Thursday 23 May 2024

Helping our autistic son with exam stress

Boy doing exams

A recent report into anxiety and depression in people under the age of 18 showed that 7 in 10 (69%) are very worried about school work and exams and 2 in 3 (66%) were worried about their future. As the top two worries of young people, according to Wysa, many young people will be feeling anxious and stressed now more than any other time in their lives so far. Anthony is in the middle of his Year 11 exams, so what can we and he, do to help?

Establish a routine

A consistent routine can provide a sense of stability and security, which is important for wellbeing as it can reduce anxiety.  During the exam period we help Anthony to create a routine that includes time for revision, hobbies, exercise and physical activity and relaxation.  This doesn't all need to happen the same everyday but gives structure to work around.  Anthony goes climbing on a Thursday (and no exams are timetabled on a Friday) so this is something he can do each week and is really good for switching off and his mental health.

Sleep and sleep

Either a lack of sleep can make young people anxious and stressed, or stress, worry and anxiety is stopping them sleep.  Helping with a good night’s sleep by having a good routine, having down time before bed, and keeping busy in the day so that they get physically tired. Remind them that being well rested gives them the energy to do the great things they want to - sleep is cool. 

A good breakfast the next morning especially on an exam day will prepare them and make them feel more ready. 

Teach stress management techniques

One great way to relieve anxiety and stress is through grounding via mediation and mindfulness. Help young people and teenagers learn various stress management techniques, such as deep breathing exercises, mindfulness meditation, progressive muscle relaxation, or journaling. These techniques can provide them with effective tools to cope with stress and anxiety.  Anthony focuses on being in the moment and trying not to think to far ahead.  

This is particularly the case with exams when it's easy to be concerned about 'will I pass' when it should be 'what do I need to focus on now.  Anthony is very much a fan of Bruce Lee so we enjoy using his teachings to help him.  Our current favourite is "The great mistake is to anticipate the outcome of the engagement; you ought not to be thinking of whether it ends in victory or defeat. Let nature take its course, and your tools will strike at the right moment."  Trying a technique to put worries aside for a while can really help with this too. 

Encourage open communication

Create an environment where they feel comfortable expressing their feelings and concerns. Encourage them to talk about their experiences, anxieties, and challenges related to exams. Don’t dismiss their worries, but use active listening where you paraphrase what they have said, so that they feel heard.

Their friends can be a support too, but we can help with this and not let worry spiral by having time without social media, especially the day before an exam.      

Don’t make it all about academic performance

Raising the next generation is about supporting them to become well rounded individuals. Yes, of course we encourage them to do their revision and focus on school, but don’t make it all about the grades.  Too much pressure can make younger people more anxious and stressed and then not able to perform at their best.  

It may feel like everything depends on the results but we are more focused on being proud of Anthony's attitude and effort rather than his results.  Whatever happens on results day, he will be able to move forward with his education and has a future he can look forward too.  And he knows we will be hereto support with that as he becomes his own amazing person. 

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