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3 Tips for Supporting Anxiety in Communication

For 8 year old Rebecca, communication had become a real strength and she continued to amaze her parents with her progress. 

Being Autistic, she hadn’t always found understanding others and expressing herself very easy. But one thing that did still bother Rebecca was when something happened beyond her control to do with her everyday routine. 

She found it unsettling and would anticipate changes before they became a reality, meaning that her high levels of anxiety could last a long time. 

Rebecca’s Mum Audrey asked if there was anything we could suggest to help. These are the things we discussed, together with Rebecca, so that she could let us know whether we were getting things right. It also helped her to have a say in how things were implemented so that this was not yet another unexpected part of her day.

Anxiety and Autism often go hand in hand, so having your ‘go to’ strategies to hand can be a really helpful addition to your therapy toolbox.

Tip 1 – Use pictures to support structure

By using pictures to show what is coming up and talk about what to expect, creating visual schedules to outline key structures of a day or event, and writing lists to be able to follow and check off, visually showing progress toward an endpoint, anxiety levels can be reduced. Rebecca liked to carry her written list in her pocket so that she could quietly check it frequently during the day without needing to ask someone else.

Tip 2 – Create predictability and plan ahead

Much of the time anxiety is fuelled by uncertainty about the future. When things become familiar and routine, it allows us to relax and it’s hardly a surprise that we call this our ‘comfort zone’. Sticking to a routine is the best way to create predictability, although we do know this is not possible to maintain indefinitely. If something is planned in advance, there are many things that can help to alleviate anxiety; for example, finding videos and photographs so that you can get a feel of a place before visiting. You might be able to contact someone to ask any questions about what else to expect. You can then make a story or visual timetable to document the key steps.

Tip 3 – Practise changes gradually

Where possible, make ‘change’ a regular part of daily life, beginning with very small changes that can be easily managed, before making slightly bigger changes. Doing this in a planned way enables you to support your child through the change and process any associated anxiety together. We know that sometimes changes are outside of our control, and they will occur unexpectedly, making it unrealistic to have every single thing mapped out in advance. Therefore, supporting children to learn coping mechanisms for when this occurs can be really important. Identifying ways to help with self-regulation and calming strategies will be useful.

Click here to read Karen Massey’s article written in 2020 reflecting on the impact of lockdown life on anxiety.

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