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: http://montessoritraining.blogspot.com/2010/10/montessori-insights-and-reflections-of.html
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.
- Social Stories
- Transition Warnings
- Video Modeling
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.