We all face stressors in our lives.

Some of us are lucky enough to be equipped with a well-developed prefrontal cortex which can support us in managing or regulating our emotional responses to these stressors.

Young children require the assistance and support of trusted adults in their lives at times when their emotions are in overdrive.

Children do not have well developed areas of their brain that allow them to reason, problem solve and reflect upon their thoughts, feelings and behaviour.

As the school holidays are now here in Australia, it is timely to remind ourselves that many children but particularly those with Autism are vulnerable to increased stress and anxiety when faced with

Uncertainty or a lack of Predictability.


The school holidays involve much uncertainty.  Routines are changed as are environments, people and food.  Large family and other gatherings take place.

Whilst most of us enjoy a holiday…Not many of us enjoy uncertainty or a lack of predictability in our lives.

Young children who are yet to fully develop their reasoning and emotional regulatory abilities are more vulnerable than adults to feeling stressed by a lack of certainty and predictability in their lives.  They may respond well however to trusted adults in their lives supporting them during these moments.

The key word in that last sentence = TRUST.

Let’s remind ourselves that children who are autistic are at particular risk of experiencing stress and overwhelm when their world feels uncertain.   They can be left in a state of hyper-caution.

In order to feel emotionally well regulated, one most first feel trust and safety.  It can be so difficult for children to develop trust in people, activities and experiences when they are in a state of confusion and hyper-vigilance.

At these times, when we observe children to be shutting down, melting down, or engaging in repetitive behaviours, we do well to first chase the ‘why’ ….

Why is the child behaving in this way?  What emotion might be driving the behaviour we are seeing the child exhibit.  What triggers might be causing that emotion to arise? What can we do that will best support the child in this moment?

By taking that moment to reflect before we respond, we can better understand where a child’s behaviour is truly coming from. Then we can respond in a manner that supports the child to feel safe.

Our children will only respond to our efforts to support them if they trust us.


Barry Prizant (Speech Language Pathologist and author of my favourite text on ASD ‘Uniquely Human’) https://barryprizant.com/uniquely-human/provides some terrific tips that I often refer to.   I have summarised them for you below from an old article her penned for the Autism Spectrum Quarterly (2009).  Still as helpful today as it was then.  I hope these tips help you, a family friend or a colleague to better understand and support our children who face challenges associated with Autism:

Acknowledge Communicative Attempts

A core element of a trusting relationship is the feeling that others ‘hear’ or ‘get’ you.  It can sometimes be tricky to decipher the non-conventional ways in which a person with ASD communicates but be patient and really get to know the child as only then can we respond appropriately to their efforts to communicate.  Your efforts will definitely be well rewarded if you spend the time to really get to know the child.

Practice shared control

Feeling a lack of control is common trigger for anxiety for many of us.  Where possible, try to offer choices, involve the child in planning activities and schedules as this validates that the child has an opinion.  Feeling even a little in control helps to alleviate feelings of anxiety and stress and the child will start to trust you.

Be respectful in language and behaviour

Whilst this seems obvious, it is so easy to talk about the child within their ear shot and to relay negative information to others about the child…especially when you and your child have had a tough day.

Do your best not to talk about the child in front of them in negative or disparaging ways.  Assume that even children who are non-speaking are taking some of what you are saying onboard….let’s not further risk the emotional health of these children!

Celebrate Success

Yes!  Please do this.  Here is a quote that Barry shares from a parent; “Teachers and professionals need to talk more about what is going right; even the little things.  We know about the challenges – we lives those 24/7”

Acknowledge the child’s emotional state, and support emotional regulation

When a child is demonstrating challenging behaviours, stop for a moment and ask yourself ‘What must this child be feeling right now and how I can help?’

Be dependable, reliable, and clear

If you try to be as consistent as possible in your use of language and expression of emotions, the child will feel less confused.  Children with ASD find ‘reading’ people quite challenging at the best of times so taking these steps will lesson confusion for the child and you will be seen as reliable and therefore worthy of trust.

Do not overly intrude by using excessive verbal and physical prompting

Remember that providing support in a manner that feels imposing or controlling for the child can exacerbate their sensory sensitivities and anxiety. Some children do need physical guidance.  Just be mindful that you provide this with care and watch for signs that your ‘support’ may be feeling intrusive.

Anticipate what may be stressful, and make appropriate modification modifications to lessen stress

We can further earn the trust of children with ASD when we anticipate what may be stressful, make appropriate modifications and provide appropriate supports. “Have high expectations for people with ASD, but with appropriate, and when necessary high levels of support” – Ros Blackburn (Adult with ASD)

So …

What is the opposite of anxiety?

It isn’t calm.

It is trust.