The Autism Society of America celebrates Autism Acceptance Month in April 2022. The month of April was previously known as Autism Awareness Month, but in 2021, the Autism Society took to social media to raise awareness of autism spectrum disorder (ASD). According to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), ASD and intellectual disabilities are the most common developmental disabilities in the United States.
In recent years, there's been a positive global shift in the understanding and acceptance of autism. Igniting the conversation about autism can promote acceptance, combat stigma, and encourage more people with ASD to share their stories. Here's how healthy coping skills, self-care, and communication can help you live a productive, fulfilling life with ASD.
1. Stick to a consistent daily schedule
Living with ASD can feel overwhelming, and many people on the autism spectrum achieve the highest quality of life when they create structure and routine. By establishing a daily routine, people with autism can ease the unpredictability of their daily lives.
Try setting a schedule for yourself, with regular times for meals, school, mental health care, and bedtime. If you're not sure where to start, studies on young children show that visual schedules and checklists can be especially helpful for promoting daily functioning. Whatever routine you set, remember that it takes time to adjust. Be consistent, and don't give up. Whenever possible, try to minimize disruptions to your routine, and take the time to prepare schedule changes in advance to reduce anxiety.
2. Recognize your sensory sensitivities
Many people with ASD experience light, sound, touch, taste, or smell in different ways. Some adolescents and young adults with autism are often "over-sensitive" to sensory stimuli while others may be "under-sensitive," according to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5). Sensory differences can affect every aspect of your life, and the first step in coping with sensory sensitivities is to recognize what sights, sounds, smells, movements, and tactile sensations trigger specific behaviors or feelings.
Take a step back and think about your environment. What do you find stressful and uncomfortable vs. grounding or soothing? If you're feeling overwhelmed, try to make changes to your environment, whether that means reducing fluorescent lighting or using unscented body wash. Let your close friends, family members, and anyone else in your life (psychiatrists, therapists, health care providers) know about your sensory sensitivities and what they can do to support you.
3. Make mental health your number one priority
Autism can take an emotional toll on family members of people living with the condition. And in adolescence or adulthood, receiving an autism diagnosis (even after years of maybe struggling with symptoms) can be difficult. What's more, specific symptoms often mimic other mental health conditions, such as anxiety disorders, attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), and mood disorders, while some people with autism may experience co-occurring conditions.
Whether you're coping with an autism diagnosis or living with a co-occurring mental health condition, mental health should be your top priority. Get into the habit of carving out time each day, even if it's just a few minutes, to practice self-care. Take a walk outside, do some yoga, or call a loved one. Whatever gives you time to reset and recharge–make time for it.
4. Remember that there's no single autism narrative
If you have ASD, you might not feel like you fit the “typical” autism narrative—and that's completely normal. If you mention autism to someone, most people have a specific idea of what that means or looks like. In reality, the narrative on autism tends to be so focused on children that most people are not familiar with autism in adolescents or adults. So, how can you find people with autism that you resonate with?
To find people with similar stories, try following social media accounts that cover topics related to autism spectrum disorder (the #ActuallyAutistic hashtag is a great place to start). Alternatively, take some time to read articles where adults with ASD share their experiences. Not everyone with autism fits the stereotype, and finding people with similar experiences can make all the difference in your journey.
5. Don't hesitate to seek professional help
With so many different treatment options for ASD, figuring out which approach is right for you can feel overwhelming. It might be tempting to ignore your ASD symptoms, but professional mental health care can make your life so much brighter.
Ultimately, no single ASD treatment works for everyone. Each person on the autism spectrum is unique, with different strengths and mental health needs. You deserve a treatment plan that works for you—and your treatment should be customized according to your personal preferences and needs.
At Charlie Health, we offer high-quality mental health treatment for adolescents, young adults, and their family members. Our virtual intensive outpatient program (IOP) combines customized individual psychotherapy, supported groups, and family therapy.
No matter where you are in your mental health journey, our compassionate mental health professionals are here to answer your questions, explore your treatment options, and help you build strategies to prioritize your mental health. Reach out now.