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Fear of Making Mistakes: Strategies for Autistic Individuals

By Emma Hinze, Dr. Michelle Garnett and Professor Tony Attwood

Life for autistic individuals presents unique challenges, one of which is the fear of making mistakes. This fear can be paralysing and may originate from past experiences where they faced punishment, harsh criticism, ridicule, or teasing when they made errors. The haunting memory of these incidents can deter them from trying new activities. Additionally, the feeling of inadequacy intensifies when someone effortlessly solves a problem they are struggling with. This experience can create a cycle of self-doubt and anxiety, where the fear of making mistakes becomes entangled with the fear of being outperformed or judged by their peers.


Understanding the Roots of the Fear

For some autistic people, the fear of making mistakes can be deeply rooted in past experiences, shaping how autistic individuals perceive their errors. Acknowledging and addressing these past experiences is crucial to tackle this fear.


Four Ways to Help Reduce the Fear of Making Mistakes:

1. Respect the Need for Processing Time:

Benefit: Allowing processing time helps reduce anxiety and promotes clear thinking.

    • Understand that autistic individuals may require additional time to process information and emotions. Instead of rushing or pressuring them for a quick response, allow time to gauge their comprehension and allow them the space to think and process at their own pace. Ask questions to facilitate their understanding when needed.
    • Create an environment where patience is not only valued but actively promoted. Emphasise that taking time to think, analyse, and respond thoughtfully is not just acceptable but commendable. Encourage patience not only from yourself but also from peers and caregivers.
    • Foster open communication about their processing needs. Create a safe and non-judgmental space where they feel comfortable expressing their thoughts, even if it takes time. Be attentive to their non-verbal cues, as they may communicate their readiness to engage or their need for more time in non-verbal ways.


2. Emphasise That Mistakes Are Part of Learning:

Benefit: Normalising mistakes reduces fear and promotes a growth mindset.

    • Remind autistic individuals that making mistakes is a natural part of life for everyone. Reiterate that nobody is perfect.
    • Model trial and error by saying things like, “Oh, this is difficult, isn’t it?” or “This doesn’t work, and neither does this way,” while exploring different options, even when you know the solution. By openly showcasing your learning process, you help normalise making mistakes as part of the learning journey.


3. Model Coping Strategies:

Benefit: Teaching coping strategies helps individuals manage frustration and setbacks.

    • Demonstrate how to handle frustration calmly, emphasising that feeling frustrated is normal when facing challenges. Normalise emotional responses by acknowledging that everyone, regardless of their neurodiversity, experiences frustration.
    • Practice flexible thinking by brainstorming multiple solutions to a problem. Show that there is often more than one way to approach a task. Emphasise that creativity and adaptability can lead to innovative solutions, even if initial attempts result in mistakes.
    • Encourage asking for help when needed and reinforce that seeking assistance is a sign of strength, not weakness. Building a supportive network is important.


4. Vocalise Coping Strategies Aloud:

Benefit: Sharing coping strategies helps individuals develop emotional resilience.

    • Share your coping strategies for staying calm during stressful moments, such as deep breathing or taking short breaks. Explain how these strategies have helped you manage anxiety and fear effectively.
    • Emphasise that trial and error can be a valuable learning process and discuss moments when you have learned from your mistakes.


Adaptation to Individual Needs:

While the strategies outlined above may be beneficial, it’s crucial to remember that each person is unique. What works well for one individual may not be suitable for another. Therefore, it’s essential to adapt and customise these strategies to the specific needs and preferences of the autistic person you are supporting. The main point is to allow time in a safe and non-judgmental environment.



The fear of making mistakes is a significant challenge for many autistic individuals, often stemming from past negative experiences. By implementing these strategies, we can help them gradually overcome this fear, fostering a more positive attitude towards learning and personal growth. Remember that patience, understanding, and consistent support are essential when assisting autistic individuals in navigating their fear of making mistakes and embracing a more confident and resilient approach to life’s challenges.


Where to From Here?

On Monday 29th April we are presenting a full day comprehensive training for educational professionals, Creating Autism and ADHD Inclusive Classrooms. We will be covering strategies for inclusive teaching practices and understanding the needs of our neurodivergent students, including a fear of making mistakes.