Tips for Coping with Autistic Life #1

Written by: Sam Warner
Published on: 2 July 2024

Autistic Coping Mechanisms (3 part blog)

There are things in life that are rarely taught or talked about and for neurotypicals people it seems they were just born with this knowledge. For those on the Autistic Spectrum (ASD) becoming self aware, acquiring coping mechanisms and giving yourself thinking time to cope with situations that may arise means you can be less confused and feel more confident.

Remember that your perception of the world is a little different, it just means that your brain works differently. Not everyone works in black and white (all or nothing) most work in greys so it can be harder for them to empathise and understand if you appear to be obsessed or single minded about something.

There are some books out there with guidance, but I’ve put together my own brief list as not everyone wants to read a book.

Here are some tips to cope in society when you are Autistic

Worrying & Stress – Find people you can trust to talk over your concerns privately. Always ask yourself: “Can I do anything about the thing that bothers me?” If the answer is yes, then do it, even if it’s finding another person to help if it’s beyond your capability. If it’s no, then you can give yourself permission to put that in a mental box and put a lid on it. Your energy is precious, so use it wisely. (Don’t spend it on stress.) In order to solve problems you need to think clearly, you do this with a positive mind. This also helps to stop guilt from creeping in.

 Positive Mental Attitude – Keep a log of all your achievements, and things you are proud of. You can use this to feel better when things are not going so well. You are not looking at the world through rose-tinted specs by believing that positive things can and will happen. You are choosing to welcome positive thoughts and hope into your mind that will make you feel better about yourself and more equipped to deal with the unexpected. This is something to practise every day. Affirmations can be useful to put you in the right frame of mind at the start of each day but they do have to be believable. 

“Autism can be a gift, we all just need to learn how to use it”

Anticipation & Preparation – By anticipating certain situations, you can remove a lot of the stress. If you can run through conversations, scenarios and environments that you are going to face then you can prepare for unexpected events, questions or responses. It means you don’t have to worry so much about knowing the right answer instantly or knowing what is going to happen. You use your imagination to run through the situation in your mind. It’s very calming and gives you more confidence.

Body Language – Includes facial expressions, gestures, eye contact and tone of voice. Unfortunately you can’t learn this like a school subject, everyone is so different and you have to get to know people in order to understand the cues and what certain things mean in a given situation. Sarcasm is one of the hardest things to understand and you will learn that not everybody says what they mean. There’s a lot of hints, nuance and suggestion in everyday language. Don’t be afraid to ask questions if the body language doesn’t match the words or it’s just not clear how you should be reacting. It’s unusual for people to be deliberately misleading. Also your use of body language is important in your communication – become more self-aware & think about if it matches your words and intent. Eye contact can be tricky because too much or too little becomes noticeable & sometimes uncomfortable, so a little of both is fine

“Autistic people are all different just like neurotypicals”

Conversation – Take turns to allow both parties to have a say. When the other person is talking you need to give them visual clues that you are listening and that can be a nod of a head, saying “uhah” and smiling using a bit of eye contact. If you don’t want to be touched during conversation with someone (not everyone is self-aware and some people are very tactile), you might need to say something or stand a couple of feet away to put some space in between you and them.

Emotional overload – Anger, excitement, joy and sadness are all valid emotions that can be expressed visually, with body language, facial expressions, words and energy. Understanding what is appropriate in a given situation is very helpful because we don’t always want to stand out in the crowd and we want to feel accepted by others, not stared at. It might be appropriate to take yourself off somewhere else for a few minutes to express yourself if the occasion doesn’t fit how you are feeling. But don’t be fake and don’t subdue your ebullience or joy.

Not always truthful – Sarcasm, white lies, fantasy play, exaggeration, figures of speech, jokes, teasing, and misunderstandings are all ways that we get caught out. Doubt creeps in. Are they telling the truth? Is this a joke? Do they mean it? Do I laugh now? It can be very confusing and it may take you a while and a kind friend to help you understand who are the serial jokers and fibbers. When you are amongst real friends you can let them know that you are a bit gullible because you take things on face value, and like to keep people to their word. Then they know your boundaries and needs.

True FriendsHoax FriendsEnemies
Treat you the same way they treat all their friendsMay treat you differently to how they treat others.May ignore you most of the time.
Make you feel welcome in the long term as well as the short term.Might make you feel welcome in the short term and then drop you in the dirt.Will make you feel unwelcome and will notice all your mistakes and may bring them to the attention of other people.
If they give you compliments they will be genuine and sincere.Might give you many compliments which are NOT genuine.May give you anything from sarcasm, put-downs and temper tantrums to the silent treatment.
Will treat you as an equal.Might often make unfair requests of you.Will often treat you as a less important person than them.
May help you to see the truth behind other peoples hoaxes when suitableMight want you to make a spectacle of yourself. May threaten not to be your friend anymore or play on your guilt if it is to help them get their own way.
May set you up to receive aggression or scorn from others.
What to do:What to do:What to do:
Repay them with the same attention they give you and listen to themStand up to them and don’t feel guilty about telling them to p*ss off if they have said something which is obviously unfairYou might have done something to annoy them or they might just be jealous of certain skills or knowledge you have. If it is jealousy, they will never admit to it.
Accept any compliments they give you by saying a simple ‘thank you’ and then you won’t make them feel silly in any way for having complimented you.They could be the kind of person who gets pleasure out of hurting people more vulnerable than themselves because they feel weak and inadequate inside. Remember thatf you find them on their own at any time they might switch to being quiet and shy towards you and you might be able to ask them awkward questions as to why they behave differently towards you than they do towards other people. Also, if they can give you a good enough reason, it might be a chance to apologise if you have annoyed them in some way and say that you will try not to annoy them as much in future
Try to show that you like them using eye contact
Taken from ‘Coping: A Survival Guide for People with Asperger Syndrome’ by Marc Segar

Friends – Don’t be a space invader (standing too close) and don’t try to monopolise the conversation no matter how passionate or knowledgeable you are about the subject. It’s a lot more pleasant to take turns in talking, but also to have someone listen whilst you are talking, and to be listened to in return. It’s okay to have just a handful of friends, you don’t have to have lots of friends. Just a few that you trust and who don’t take advantage of you.

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Read Tips for Coping with Autistic Life #2 and #3

Sam does coaching for friends and families of Autistic individuals working on coping mechanisms and challenging behaviours, and life coaching to help with goal setting and accountability. Book a call with Sam here

About Sam Warner

Hi I'm Sam Warner. Neurodivergent Communications Specialist supporting you to Get Your Message Across. Welcome to my blog.

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