A Note on Downloads

The content in this entire Coping With Autism page can be downloaded as part of a single document below.

Also, downloadable from this page is 'Matt's Daily Health Guide', my attempt to summarize general health related behaviors that I think everyone should consider. There are many recommendations therein that can be used to guide your care of your child, and yourself.

Positive Cognitive Appraisal

Cognitive appraisal theory is rooted in the fact the how external stressors affect you depends to a large degree on your sense of control over world, how predictable you find your world to be, and whether you are generally optimistic or pessimistic. Those who feel in control of their world, feel their existence is predictable, and are generally optimistic are significantly more resilient in the face of stress than those who display the opposite pattern. Autistic children display the opposite pattern and this further reduces their ability to deal with the stress in their world.

Autistic children often feel chronically out of control. The overly stimulating world which is constantly throwing more at them than they can handle feels like the real master. This exacerbates their condition. They need help to maintain or regain some sense of control.

One way of improving cognitive appraisal is through cognitive behavior therapy, working with a skilled therapist to build up a sense of control, predictability, and optimism. In one study, cognitive behavior therapy muted overactivity of the frontal cortex, the seat of reasoning, logic, analysis and higher thought. This is a type of therapy that will likely benefit older children and adults with autism.

One of the most effective ways to buffer the disruptive effects of a stressor is to achieve some degree of control over the stressor. By using self-control, individuals can also be proactive in reducing stress by learning to act early, when first warning signs are evidenced. By recognizing antecedents to stress and using self-control procedures, persons with autism can learn to deal effectively with a stressor. Unfortunately, one instructional objective often missing from programs for persons with autism is the skill of managing one’s environment and one’s own behavior – self control.

Routine and order are additional key buffers to stress. Allow your autistic child to develop a reasonable level of pattern and routine. Sameness comforts pretty much everyone. However, too much ritual can become negative. Obsession should be controlled to the extent possible as it can become circular. Rather than being comforting, the ritual can itself induce additional stress if taken to an extreme, such as you see in obsessive compulsive disorder, which is often co-morbid with autism.

Also, build space into your and your children’s life. A sense of control evaporates when you are constantly reacting to demands of the outside world, even if you allowed those demands to build. Reserve time for just hanging out at home. Play and laugh. Take fun trips. Go to the park often. Do things you enjoy as a family. Don’t get too caught up in the modern rat race. Don’t enroll in every after school activity. Don’t push too hard for academic performance to the exclusion of quality of life.

In addition, be as positive as possible and try to instill that in your child. Anyone can talk themselves into or out of depression. How you view the world impacts how you react to stressors. Your view of the world will be passed on to your child to some degree. Learn not to ruminate. Take the time to remind yourself that things are good, despite the challenges.

Increasing a person’s skills and abilities is another long term adaptive method of reducing stress. For example, in a school setting, providing instruction in a way that matches the learning style of students with autism can help reduce their stress level. This would incorporate the use of visual supports and cues, scheduling activities according to sensory and attentional needs, breaking down learning tasks into manageable lessons, keeping directions simple, providing frequent experiences of success and positive reinforcement, implementing techniques to prepare for transitions, ensuring that opportunities for meaningful personal choices are available, and planning generalization strategies. Such instructional approaches make it more likely that the student will experience success. Repeated successes will build confidence, self-efficacy, and also increase the general level of reinforcement.



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