Coping Skills for People w/Autism and Diabetes

It’s not easy living with both autism and diabetes every day. Sometimes, problems can cause anxiety. Stress can be a factor in hyperglycemia.     

Here are the coping skills: 

  • Pay attention to your feelings. Almost everyone feels frustrated or stressed from time to time. Dealing with diabetes can add to these feelings and make you feel overwhelmed. Having these feelings for more than a week or two may signal that you need help coping with your diabetes so that you can feel better.


  • Talk with your health care providers about your feelings. Let your doctor, nurse, diabetes educator, or psychologist know how you’ve been feeling. They can help you problem-solve your concerns about diabetes. They may also suggest that you speak with other health care providers to get help.


  • Talk to your therapists and health care providers about negative reactions other people may have about your diabetes. Your therapists and health care providers can help you manage feelings of being judged by others because you have autism and diabetes. It is important not to feel that you have to hide your autism and diabetes from other people.


  • Ask if help is available for the costs of diabetes medicines and supplies and autism-related stuff. If you are worried about the costs, talk with your pharmacist and other health care providers. They may know about government or other programs that can assist people with costs. You can also check with community health centers to see if they know about programs that help people get insulin, diabetes medicines, and supplies (test strips, syringes, etc.) or programs that help people with autism. 


  • Talk with your family and friends. Tell those closest to you how you feel about having autism and diabetes. Be honest about the problems you’re having in dealing with both conditions. Just telling others how you feel helps to relieve some of the stress. However, sometimes the people around you may add to your stress. Let them know how and when you need them to help you.


  • Allow loved ones to help you take care of your diabetes and deal with autism. Those closest to you can help you in several ways. They can remind you to take your medicines, help monitor your blood sugar levels, join you in being physically active, prepare healthy meals, and deal with autism-related problems properly. They can also learn more about diabetes and go with you when you visit your doctor. Ask your loved ones to help with your autism and diabetes in ways that are useful to you.


  • Talk to other people with autism and diabetes or people who have one of the conditions. Other people with one condition or the other or both understand what you’re going through. Ask them for advice. They can help you feel less lonely and overwhelmed. Look for autism and diabetes support groups in your community or online or look up personal accounts online. 


  • Do one thing at a time. When you think about everything you need to do to manage your diabetes, it can be overwhelming. To deal with diabetes distress, make a list of all of the tasks you have to do to take care of yourself each day. Try to work on each task separately, one at a time.


  • Pace yourself. As you work on your goals, like increasing physical activity, take it slowly. You don’t have to meet your goals immediately. Your goal may be to walk 10 minutes, three times a day each day of the week, but you can start by walking two times a day or every other day.


  • Take time to do things you enjoy. Give yourself a break! Set aside time in your day to do something you love; it could be calling a friend, playing games, or working on a fun project. Find out about activities near you that you can do with a friend.


  • Scream into a pillow: If necessary, scream into a pillow in a private place, but make sure nobody hears you. Otherwise, they’ll call the police. Optionally, turn on the TV or music very loud, so nobody would hear you scream.   


  • Keep a diary: To help someone understand anxiety, get them to understand the symptoms they display when they are anxious, and to look at the causes of their anxiety. Keeping a diary in which they write about certain situations and how these make them feel may help them to understand their anxiety and manage it better. Use the diary also to think about the physical changes linked to anxiety. Use the diary to monitor this as well.  Record the time and date, situation, how you felt, how anxious (1 to 10), etc.  


  • Meltdown prevention plan: Create an anxiety plan when someone is feeling positive about things. An anxiety plan is a list of things and situations that cause anxiety as well as solutions and strategies they can use to help them manage their anxiety levels. The plan can be adapted, depending upon how well someone understands anxiety. Remind yourself not to worry about hypo or hyperglycemia levels. It’s okay if you’re surprised once in a while, but don’t make a big deal out of it. Deal with them properly. Learn the lessons from your mistakes and move on. Take a few deep breaths if necessary. 


Here’s an example of a prevention plan:

  • Situation – going on the bus or having high blood sugar 
  • Anxiety symptoms – heart beating fast, sweating, or feeling sick
  • Solution – keep a stress ball in a pocket, squeeze the ball,  take deep breaths, and listen to soft music.


  • Relaxation techniques: People with autism can sometimes find it very difficult to relax. Some have a particular interest or activity they like to do because it helps them relax. If they use these to relax, it may help to build them into their daily routine. However, this interest or activity can itself be the source of behavioral difficulties at times, especially if they’re unable to follow their interest or do the activity at a particular moment. Some people may need to be left alone for short periods of the day to help them unwind. 
  • Physical activity can also often help to manage anxiety and release tension. Using deep breathing exercises to relax can be helpful as can activities such as yoga and Pilates or ballet fitness, which focus on breathing to relax. Use a visual timetable or write a list to help remind the person when they need to practice relaxation.
  • Any other activities that are pleasant and calming such as taking a bath, listening to relaxing music, aromatherapy, playing on a computer may also help reduce anxiety. Some people may find lights particularly soothing, especially those of a repetitive nature, such as spinning lights or bubble tubes.


  • Talking about anxiety: Some people find confrontation difficult. They may therefore be unable to say they don’t like certain things or situations, which will raise their anxiety levels. If they identify they are anxious, they could use a card system to let family or friends around them know how they are feeling. At first, you may need to tell them when to use the card and prompt them to use it when they do become anxious. They could also carry a card around with them to remind themselves of what they need to do if they start getting anxious. You could also give them a stress scale that they can use whenever they find something particularly stressful.
  • It may help them to buy our Autism Alert card, which is the size of a credit card. They can use the card to let members of the public know that they are autistic.
  • Stop and Think! method: Stop and think to yourself, ‘Is it worth it to worry over this?’ For example, a person with autism checks his or her blood sugar. The result is 300. He or she takes a deep breath and thinks, ‘I gotta deal with this properly. I don’t wanna get upset over this!’ Two hours after dinner of a low-carb meal and a proper amount of insulin, he or she rechecks the glucose levels. The result was 150. Another example is that he or she waits in a long line at the movies or a grocery store and thinks, ‘Nothing to worry about. Everything’s fine. No big deal. I don’t want high levels later.’   



Remember that it’s important to pay attention to your feelings. If you notice that you’re feeling frustrated, tired, and unable to make decisions, take action. Tell your family, friends, counselors, and health care providers. They can help you get the support you need. Make sure you don’t end up in the hospital. 

*Same content on Coping Skills blog under Life With Diabetes site.  

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