doesn't always work, a distraction can take a person's attention away from what is bothering them. There are some for Juliacat videosYou change your mood instantly. Talking about favorite topics and interests can instantly lift your spirits.
- try doing yoga. Yoga has been a lifesaver for my son. He has been practicing since he was 4 years old. Learning yoga motivated him to develop his meditation practice. if you need ideasYoga for children and young people with autismIt's a great book because the exercise sequences are short and skill-based.
- Make time for physical exercise.. This really is one of the best things you can do to reduce anyone's stress and anxiety. I discoveredfigure skatingat age 40 and changed my life by reducing my anxiety. Our children are very active withcycle, hiking, adapted fitness classes, golf, bowling and yoga.
- adopt a pet. Although I resisted having a cat for many years, I have to say that adopting Mr. Darcy 5 years ago really improved my daughter's prospects. there were numerousworkshops and storiesabout how animals can improve the well-being of people with ASD.
- Establish clear routines and schedules.predictability and familiarityensure calm.visual schedulesshow how the day will develop.task sequencingdescribes the steps to accomplish the task and promotes independence.
If everything goes wrong...
There will be good days and bad days. Some days these ideas will work and some days they won't. If a meltdown or flight occurs, do not teach a calming technique at this time. Try not to argue, argue or talk. Allow time for processing. Reassure the person when they regain control and let them know that everything is fine between you and them. Maintain a confident and open attitudeRelationshipIt is the basis for solid wellness support.