Most people experience stress and anxiety from time to time. Stress is any demand placed on your brain or physical body. People can report feeling stressed when multiple competing demands are placed on them. The feeling of being stressed can be triggered by an event that makes you feel frustrated or nervous.
Anxiety is a feeling of fear, worry, or unease. It can be a reaction to stress, or it can occur in people who are unable to identify significant stressors in their life.
Anxiety disorders have a negative impact on a person’s life.
Research has shown that children and adolescents with ASD(Autism spectrum disorder) suffer from higher rates of co-occurring anxiety disorders compared to their typically developing peers.
Causes of Stress and anxiety in children with ASD:-
- Changes in routine – for example, not going to a weekly piano lesson because the teacher is sick
- Changes in environment – for example, a new house, or furniture in different places at home
- Unfamiliar social situations – for example, a birthday party at an unfamiliar house
- Sensory sensitivities – for example, sensitivities to particular noises, bright lights, specific flavours or food textures
- Fear of a particular situation, activity or object – for example, sleeping in their own bed, going to the toilet, balloons or vacuum cleaners.
- Inability to express his/her feelings and needs.
How does anxiety/stress look like in children with ASD?
Children with ASD often have difficulty in understanding and expressing their emotions. So, we have to look out for what triggers (from the above causes) is causing anxiety in them. When they get overwhelmed or anxious, often respond in the following ways-
🔹Self-harming behavior like - headbanging, pinching self, self hitting
🔹Shouting without any reason
🔹Excessive hand flapping, stimming, rocking, etc.
If a child is showing any of these signs, it means he/she is having a hard time and he desperately wants to calm down, to relax.
What can we do about it ?
There are many calming/relaxing techniques that can be used by parents or the child himself. In this article, I have mentioned some short and easy self relaxing strategies that the child can use anytime (at school or even at home) whenever he/she feels he is feeling overwhelmed & needs to relax.
Depending on your child's age and level of understanding, you can teach him/her any one or more of these strategies.
All kids are different from each other. So, you need to practice some of the techniques with your child to see which ones work best for your child.
Self Relaxing Techniques
💥 Squeeze and relax
Use two smiley balls. Hold the two balls with both hands and squeeze tight. Count 1,2,3, & relax! Repeat 3-4 times or till you feel relaxed.
💥 Monster face and relax
Make a monster face by tightening all your facial muscles. Count 1,2,3 & relax! Repeat 3 times.
💥 Squeeze a ball with shoulders and relax
Squeeze a smiley ball between your shoulder and face. Count 1,2,3 & relax! Repeat 3 times for both shoulders.
💥 5 Deep breaths
Take 5 deep breaths in through your nose, then blow out with your mouth & relax! Keep doing it until you feel completely relaxed. It's a great technique that works for everyone.
💥 Get a drink of water
💥 Listening to slow music
💥 Close your eyes
Simply closing your eyes for a moment can calm you down instantly. You can close your eyes and count till 5 or simply close your eyes for a moment till you relax, then open. Try out!
💥 Count 1-10
Count 1-10 or if you can count backward, count 10-1. Count slowly in your mind. This simple technique can be very useful to relax for both, adults and children.
💥 Cloud push-ups
Imagine you are holding a very large cloud with both hands(for kids who can imagine). Breathe in, push the cloud up(to the sky) with both hands, breathe out and slowly bring the cloud down. Repeat 3 times.
💥 Press the fingertips
Use your left-hand thumb and index to press the fingertips of your right hand. Hold each fingertip for 5 counts, then move to the next finger. Apply gentle pressure, Not too much. Repeat with your other hand.
💥 Spider push-ups
Join the finger tips of both your hands. Then move your palms like a spider with the fingertips joined. Both palms will come close and go apart in that position. Repeat 5 times or till you feel relaxed.
Pretend wearing gloves, Use your right hand to pull your gloves down the left-hand finger by finger slowly applying little pressure on the fingers as you "pull down the gloves".
Then, "remove the gloves" finger by finger applying a little pressure. Repeat the same with your other hand.
💥 Write it down
For those who can write, write down on a paper what is bothering you and "How you want to feel at this moment". This not just helps in taking the heat off your chest, noting down how you want to feel makes you feel much more relaxed and happy. Just try out! Works for both kids & adults.
Join both hands in the "namaste" position. Breathing in slowly, move both your hands up, then "spread out your arms like a tree". Slowly, breathe out and relax, bringing your arms to a normal position. Repeat 3 times.
💥Pretend washing your hands
This technique gives a great sensory input. Pretend to open a tap, rub your hands. Rub, rub, rub your hands! Then, turn off the tap and shake, shake, shake off the water from your hands!
How these techniques can be used by kids effectively ?
💞 Make a small book named "My relaxation book". Write down a few of the above strategies( which work for your child ) and staple the pages.
Let your child carry that book to school or anywhere he goes.
💞 Self-relaxation notes- Stick some notes of self-relaxation techniques at different places of your house where your child can see them to remind him what he can do when he feels stressed/overwhelmed.
💞 Self-relaxation poster- Put a poster on the wall of your child’s room with self relaxing strategies written.
💞 Self-relaxation sunflower- Make a sunflower using colourful chart paper. ( 1 large circle at the centre and 5-6 petals). On each petal, write down a self relaxing technique. Let your child carry his/her "self-relaxation sunflower" with him wherever he goes.
Lastly, I would say that, although the above-mentioned strategies are for children with ASD, they can be used by anyone. These techniques are equally effective for both children & adults. Just try out for yourself!
You need to try out a few of the techniques to see which ones work for you & your child and it takes some repeated practice to practice these strategies when you feel stressed out or overwhelmed.
About the writer :-
The writer’s name is Abhipsa Parida. She is an occupational therapist specialised in pediatrics and has been handling kids with special needs since 5 years. She is quite experienced and skillful in observation, assessment and planning intervention for kids with special needs. She uses evidence based practice and is very creative and updated in her approach while handling kids with special needs. She has her own clinic in Bhubaneswar and has handled many kids of different age groups with varying needs.
If you have any queries, you can mail them at abhipsaot21@gmail.
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