Setting up hundreds of students across the UK with personalised support, five common causes of anxiety have become clear. Do you know them? In this article we share the top five triggers for student anxiety alongside tips to tackle them, shared by our students.
1 Independent living basics
Moving away from home for the first time can be hard for anyone, but for those with autism it can be especially tough. Remembering the basics, including what and when to eat can be difficult. So many of our students install reminders on their Brain in Hand and attach notes of how to prepare each of their ‘go to’ meals. Simple and easy, this means that with everything else to think about, refuelling won’t go amiss.
To provide extra support and encouragement, with permission, family members can view their child or sibling’s account to see what they have been doing, and suggest new meal ideas to add to their notes.
2 Changes to timetables
Many people with autism prefer routine and structure, so a change to a lecture’s time or location can cause anxiety. To stop these feelings from escalating, many of our students include coping strategies in their Brain in Hand such as planning where to go to find out where a new room will be – such as the reception or department notice board. Our users also often add prompts to remind them to do activities that help them manage their worry such as breathing exercises, listening to music or a place to go to calm down.
Students can now include links to useful online resources, such as specific calming photos to look at, videos to help relax, bus timetable or taxi number.
3 Deadlines, deadlines, deadlines
Although this issue isn’t frequent, deadlines can create a huge sense of tension when they do come about. To help reduce anxieties our students say to consider every aspect of the procedure up front. They make a note of these in Brain in Hand. Questions students should ask themselves include – How do I format the assignment? Where do I print my submission? What building do I go to? What is the building like and will it cause any problems that I need to prepare for such as noise or people? Once noted and preparations are in place, anxieties do reduce.
Ticking off deadlines as ‘completed’ can also give a huge sense of achievement and reinforce the things students are doing well.
4 Sensory overload
With university life comes lots of new people and settings. For many, buildings such as food halls, campus shops or study spaces bring lights, sounds and smells that can be too much. Our students say if a university runs early access before fresher’s week starts, it’s worthwhile attending, as they can then plan out alternative places to go that are quieter or easier. These are all noted in their Brain in Hand calendar, alongside pre-planned coping strategies such as putting in earphones, going with a person who can support them, or taking an alternative route. Preparation is key to coping here, and reminding them self of options can make all the difference.
Keeping a note of a student’s anxiety is also valuable. Our students use a traffic light monitoring feature to do this. It allows them to look back at their feelings accurately over a day, week or month and gain insight into places or instances that are causing particular difficulty and so create new coping strategies, and also reflect on situations they have managed well.
5 New social groups
Most cited and rightly so. The majority of our students have installed on their Brain in Hand reminders such as what to say in a first conversation, opening words and topic ideas. For some students it is about difficulty in sharing their space with others, and how to manage conflicts that occur. Accessed through an app on their phone, tips are discretely read without anyone knowing.
Some students may even enter key statements into their Brain in Hand that they can then show to others if they become overwhelmed in a situation, to help them communicate their needs in the moment. But if things do get too much, they can press a red button and their assigned support team will be in touch to provide extra help. This may be the university’s support team or a member of the National Autistic Society.