1. Make a list of your accomplishments
Many people will tell you to make a list of your good qualities, of your strengths. This is a good exercise. But it doesn’t go far enough. Folks with Asperger’s syndrome need concrete examples. So make a list of all the things you have done in recent or past memory that were difficult for you — but that you survived without too much trauma. If you get nervous going into public buildings, every time you go into a store or a doctor’s office, keep a diary of it.
If you have trouble approaching new people, write down every time you do and who it was. Write how it went. If you mentally beat yourself up every time you make a mistake… make a resolution to give yourself a break, and come up with some positive affirmations to say instead. Write the situations down. Wait a few months. After some time goes by, you will be amazed at how much you were able to do — and how much the written diary makes you want to do more.
2. Figure out the why to the accomplishments
Be sure to think about why these ventures were successful. Did you have a friend along with you that gave you strength? Did you do anything to psych yourself up beforehand? Anything to relax afterwards? Did you have a strong motivation for doing the task, such as buying a desired item or some other gain?
Think about what made these difficult situations possible, and try to replicate what you did. Write it down, so you can remember later.
Parents – try to encourage your child to do these exercises. Use external motivation if necessary for the written diary (favored activity, something they want to buy, etc. for every so often). Eventually they will hopefully want to do it for themselves, without the rewards. You’re trying to recondition their brain.
3. Get feedback from others
Often, we need a boost from others in trying to figure out what our strengths are. Ask someone you trust what they think the things you do well are. Skip the parts you don’t do well unless absolutely necessary, you get enough of that already.
4. Surround yourself with people who validate you and accept you
This is important because you will start to internalize good messages about yourself and in time will be able to feel more confident about trying new things.
5. Try new things that are a stretch for you
Speaking of new things, try them. When you can. But only try new things that you think are within your ability zone. That is, think of something you find difficult but can do. Then, think of something that is just a little bit harder than that, that you think you might be able to do but aren’t sure.
On a day when you are feeling somewhat brave, give it a try. Plan something relaxing to do after, and visualize yourself doing it calmly beforehand. Reward yourself after. Keep doing this and you’ll eventually work up to the place you want to be.
Internal Versus External Locus of Control
This handy dandy psychological concept refers to a very important theory. If you believe you can handle what happens to you, whatever it may be, then your anxiety will be low and your ability to try new things high. If, however, you have an external locus of control — which many with Asperger’s syndrome have due to their high sensitivity levels — then you feel like you are just like a leaf in the wind, being controlled by whatever external forces happen to you. The latter leaves you with a feeling of helplessness and high anxiety. You become more resistant to trying new things because you don’t believe you have the right tools to deal with it should anything go wrong.
Try to identify and practice self-soothing and coping skills. Find things that relax you — that you can do before and after a difficult activity.
Come up with contingency plans for various things that may go wrong.
Bring along friends or family for support.
The bottom line is, though, if you can find the strength to try these new things one time, two times, three times and more, successfully, and you can develop ways to cope with things that may go wrong — your locus of control will change, at least a little, and you will find yourself facing life with a lot more confidence and a lot less crippling anxiety.
Parents, guide your child through this process as best you can using the above guidelines. It is a wonderful thing to feel free. It is a wonderful feeling to be independent and self-sufficient. It just comes with a few bumps in the road along the way that you must gather the courage to face as best as possible.
With these tips, you can begin the process of building confidence and self-esteem. And for additional tips and suggestions to ensure your loved one lives a happy and fulfilling life, see The Asperger’s Syndrome Survival Guide