Encouraging Students with Autism to Try New Things

Anxiety and autism spectrum disorder (ASD) often go hand in hand. Individuals on the autism spectrum can experience significant anxiety when it comes to trying new things. As a recreation therapist for more than 15 years, I’ve seen anxiety when students branch out and try new experiences ranging from wood carving to acting on stage to sports and/or outdoor recreational activity.

Here are four tips I have found to be helpful for decreasing anxiety for students on the autism spectrum given any level of new activity.shutterstock_426141604

  1. MENTALLY PREPARE: Talk with your son or daughter about what they are going to experience, perhaps even by showing them a picture. Have a conversation about emotions they may feel and how to handle those emotions. Encourage your son or daughter to communicate their needs in the moment and to ask questions. Give them reassurance that they will be OK.
  2. PRACTICE: When possible, find a physically and emotionally safe place where they can practice. Doing so will get them used to the movements and begin working muscle memory which can take over when a student begins to feel anxiety. When they are ready, and, if necessary, move practice to the environment where the activity takes place. This will allow your son or daughter to adjust to what might be a sensory-rich and overwhelming space.
  3. TAKE IT SLOW: Go slow and take it step by step by breaking the experience down to basics. Model what you want them to do as you explain, then ask them to try. Normalize mistakes by assuring your son or daughter that making mistakes is part of the learning process. It may be necessary to take several breaks. Bring sensory tools or fidgets that may help your son or daughter cope with the emotions they are feeling.
  4. STAY POSITIVE: Give your son or daughter five compliments for every correction you need to make. Encourage them to tell you what they are doing right. Praise and emphasize the positive when they do things well.

Encourage your son or daughter to try new things that will expand their horizons and broaden their interests. It will increase their confidence. You can expect there to be anxiety and maybe some blowups but don’t give up! You never know what they will be good at or passionate about unless they try!