Stress can be a challenging issue for kids on the autism spectrum. For those of us who have nonverbal or barely verbal children, we already know how our kids’ communication difficulties can be very frustrating for them. My autistic daughter bites her nails and exhibits self-injurious behaviors when she believes we can’t understand her. And according to the University of Indiana, a 2011 review of existing studies showed that some 40% of children with autism had some kind of anxiety disorder. Please note, this post was paid for by Mightier Neuromotion Labs, who also provided a device and game for reducing stress and anxiety in autism.
Our kids need help managing anxiety and manage stress! But how?
One of the real challenges for families who have a child on the autism spectrum is helping them calm down and preventing meltdowns. For example, many kids do great with learn how to deep breathe but that can be a real challenge for a child on the spectrum. I’ve tried a number of times to teach my daughter the skill of taking a moment to breathe deeply to slow your heart rate and calm your spirit but she rarely follows my lead to do it. For kids on the spectrum like ours, the art of calming yourself is quite difficult.
How can you help your child who has autism manage anxiety and stress?
Along Came An App…
There is a better way: gameplay. I was excited when Mightier reached out to me to try their app which teaches kids how to raise and lower their heart rate through gameplay. This app is not just fun to play. Studies from the Boston Children’s Hospital and Harvard Medical School have shown that after 12 weeks of use, tit has helped kids on the autism spectrum to:
- Reduce outburts – 62%
- Decrease oppositional behaviors – 40%
- Lower parent stress – 19%
All in all, kids managed their emotions better.
How Gameplay Helps Kids Calm Their Stress
How does it work? Well, it’s simple. First, you put the armband on your child. Then you let your child play. Now, it’s not that the game relaxes them. In fact, it’s meant to stress them, or rather, to raise their heart rate as they proceed through the game.
The key is Gizmo. This is an indicator in the upper right hand of your game board that shows you where your heart rate is. You will have have to try to get it up into the orange range (elevated), then cool back down to the blue range.
Like any good app game, the more you play, the more challenging the goals. That allows your heart rate to go up, as it should.
Getting Started With The Mightier App
First, your child has to gear up by wearing the band, which can be placed on his or her arm or leg. Be sure that the device is fully charged first.
When your child selects his name and the device is activated, he’ll be introduced to Lavalings. You need to collect them and get at least one before you settle into gameplay. They appear when your child’s heart rate goes up, so you can have your child jump up and down before the game starts to see them.
Your child is in control of pausing the game so that they can breathe. Dr. Dragon will appear to show your child how to calm his or her breathing. Every time he takes a break, he’ll collect a Lavaling.
Earning acorns allows your child to “buy” more games to play. The Mightier City has a lot of storefronts but you can only change them when you earn enough acorns to buy entrance.
Each round, you are given objectives to help your child make the stress-reduction goals they need as well as in-game goals.
How You Can Help Your Child
You also get to help your child with autism ease her anxiety and stress challenges with a little help for yourself! In addition to the game and band, you also get support. It comes in a few forms:
- The Parent Community
Once you are a member, you can sign up to be part of Mightier’s private Facebook group that supports Mightier families. There are challenges, advice, tips, and updates so you can be involved as well.
- The Support Site
You get a personal login for your family. This allows you to track how much time your child spent on the game (45 minutes per week is recommended), when your child went into blue or red zones, how many acorns she earned, and when your next appointment with your coach is scheduled. There are also additional resources such as weekly articles, videos and a printable.
- The Coaches
Each family gets a coach, who is a mental health practitioner, who helps you get started and answers questions. You meet with your coach monthly to review your child’s progress and give (and get) feedback about the product and package.
- Play It Yourself
The first time I loaded it up, I set myself up as well as Zoe. Your coach will advise this too if you have a multiplayer package. We played together so she could see what to do.
The Mightier App For Your Child
We are new to the game, so it might take a. while to see results but the games on Mightier are fun, simple, and engaging. The biggest issue might be getting your child to wear the strap if she has sensory issues. (Note that you won’t be able to play without wearing the band properly.) We are still struggling with this but I put the question out on Facebook and some of the amazing parents there had extra solutions for me:
- Make your own strap with ribbon or by creating a bracelet your child will wear.
- Let them watch you playing (we’re working on this) t0 get them excited to play.
- Get them used to the band gradually without the monitor.
- Put it on over or under their sleeves or pants, creating a hole for the monitor.
- Take your time with it.
It’s pretty critical that you don’t force your child to wear it but let them be curious and take their time.
Mightier Can Help Kids With Autism Manage Stress and Anxiety
My take on the Mightier app? I think it’s great. For me, it gets high marks on both support and gameplay. Are you interested? Mightier has 2 different options for joining, Starter or Foundation packages, but you can take a free trial first then come back and tell me what you think!