Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Results of Positively Autism's Stress Survey

Over the past couple of months, Positively Autism has been conducting an informal survey about the causes of stress among individuals with autism and ways that help people with autism relax. The survey was for people with autism to complete about their stress, or for family members of a person with autism to complete about their family member's stress. We received almost 50 responses to the survey. The results are presented here.

The first question asked about the sources of stress for the person with autism. Not surprisingly, some of the top responses were:
  • Changes in routing, disruption in normal schedules, and transitions.
  • Loud noises.
  • Crowds and large numbers of people gathered together or talking all at once.
As a teacher, I found it a little sad that schoolwork, homework, and even just going to school were mentioned as sources of stress on a few of the surveys. Pressure at school and people having too high or too many expectations were related issues mentioned. Perhaps there are things we can do in our homes, schools, and centers to help reduce these sources of stress and help our students learn to cope. We'll look at some of these possibilities now.
The second open-ended question on the survey asked how the person with autism relaxes or reduces stress. It seems to me that both parents and educators could make some minor adjustments to our homes and classrooms to incorporate some of these ideas. The number one response was having alone time in a quiet place. To allow our students or children with autism to have this time, we can create a quiet area of the school or home and allow students to spend time there on a regular basis. If a student is using a classroom schedule, a quiet break time could be added to the schedule several times throughout the day. Some Montessori schools take an interesting approach to providing a quiet space for children. They use a "peace place," as a designated area of the classroom where children can go to work out their disagreements or take a few moments to sit quietly. Here is a blog post with more information about this idea:
With a tie for second place, listening to music and "stimming" each received seven votes. As parents and educators, we can incorporate music into our homes and classrooms by perhaps adding a music player and headphones to our quiet area or "peace place." If a student enjoys music, breaks for music can also be added to a classroom schedule to give the student times throughout the day to take a break and reduce stress before it builds up.
As for "stimming," there are many people with autism who say that stimming is a helpful self-regulation tool. I think that we, with very well-meaning intentions, try too much to stop a student from stimming, instead of using it as a tool for stress reduction. Of course, we can't just let a student sit there and stim all day, but perhaps he or she could be given breaks at times during the day where stimming is allowed. Also, we should refrain from shaming a student for stimming, as this may increase stress and have a negative impact on self-esteem.
Another strategy is preparing a student for upcoming events or schedule changes (six votes). Social stories, transition warnings, and video modeling are all great tools for this. Below, you'll find links to information about each of these strategies.
So, what did you think of the survey? Leave us a comment below and let us know how you might use this information in your home, school, center, or other organization.

Friday, April 18, 2014

Stressed Out! A Survey of Autism Parent Stressors

One parent's perspective on the results of a survey about stressful situations faced by parents of children with autism. A great read for us teachers and service providers about what some families may be dealing with.

A related resource from


Thursday, April 17, 2014

Helpful Books on Autism and Stress/Anxiety

Deborah Lipsky is a high-functioning autistic individual with substantial experience in emergency and trauma management, having formerly worked as a firefighter, emergency medical technician, and reserve police officer. She is now a Continuing Education Seminar Presenter and Keynote Speaker, and is a consultant for schools, agencies, and private parties, specializing in meltdown management plans.

Drawing on her experience diagnosing and treating anxiety in people with ASD at the treatment center she founded in Sydney, Australia, Dr. Chalfant provides clear, understandable explanations of the different types of anxiety disorders, how they affect people across the autism spectrum, and what interventions can help.

As a person with AS who has struggled with feelings of anxiety and learnt how to overcome them, Nick Dubin shares his own tried and tested solutions along with up-to-date research on stress management for individuals with AS, including a chapter on Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT).

Monday, April 14, 2014

"Autism, Anxiety, Stress, and Anger" by

Autism and anxiety go hand-in-hand as do stress and anxiety. This article contains a few triggering points that cause heightened anxiety in children with Autism followed by ideas from parents on how to minimize the effects.

More From Stress Free Kids:

Friday, April 11, 2014

The Cup Kid: Parenting a Child with Meltdowns

Book Description: Does your child have frequent meltdowns? Does your child have trouble coping with life? Is your child easily overloaded with sensory input? If so, you may be raising a Cup Kid! Cup Kids fill up with too much noise or too much pressure or too much homework. And when they get too full, they run over in the form of a meltdown or shutdown. The Cup Kid: Parenting A Child with Meltdowns will give you that much needed insight into what happens when your child has “had too much” and what you can do to help your Cup Kid prevent tantrums.

Note from Positively Autism: I've seen a presentation from the author of this book, and it is a great concept and analogy for dealing with anxiety/stress and meltdowns!

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Trained in Calmness, Dogs Help Children with Autism

Pekoe and Juanita were bred to be islands of calm amid chaos.

The two Labrador retrievers are weeks away from officially graduating as Heeling Autism dogs, having successfully shown that nothing — not ear or tail pulling, chairs sailing over their heads, screaming, kicking meltdowns or inquisitive pokes at their toenails — will do more than elicit a doggy grin and a wag.

"They're really amazing with the kids. These dogs are so calm," said Michelle Rose, who teaches a self-contained special education BOCES class at Mahopac's Fulmar School, where the two dogs have visited every other Friday since January. "They will be in homes where they have to be used to unexplained things, very loud things. It's a win-win for both of us."

Read more:

Monday, April 7, 2014

Calm In Crisis

This article is from the website of Dr. Paula Kluth. It, along with many others on inclusive schooling, differentiated instruction, and literacy can be found at Visit now to read her Tip of the Day, read dozens of free articles, and learn more about supporting diverse learners in K-12 classrooms.

Adapted from: P. Kluth (2010). “You’re Going to Love This Kid!”: Teaching Students with Autism in the Inclusive Classroom (Rev ed.). Baltimore: Brookes.

I walked into a fifth-grade classroom and saw a student with autism sprawled out on the floor. The classroom paraprofessional was standing over the boy, warning him, “Get up now or you won’t get computer time.” The boy began crying and then biting his hand. The paraprofessional’s voice became louder and more stern, “Get up now. Time to make a choice. You can choose to stand up or you can choose to lose your privileges.” This was a hard scene to watch; the situation was difficult to begin with but was made more challenging by the actions of the adult. Her words, tone, and posture drew more attention than was necessary to the child; did nothing to calm the young man; and undoubtedly, made the situation more problematic, not less.

Contrast this with another scene. Recently I was visiting a friend at the preschool where she teaches. As I walked in the front door I immediately heard the piercing wail of a young child. I couldn’t yet see the child, but any teacher or parent hearing this wailing would recognize it as “the real thing”. In other words, these screams did not belong to a child who was merely tired or cranky. These sounds belonged to a distressed, scared, frightened, angry, or otherwise wounded child. I listened for the teacher’s voice. Was the child being punished? Was someone scolding him? Was he even with a teacher? I began to walk faster.

As I rounded the corner, I saw a boy screaming and kicking on the floor. A teacher stood next to him, talking to him softly. I immediately understood why I didn’t hear her voice amidst the screams; she was talking to him but she was whispering. I stood watching them from a distance, touched by this gifted teacher’s poise and grace. The boy’s sobs subsided as she gave him a short hug, stroked his back, and continued whispering to him. She had a compassionate look on her face and her body communicated acceptance.

After about three or four minutes the child was calm and the two stood and walked back into a classroom. For the rest of the day I thought about how calmly and gently she had treated his crisis.


Consider the last time you lost your temper. Did you yell? Scream? Cry? Did you say things you would later regret? How did you feel when you were engaged in these behaviors? Embarrassed? Furious? Lonely? When most of us are in this type of crisis we need gentle support to calm down. We may need to take a short walk, curl up with a favorite book, find a place to be alone, or call someone who will listen as we share our struggles. In other words, we need support, understanding, and time to gather our thoughts. Students with disabilities certainly deserve the same attention and care that we might give ourselves. This also means that an individual experiencing stress will most likely not be helped by approaches that are aggressive or lack sensitivity such as:
  • Loud voices; Negative statements or threats (e.g., “You had your chance”, “You made your choice, now you need to leave class”);
  • Taking away preferred or comforting materials or activities;
  • Physical redirection;
  • Angry tone or body language; and
  • Punishments (e.g., “You just lost a sticker on your behavior chart”).
One of the most important skills a teacher can have is the ability to be calm and comforting in a crisis or “meltdown” situation. A comforting teacher may hug or hold a student or she may simply share encouraging words. Being comforting might also include touching the student’s hand, arm, or back in a reassuring way, asking them how they want to be helped, singing a favorite song, repeating a calming phrase, or simply keeping one’s own body relaxed.

Some teachers insist that it is best to be firm so that students “don’t get away with” behaving in a way that is seen as negative or disruptive. This punitive approach almost always serves to distance the teacher from the student and certainly fails to strengthen their relationship. It is ironic but true that the more a teacher may try to control a situation, the more out of control that situation may become.

In contrast, adopting a cooperative and compassionate orientation can help avert crisis or at least help to deescalate a difficult moment. While a student experiencing challenging behaviors might need to know how the behavior is being interpreted or might benefit from information or teaching related to the behavior, it is seldom (if ever) appropriate or useful to intervene in these ways while the behavior is taking place.

When a student is kicking, biting, banging her head, or screaming, she is most likely miserable, confused, or scared. The most effective and the most human response at this point is to offer support; to act in a comforting manner, and to help the person relax and feel safe. Teaching can come later. In crisis, educators must listen, support, and simply be there.


A note from Positively Autism: Dr. Paula Kluth's books are wonderful resources! Highly recommended for teachers. Check out her list of books on!