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5 Self Care Tips for Adults with Autism

written by Tom Panter

Mental Health Awareness for Adults With Autism

  • Become More Mindful
  • Soothe Your Senses
  • Break Down Stressful Tasks
  • Create a Tool Box
  • Be Kind to Yourself

Adults with autism face many challenges on a daily basis.  One of these challenges can be that of knowing how best to implement a healthy self-care routine.  There are many self-care resources available today, but not all of them work well for those who are living with autism . Self-care can be a difficult thing for adults with autism.  Not only do you have to identity your physical and psychological triggers, but you also have to deal with the emotional fallout of living with a condition that many people still don’t understand. Fortunately, there are ways that you can manage your mental health and take good care of yourself even when you’re struggling on the spectrum.  This article covers five of the basic ways that you, as an adult with autism, can implement self-care.

Become More Mindful

This world is full of many stressors, and it seems that anxiety and stress is on the rise for most people.    Practicing mindfulness exercises and meditations are a useful way to handle the stress caused by daily life.  A good suggestion for self-care for someone with autism is MBSR.  Mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR) is a series of actions and behaviors that can calm you down when the world is too much. It was originally designed for people with chronic pain, but it’s being incorporated more and more into treatment plans for things like substance abuse and mood disorders. MBSR combines meditation, muscle relaxation, breathing exercises and low-impact activities like yoga to help people feel better. Studies have shown that it’s also effective at managing anxiety and depressive symptoms in adults with autism.

Other techniques for becoming more mindful include breathing exercises as well as grounding exercises.  A simple breathing exercise, such as a slow four-count inhale, a slow four-count hold, and a slow four-count exhale can be a great place to start.  You can do this any many times as you need to. This simple breathing exercise can help to self-regulate and to start the process of becoming more mindful and grounded.

Soothe Your Senses

Autism is often marked by difficulties with sensory processing. Sensory overload can often lead to some sort of a meltdown or panic attack.  However, you don’t have to let these overwhelming or underwhelming elements control your day-to-day activities.  Learning to soothe your senses before things get out of control can be an important form of self-care. If you get headaches from bright white lights, you can experiment with low-level blue lights that are more calming for your brain chemistry. If certain smells can push you towards a meltdown, you can create a safe space in your home that’s filled with air-purifying house plants. It might help to create a sensory profile that establishes your exact triggers when it comes to stimuli.

There are  also techniques such as deep-pressure activities that could help to soothe the senses.  Some examples of deep-pressure activities include using weighted blankets or vests or wrapping yourself tightly in a blanket.  For those who are more sensory seeking, there are other great options that can help regulate the senses.  These could include fidget toys, lava lamps, or watching calming videos.

Break Down Stressful Tasks

If you find yourself overwhelmed at the thought of a certain activity, you can utilize the “chaining” method to break it down into smaller parts. This is a strategy that’s commonly taught to autistic children to help them with things like hygiene, but it can be modified and utilized for adults as well. For example, you might simplify the process of making a phone call by imagining every action as a link on a chain. The first link is picking up the phone; the second link is unlocking the screen and opening the app; the third link is dialing the number.  When using the chaining method, you decide to take one step and only one step at a time.

Forward chaining, which is more common, starts from the beginning of the task and works one step at a time until the task is completed.  Backward chaining is another form of chaining.  This method starts with trying to complete the last step of the task, and working from the back to the front.  Backward chaining can be helpful if the steps at the end of the task seem easier to complete.

Other helpful suggestions for task completion are to make a list or use visual supports.  Tools such as these can make it so that a neurodivergent individual doesn’t need to rely on their mind or their memory to know what is expected of them.  A list, a chart with pictures, or a daily schedule can all help to break down daily tasks that could otherwise be stressful so that they can complete them with ease.

Create a Tool Box

There are many tools that autistic individuals can use for self-care.  These tools are geared specifically for those who suffer from some form of sensory processing disorder. You are probably familiar with fidget spinners, but there is an entire market for stim toys that can help you with your sensory processing difficulties. Stim toys are designed to provide sensory stimulation.  They are sometimes used to release energy and sometimes used to calm the nervous system.  The familiarity of a stim toy can comfort someone when their stress levels are rising.  Whether it’s a bite band for anxious chewers or moldable putty to squeeze out stress and improve fine motor control, there are options out there for anyone who is willing to create a self-help tool box.

Some adults may be concerned that it appears “childish” to be seen with stim toy.  Thankfully, it is becoming more and more normalized to use stim toys.  It is also possible to find sensory processing tools that are subtle and discreet. It’s just a matter of figuring out what works for you and building a collection of gadgets and gizmos that are devoted to your unique needs.

Be Kind to Yourself

This is easier said than done, of course, but try not to be overly self-critical because of your autism. You can talk to yourself in the same way that you would talk to a friend. For example, if you made a mistake at school or work, you might say, “That was hard, but it isn’t the end of the world. You can get through it. You just have to stay positive.”  it is also helpful to practice speaking positive affirmations to yourself such as “I am capable.”  or “I am proud of myself.”  Choose to celebrate the little victories, such as accomplishing a small task.  It is also important to not compare yourself to others.  Each of us has our own unique challenges and areas that trigger anxiety and instability.  It will never help to compare yourself to someone else who doesn’t seem to have the same struggles.

We are each designed in an unique way, and that is especially true for the neurodivergent individual.  Instead of being your own enemy, you can choose to take a deep breath and to celebrate your uniqueness and your small victories.  When you find yourself spiraling into negativity and potentially triggering a meltdown, you can turn the little voice in your head into someone who is kind, patient and understanding.

Related Resource: 10 Best ABA PhD Degree Programs

Managing your mental health is important no matter who you are, but it becomes especially critical if you’ve been diagnosed with autism. Without learning how to regulate your emotions, you’re at an increased risk for things like panic attacks and sensory overloads. Use these self-care tips for adults with autism if you’re seeking to manage your condition while being on the spectrum yourself.


updated spring 2024