Autism is a cognitive profile that can bring challenges with its strengths. If you’re autistic, there may be times when you want help and support.
Autism isn’t a condition that doctors cure or treat. Instead, it’s a developmental difference that has some characteristics of high value and others that you might want to change.
You may have been diagnosed young and have a lot of experience with autism interventions. Or you may be a newly diagnosed adult who finally has an explanation for why you’ve often felt different from other people.
Knowing about useful strategies not only helps you, but it also benefits the people in your life who want to offer you their support, too.
There are many autistic traits a person might have, and everyone with autism is unique. This means that the supports you want might not be the same as another autistic person might want or need.
Not only are needs different, but so is the level of intervention. Some autistic people are fully independent and lead fairly typical lives, with only a few instances of challenge. Others require 24-hour support. Still others fall anywhere in between those two extremes.
When assessing the types of changes to make, it helps to consider the core differences with autism:
- altered communication
- reduced reciprocal social interaction
- restricted and repetitive behaviors
Sound sensitivity is another potential trait. And if you need noise-canceling headphones to get through each day, this can interfere with your communication with others.
Every autistic person is different, and there is no single approach that works for everyone. It’s up to you to decide what you want to try. It’s wise to continue trying if you don’t get the results you want right away.
Therapy is a powerful tool for the support of many issues. Most people have had a time in their life when therapy might have helped them.
The type of therapy you try depends on the area of your life you’re trying to manage. Therapy for adults with autism can help with autistic traits as well as other diagnoses you may have.
Options to consider include:
- Speech-language therapy: to help with both verbal (speech) and non-verbal (hand signals, sign language, or picture symbols) communication
- Occupational therapy: to help with daily
tasks of living
- Social skills training: to teach conversation skills and social emotional learning
- Sensory integration therapy: to help with regulation of sensory input
- Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT): to help with social situations and recognizing emotions
You likely already know that autism isn’t something that doctors treat with medication.
However, if you experience behaviors that interfere with your ability to thrive, they might not be caused by autism.
For example, difficulties with sustained attention and weak working memory could be from attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). Mood instability might be depression, and a drive to perform rituals could be obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD).
If you live with behaviors and tendencies that get in your way, your doctor may be able to determine whether they’re caused by a condition that you can treat with medication.
Some autistic people have restricted diets. In fact, autistic adults are less likely than non-autistic adults to follow dietary recommendations for healthy eating.
Maybe there are foods with textures or aromas that you don’t like, or perhaps you experience digestive issues from some of the things you’ve eaten.
It’s estimated that
If you’ve never taken the time to think about what you eat, now’s an excellent opportunity.
A nutritious diet can help to protect you from illnesses like type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and some types of cancer. Eating well can improve your immune system, and getting the recommended nutrients each day can help your brain function better and make life easier.
It’s unclear whether dietary strategies target autism traits specifically. However, proper nutrition is an evidence-based approach to improving overall health, which benefits autistic and allistic (non-autistic) people alike.
You may not feel motivated to get up and move, particularly if you’re focused on an activity you enjoy, like art or reading.
It’s important, though, to be active at least once every day. Spending some time moving can improve both overall health and sleep.
A proper night’s sleep with enough time in the rapid eye movement (REM) stage can be the difference between a good day and one you’d rather forget.
This isn’t as simple as it sounds, if you’re among the 79% of autistic people who experience disrupted sleep.
Sleep is important enough to be a priority. Sleep improvement strategies to try include:
- keeping a consistent sleep routine
- having an earlier cut off time for screens
- exercising during the day
- avoiding caffeine past noon
- having calming sensory input, like a weighted blanket
If none of these strategies work, your doctor might be able to recommend an appropriate dose for a sleep aid, like melatonin.
Living in a world designed for allistic people has its challenges. The pace, chaos, and sensory overload can sometimes make you want to withdraw and hide.
However, you might experience enough benefit from participating in the world around you to make the effort worthwhile. The key is to manage your stress levels so that you don’t become overwhelmed.
Structure is important, but so is your ability to deviate from it. Life can sometimes force a change of plans, so it’s important to have the skills to handle this when it happens.
In addition to structure, there are a few simple things to try that have helped others:
Weighted blankets provide gentle and calming pressure throughout the night to ease anxiety and improve sleep.
Weighted blankets are filled with materials like pellets, beads, or bearings that are evenly distributed across the fabric. The theory is that for some people, deep pressure on the body calms the nervous system.
Fidget toys can provide a soothing distraction from anxiety. They provide visual and tactile sensory input and can keep your mind from wandering.
They can also act as a small outlet for nervous energy. If you find stimming to be a source of comfort, a fidget toy can be an alternative to try.
The ability to relax can be a useful tool when you’ve had a stressful day.
The first step is to be aware that you need to relax. While this sounds simple, it’s easy to get caught up in big feelings and forget that you have the power to calm them.
Once you’re paying attention to your emotions, there are several things you can try to settle yourself:
- Breathing exercises. Breathe deeply and slowly.
- Mindfulness training. Try out meditation.
- Progressive muscle relaxation. Tense and then relax different muscle groups.
- Imagery. Imagine a peaceful scene.
You might have triggers that make you anxious, such as shrill sounds or flying insects. When you’re calm and not triggered, it helps to make the people in your life aware of the things that might upset you. This is so that they can support you when needed.
This can be as simple as removing the trigger for you or giving you some time to leave the environment to calm yourself.
Some interventions might provide immediate relief, while others might need time to take effect.
You might be surprised to find that the more things you try, the better they work. This is because interventions often work better together, such as the way exercise can help you sleep.
It can help to make self-care and self-advocacy top priorities and to ask for help when you need it.
Some useful resources include: