Managing Anxiety As An Asperger’s Teen
(Editor’s note: I had the pleasure of corresponding with an amazing young woman on the autism spectrum who’s devoting herself to educating the public about autism and Asperger’s, and sharing resources and information. I thought Kathleen’s message was wonderful–and I think autism families will find enormous value and hope from her message.)
Helpful Ways for Teens with Asperger’s To Manage Their Anxiety
By Kathleen Carter
It is common for kids with autism spectrum disorders to have problems with anxiety. And I’m no different, especially during the school year. In fact, sometimes a day at school feels like navigating a potential minefield. Don’t get me wrong. I love school, and my teachers are great. But the social side of being a teen with Asperger’s in high school can be exhausting.
People with Asperger’s often have trouble picking up on and responding to the social cues that everyone else seems to get. These difficulties in social situations can sometimes make it hard for me to relate to others and for others to relate to me. And sometimes it leads to me making an embarrassing mistake or opening up the door for another student to bully me.
Add all of that to the stress of trying to do well in school, and it can sometimes feel like too much. In fact, there are days I come home from school absolutely exhausted, which can cause me to be frustrated with or lash out at my parents. Of course, that only makes things worse!
To help with all this, my parents and I have developed a few go-to methods for managing my anxiety. I thought they might be helpful for other kids my age who have Asperger’s so I’ve shared them below:
1. Stick to a schedule.
Structure has always been comforting for me. And that’s one element of school that does help keep some anxiety at bay. But as this article about anxiety and kids with Asperger’s notes, maintaining certain constants—such as bedtimes and mealtimes—can help reduce anxiety when there are other disruptions during the day.
Here’s a great example from my own experience: I recently had finals at school. In addition to more time studying, that meant that my normal class schedule changed. Before finals began, my mom stressed the importance of keeping my regular sleep schedule. She knew that if I went to bed too late it would throw me off the following day, and I’d have even more trouble managing my anxiety and maintaining concentration. So, we reworked my after school schedule so I would have plenty of time to study and could still keep my regular bedtime.
2. Plan Ahead.
Many people with Asperger’s or ASD and/or their caregivers are familiar with what’s called an “anxiety plan.” As AnxietyUK notes, it’s basically having an understanding of A) what causes your anxiety and B) what you’ll do in a situation where you feel anxious.
For example, I know that my anxiety spikes right before I have to take a test. So, at the beginning of each year, my parents and I talk to my teachers about it. We ask if it would be okay for me to take a couple of minutes in private before any tests to run through breathing exercises that I’ve found help calm me down. And my teachers have always been very accommodating.
In fact, this year my English teacher asked me in private if it would be okay with me if she led the whole class through the exercises. So, I shared them with her, and before the first test of the year, she told us she knew we were probably feeling anxious and that she wanted to try some breathing exercises that would help calm us down. We did my breathing exercises as a class before every test this year. It made me feel less isolated from the other students, and I really think they enjoyed doing the exercises, too.
3. Go for a swim.
Because of the endorphin release you get, any exercise can help reduce anxiety. But as this informative piece on the benefits of aquatic therapy for children with autism notes, swimming is a great choice if you’re on the autism spectrum. Being in the water is calming and it’s just a great all-around workout for your body.
I actually discovered the anxiety reducing benefits of swimming in a roundabout way. I began swimming and walking regularly with my mom after I gained weight prior to and during my freshman year of high school. It didn’t take many sessions at the pool before I began to notice that I wasn’t just feeling better physically. I was feeling better mentally and emotionally, too.
I think it’s important for kids with Asperger’s and autism who often experience anxiety to know that they aren’t alone. And even better, there are ways to ease your anxiety so that you can be happier and healthier.
Kathleen Carter is a teen who has been living with Asperger’s Syndrome for as long as she can remember. She strives to educate her peers and others about AS. Recently, she began focusing her efforts on writing proudly about how her experiences differ from other people her age. She is so grateful to have the opportunity to write for EducatorLabs.
Excellent Resources For Autism Families: