Navigating social situations can be difficult for anyone, but for people on the autism spectrum, it’s not just difficult — it’s a minefield.
People with autism or Asperger’s don’t pick up on social clues that seem obvious to most people. There are unwritten social rules that they can’t fathom. Things blow up on them when they have no idea what they’ve done wrong.
To put it mildly, that’s stressful.
High anxiety is often the silent partner of people with autism, even those who are high-functioning. That anxiety can be paralyzing in social situations. Not just deer-in-the-headlights frozen, but full-on engulfed in fear. For people with autism, it compounds their already difficult challenges.
Emotions drive our physiology, including our brain function. Stressful emotions drive our brains into chaos, making it difficult to focus, remember things, perceive what’s in front of us, and think of what to say. But there’s a flip side — positive emotions drive our brains into coherence, improving attention, memory, perception, and communication. This is true for all of us, whether we’re on the autism spectrum or not.
It is encouraging to learn that when researchers at the Yale School of Medicine gave young people with autism the hormone oxytocin (called “the love hormone” because of its role in maternal bonding), there were measurable increases in brain function in areas associated with processing social information.
This opens new possibilities for treatment of autism. However, we can produce beneficial hormone levels and improve brain function naturally through the power of positive emotions.
3 Tips to Help Someone with Autism
In my stress coaching for people with Aspergers and ADHD, I use simple and powerful ways to put the biochemistry of love to work.
1. Start small, go slow, think big.
Autism is a developmental delay, not a life sentence. Expect that they can go beyond their limitations, but never push them there. Don’t fight small battles; let them be where they are, and just take time to look for small victories. Each one is a big deal.
2. Fill your own positive, emotional gas tank.
Stress is also a huge problem for parents of autistic children. Put this power to work for you first. Practice self-care. Give yourself lots of empathy. Then let love fill you and radiate to your child. It will be the power their emotional muscles will grow into.
3. Teach them that positive emotions are our greatest source of power.
Our real power comes from the heart. That’s where we become the person we can be and learn how to connect with other people. Reflect their feelings to help them learn to do the same. If your child has a special interest, help them distinguish the positive feelings it gives them. They can learn to self-generate those feelings and use that power to overcome challenges.
Nothing will fill your heart with joy like when your autistic child, teen, or young adult lovingly expresses what is in their heart to others. Help them past their anxiety, and they’ll find the way.
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Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 19 Jun 2012
Published on PsychCentral.com. All rights reserved.
Experts, Y. (2012). Love Hormone Helps Kids With Autism. Psych Central. Retrieved on March 8, 2014, from http://psychcentral.com/blog/archives/2012/06/19/love-hormone-helps-kids-with-autism/