Monday 3 October 2022

Five things that cause stress for my autistic kids

My kids can become frustrated for a variety of reasons and it isn’t always easy to pinpoint the underlying cause of their emotions.  Once a few of these things start piling up it can ending causing them a stress they can no longer cope with.  Two of them have communications difficulties, but even our daughter can struggle sometime to explain what she's feeling or why.   As a parent of autistic kids I've learned to behave like a detective and have found several things that cause my kids to escalate   

Here are some of the most common reasons why my kids may feel frustrated and situations that lead them to become stressed or overwhelmed:

1. Sensory Triggers

Many kids with autism to become upset, frustrated or angry if they’re exposed to sensory triggers. Some children can’t tolerate the feeling of certain fabrics, for example, but there's so many things.  It could be  the texture of specific foods, bright lights, the weather or loud sounds. My kids may be unable to explain exactly what they dislike about something, which is why they appear frustrated or uncomfortable. I have to look at the environment and try and figure out what's just happened or changed to figure out what's going on and hope to help them.

When there’s too much going on around a kid, it’s easy for them to become overstimulated, which leads to frustration. This is particularly common for kids on the spectrum, who can find everyday situations excessively stimulating. We try and ensure there is a quiet place to retreat to at home and use things like ear protectors and sunglasses to prevent overstimulation if we need to. 

2. Things not working the way they should

This is most easily recognised with our electronic devices. Whether it's my mac not booting up , the wifi dropping out or an app that won't play properly because it needs an update... it can be the thing that tips my kids over the edge.  Technology is often a way that my kids relax and a thing they seek out when they are feeling stressed and if this goes wrong then it's all the stress and frustration that comes out. 

Trying to let apps update overnight an help with this.  We also have a timer handy to help with the 'waiting' while they update or other things get sorted.  

3. Overtired or hungry

This is one I often forget about.  Two of my kids have sleeping difficulties which generally means they easily stay up late, but I often forget that's not that case for our daughter.  No matter how much she insists she's not tired or tries to avoid going to bed at a reasonable hour, it’s vital she gets enough sleep. If an infant misses a nap or an older child has too many ‘late nights’, you’ll undoubtedly see a change in their behaviour. Fortunately I've been dealing with sleep challenges for years and know how to wind things up and get her to sleep.

If you’ve ever felt ‘hangry’ yourself, you’ll know just how much being hungry can impact your mood! It’s the same for kids.  With school timetables now being home timetables some things slip... like dinner time.  I'm not surprised if my kid's mood or behaviour takes a turn for the worse if we’ve pushed a meal back or not eaten much.  There is nothing like regular mealtimes to help with this and my kids all enjoy the routine of it, but sometimes growth spurts etc mean they need more.  It's ok to have to help ward off hunger between meals and can ensure that being ‘hangry’ doesn’t happen so much. 

4. Unexpected breaks in routine or something happening not as planned

If David starts gets stressed or upset one thing I check quickly is if we are doing anything different or if I forgot to tell him what we were doing that day.  School days are usually the best for routines, but often our weekends are a mix of random activities based around relaxing visiting family and other jobs and things the kids have on. 

If David doesn't know what's going on he can't prepare himself and the whole day becomes a guessing game for him.  It's no surprise that he gets stressed later, he needs time to adapt and we haven't given him it. 

5. Communication

I know I said most behaviour is about communication, but needing something to fixed, changed, stopped and not being able to tell someone who can help you about it is awful.  Our younger son is nearly 10 and can barely string two words together but that doesn't mean he doesn't want to express more than he can say.  A quarter of people with autism are non-verbal and frustration with not being able to communicate what they need to could lead to a meltdown where the status quo is simply unbearable.  

These can also happen with a sensory trigger too, but if it's due to us simply not being able to understand what our son is asking us to do we can try and stop a meltdown occurring by helping him communicate his frustrations before it gets to this point.  We offer our hand for him to lead us to problems, we say words or present him with pictures for him to be able to chose the ones to help him communicate his problem. 

Frustration and stress are normal emotions, and they can be healthy, in the right context - we've all seen Inside Out right (if not just google it).  Saying how we feel, singing a song about it, signing or pointing to an image of a sad face for example, all help them recognise their feelings.  It's the first part of being able to work through their feelings and figure out if they need support or what they should do next. 

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