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Navigating Exams with Autism

As we get ready to celebrate World Autism Awareness Day on April 2nd, it’s crucial to shine a light on how anxiety impacts our school journey. For many on the autism spectrum, managing exam stress can be like navigating a maze. But fear not! With the right strategies and mindset, you can not only conquer your anxiety but also ace those exams! 

Understanding anxiety’s impact is important. Anxiety is like a pesky little monster that loves to tag along, especially during exam season. It can make our hearts race, our minds foggy, and even trigger meltdowns.

When you are feeling overloaded with anxiety, one of the things that happens is that the amygdala, which is part of the limbic system in the brain, is turned on as it senses danger. This leads to the production of the stress hormone cortisol. This amygdala overload can disable the frontal cortex in your brain, which controls rational thinking and reasoning.

But you’re not alone in this battle. Here’s how anxiety affects your school performance and what you can do about it.

Challenge: Difficulty concentrating because anxiety can hijack our focus, making it hard to concentrate during class or while studying.

Tip: Break your study sessions into shorter, more manageable chunks. Try using a timer to help you stay on track. Remember to take regular breaks to recharge.

Challenge: Memory glitches can make your brain feel like it’s hitting the snooze button during an exam. And anxiety can mess with our memory and make it challenging to recall information.

Tip: Try creating colourful flashcards or mind maps to help you visualize concepts. Teaching the material you are reviewing to a friend, study buddy, or family member is a great way to reinforce what you are learning.

Challenge: The mere thought of taking a test can send our anxiety skyrocketing, and that can lead to sweaty palms, racing thoughts, and well, test jitters.

Tip: Try practicing relaxation techniques like breathing exercises. Remember that when we get stressed, we don’t breathe properly. Or if that doesn’t do it for you, try going for a walk. The fresh air, physical activity, and trying a mindfulness exercise (like listening to how many different birds you can hear or how many red cars you see) can help your racing mind to calm down. If you need accommodations, make sure you ask for them.

Study Tips

Now that we’ve identified our anxiety triggers, let’s have a look at some study tips to help you slay those exams.

Find Your Study Sanctuary. Whether it’s a cozy corner at home or a quiet spot in the library, find a study environment that feels safe and comfortable.

Make a Plan, Stan! Planning out your study goals into smaller tasks to create a study schedule means reducing last-minute cramming. And we know how well that goes! Having a plan also means that it can help to ease that anxiety.

Embrace Your Strengths. We all have unique strengths and learning preferences. Make sure you use these strengths when studying, whether it’s using visual aids, hands-on activities, or verbal repetition, these will help you ace that exam. What are your strengths?

Need Support? Don’t be afraid to ask for help if you need help. Whether it’s a teacher, coach, tutor, or supportive friend, reaching out for help can alleviate stress and help bring clarification to those challenges.

Celebrate Your Victories! Celebrating your progress, no matter how small, is a testament to your resilience and determination. You’ve got this!

As we celebrate World Autism Awareness Day, let’s not only raise awareness but also empower each other to thrive in school despite the challenges. By understanding how anxiety can affect your academic journey and putting effective study strategies into place, you can turn exam season from a source of dread into a triumph of resilience. Remember, CanLearn is here when you need extra help and encouragement!

Let’s show those exams who’s boss!


Laura Godfrey, AAC, ACC, CACP
Certified AuDHD Life Coach