Many of us experience difficulties when dealing with change in life. But if you are an autistic adult or teen, you may find yourself particularly subject to anxiety with the big life shifts that you face, such as starting high school, college, switching jobs, moving out on your own, and the inevitable changes that happen with relationships. Is there any way to help with this?
We deal better with life changes when we remember that there is a good side to anxiety. In the RDIconnect podcast episode, Autism and Anxiety, Dr. Rachelle Sheely points out that anxiety can alert us that we need to prepare a little harder. Anxiety can help us think more carefully and to focus on being more relaxed. When we feel anxiety, it can be an indicator that we need to do something ahead of time (e.g., ahead of changes). If we can think of anxiety as it is both good and bad, we can get more comfortable with what we are feeling, and it can help us be more creative and more responsive.
Dynamic Intelligence: Helps us Make Success Possible
When we shift our mindset to the good aspects of anxiety, meaning how it guides us to make success possible, we can see how this also works through the six areas of dynamic intelligence: emotional referencing, social coordination, declarative language, relationship information processing, and foresight and hindsight. This gives us the ability to pick up on and learn from the emotional experiences of others. By using this emotional help, we gain the ability to unpack uncertain situations and reduce anxiety and overwhelm.
We learn to shift when life’s circumstances change. And we recognize that we have encountered change before, and that we will again, and that nothing stays the same forever. We develop an awareness that we can feel anxious for a moment, and then we allow ourselves to process the circumstances for a time, which helps us to achieve flexibility and go with the flow.
Learn more about the practical ways that dynamic intelligence works for us at: Overcoming Sensory Overwhelm in School or the Workplace
Helpful Practices for Dealing with Anxiety
Find a Mentor
This is a great place to start when dealing with anxiety. Having a mentor can be particularly helpful as you enter college or high school. A mentor can be someone that you know and trust, such as a professor, teacher, friend, fellow student, or a close family member, but this can also be someone that inspires you from afar.
Learn more at: Autism and Higher Education
Mentors from a distance may also include authors or speakers who are on the spectrum and have experienced what you are going through in life. Here are several autistic adults that lead and mentor through writing and other talents, and communicate their thoughts on managing the anxiety that comes with change:
Emma Fox shares her planning and creative skills on her YouTube channel, Plan Inspire Create, and she writes for The Autisphere. In several of Emma’s blogs, Why Autistic People Find Change Difficult and 10 Tips for Coping With Change as an Autistic Person, Emma describes that she, and other autistic people, value consistency and predictability. She says:
“Without it, my anxiety levels increase drastically. However, the world around us is often the complete opposite of this.”
Other factors that impact her ability to cope with change are stress, tiredness, and pain. The more tired Emily is, the more she feels the need for consistency. When these factors are not present, she quickly feels overwhelmed.
Kit Smethurst, a writer for The Mighty, expresses that as an autistic person she finds it most difficult to cope with too much change all at once in the blog, 5 Things That Help Me Cope with Too Much Change as an Autistic Person.
Lyric Rivera, autistic self-advocate, owner of the site Neurodivergent Rebel, and author of Workplace NeuroDiversity Rising, explains in their blog Autism & Change – Why Change is Hard for Me as an Autistic Person, that they can have meltdowns and shutdowns if a surprise change happens to them:
“I have this love/hate relationship with change…I am constantly fighting myself with this.”
Lyric also struggles with “good change(s),” which are changes that they want and will make themself go through with: “Change tends to be one of those circumstances where there are suddenly a lot of unknowns.”
Here are some practices (derived from each of these blogs) that can help you deal with the anxiety that comes with change:
Accept that Change is Inevitable and Necessary
By accepting that change is inevitable and necessary, you do not add extra stress to your challenges (e.g., you stop fighting the reality that life is full of change). Change, as difficult as it can feel, often brings positive results into your life.
Find Your Routine Space
During change, when you feel anxious, go to a place or space, even in your mind, where you recognize routines that you have set. This will help to ground you. You will feel calmer. Consider creating a routine that you can go to each day – one that helps you get back to your calm and safe-feeling space when a change occurs.
Find Alone Time to Pace Yourself
Be kind to yourself. Self-care can mean getting away and giving yourself the gift of time to process situations that involve change. Alone time can be essential, especially if you are feeling tired or overstimulated.
Have access to things to stim with. Always have things on hand that will help you find sensory comfort. Consider creating a reference list (on your phone) of things that help you when you feel anxious.
Avoid the stress of splitting your thoughts and actions into many different directions. Encourage focus and diminish the threat of anxiety by avoiding multitasking.
In the workplace, this may mean taking on the type of job that does not require a constant readiness to shift gears. The more changes you face in life and in the workplace, the more anxious you may feel.
Ensure that you are taking care of yourself. Remember, emotional and physical wellness are connected, and self-care supports both. Get enough sleep and rest, especially during times that feel stressful, and engage in healthy exercise (e.g., take a walk), eat meals at regular times, and stay hydrated.
Educate Your Supporters
Self-care also involves being a self-advocate. Involve your circle of supporters, your family, friends, and your mentors in your journey. Help them to understand that even though you know that change is necessary and that you want to be involved in change, you do process it in your own way.
“Autism means our brains are wired differently. We don’t see the world in the way other people do. We’re not at fault for this and not to blame. Be kind to your mind…Allow yourself as much time as you need to cope.” – Emma Fox
You Are Not Alone in This
Life is filled with many diverse challenges, and it can feel especially taxing when we combine it with autism. Remember to be patient and forgiving with yourself.
You do not have to do this alone. Our online learning community is designed for parents, and adult autistics, to find connection and support with others, with access to the most current resources, and an open door to reach out for professional consultation if additional help is needed.