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4 Ways to Cope with ASD Social Anxiety

4 Ways to Cope with ASD Social Anxiety

Social anxiety is common for those on the autism spectrum. Many individuals with ASD struggle in social situations due to difficulties with communication, sensory sensitivities, and trouble understanding social cues. Social interactions require interpreting subtle cues like body language, facial expressions, and tone of voice. For someone with ASD, these complex signals can feel overwhelming, are difficult to interpret in the moment, and can lead to anxiety.

Individuals with autism may feel tense in group settings or when initiating conversations because they are unsure of the appropriate way to act for the situation and the context. If you are someone who has ASD, the good news is that there are effective strategies to help cope with social anxiety.

1. Create a Safe Space to Decompress

When feeling stressed, anxious, or overstimulated, it is often helpful to take a break to decompress and practice copings skills such as mindfulness, deep breathing, or reframing negative thoughts. A place to retreat for a several minute break can be helpful to reset until you are feeling ready to rejoin the situation. While it may be easier to access a safe space at home, with some planning and flexibility we can create a designated space to take a break in any public setting (e.g., bathroom, park bench, hallway with minimal foot traffic, etc.).

2. Practice Social Skills

The key to overcoming social anxiety is facing it head-on through practice and exposure. Start by observing how others interact in social situations. Pay attention to things like posture, gesture, and tone of voice. Try mirroring these behaviors when interacting with others. Start with low-pressure interactions like chatting with a cashier or neighbor. Smile, listen, and try to engage them.

Over time, these short interactions will feel more natural and help build your confidence for more extended conversations. Practice starting a conversation, maintaining it, and ending it smoothly.

Role-playing is a safe space to try out new skills and get comfortable with social interactions. Start a conversation with one new person each week or host a small get-together. Achieving your goals, no matter how small, will motivate you to continue improving your skills.

3. Try Exposure Therapy

Exposure therapy, also known as systematic desensitization, can help reduce anxiety in social situations. The idea is to expose yourself to social interactions in a controlled setting gradually. Start with situations that cause mild anxiety and work your way up to more challenging ones.

For example, if making eye contact with strangers makes you anxious, practice making brief eye contact with cashiers or baristas when ordering coffee. As you get more comfortable, try smiling, waving, or saying “hello” to neighbors or coworkers you pass by. Over time, try starting short

conversations with people in low-key social settings like a local park. Start small and go at your own pace. Exposure therapy may be difficult, but slowly facing your fears can help desensitize the anxiety response.

4. Seek Professional Help

If your social anxiety is severe and persistent, speak to a therapist who specializes in ASD and anxiety disorders. They can determine the underlying factors of your social anxiety and provide coping strategies tailored to your needs. Therapies such as cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) and exposure therapy (ERP) have been shown to help reduce anxiety in those with ASD. CBT focuses on challenging negative thoughts and adjusting behaviors, while exposure therapy gradually exposes you to social situations in a controlled manner. These therapies can be highly effective, especially when combined.

Social anxiety is challenging, but there are effective ways to manage it. Social anxiety is treatable. Book an appointment with our skilled clinicians today.

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2805 Butterfield Road suite 120
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