It is a known fact that not all people on the spectrum are affected by autism in the same way. Hence, it is very important to understand the relationship between autism and anxiety, so that we are better prepared to help those in need.
What Are The Different Types Of Anxiety In Autism and How Do They Arise?
There are 4 main types of anxiety commonly found in people on the spectrum. These are listed below:
- Generalized Anxiety Disorder or Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD)
- Fear of Open Spaces and Crowds (Agoraphobia)
- Fear of Social Situations (Social Anxiety)
- Separation Anxiety
- Other Specific Fears (Phobia)
Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD):
OCD may cause autistic people to develop a lot of unwanted thoughts and is often found in conjunction with autism. Whilst repetitive behaviors are a major symptom of ASD, OCD is triggered by anxiety and becomes a coping mechanism for people on the spectrum to deal with the situation at hand.
Fear of Open Spaces and Crowds (Agoraphobia):
Agoraphobia is anxiety that develops when in a public space or amidst large crowds, which can become potentially suffocation and difficult to run away from, especial if you have ASD. Many times, it can be difficult to evade these places or crowds, thus, making it more worrisome for people on the spectrum. Ultimately, in such times they might suffer from a panic attack or similar symptoms.
Fear Of Social Situations (Social Anxiety):
Fear of communication and socializing with new people can make social settings particularly awkward for autistic people, especially if they are experiencing high functioning autism. Most autistic people would avoid such situations because they cannot readily converse with people or make eye contact, thus, sometimes causing them to be bullied.
Parents of autistic children spend a lot of time helping their child, forging a deep bond with them. Anything that that threatens this bond can around severe feelings of anxiety in autistic people as they would not want to be separated from their parents under any costs.
Other Specific Fears (Phobia):
Other phobias can stir up intense fear in people on the spectrum, even though that thing may not pose any danger. An example of this is loud music, insects or even the alarm bell at school! These symptoms usually arise early in ASD due to an over responsiveness to sensory simulation.
Why Do Autistic People Experience Anxiety?
Some of the causes of anxiety in autistic people are identified below:
- Disruptions in the daily routine
- New, unfamiliar social situations that may arise
- New sensations in the body that the child, teen, or adult has not experienced before
- Feeling unsure about what people around them are thinking or feeling
- Their own emotions, considerably uncomfortable physical symptoms that arise because of feelings of concern and worry
- Sensory triggers, for example, certain unpleasant sounds, smells, or tastes
- Thinking about specific situations like school or work for example
- Specific fears like fear of certain animals, sharp objects etc.
How Can We Recognize When Someone Is Experiencing Autism?
Largely, certain physical and behavioral patterns can help identify when someone is experiencing autism. Knowing what these are can help those around to be aware and act in time.
- fast heartbeat
- shortness of breath
- feeling distressed or in panic
- shivering or hands shaking
- sweating and feeling sick
- trouble concentrating on things
- muscle tension
- disturbed sleep
- constant need for reassurance
- avoiding situations and objects, for example hesitant to go to school
- tantrums, meltdowns, or sudden outbursts
- overthinking situations
- showing a strong need to follow the set routine, resistance to change
- obsessive routine or playing patterns
- running away from situations or people
- inflicting self – harm
What Are Some Calming Strategies To Help Autistic Children When They Are Anxious?
Some instant relief methods to help your child calm down in stressful situations are listed below. You and your child can practice these together:
- counting to 10 slowly
- taking 5 deep breaths
- running around the yard
- doing 30 jumps on the trampoline
- looking at their favorite things or toys
- reading a book, they like
- shutting their eyes for a bit
- going to a quiet part of the house
How Else Can I Help My Child Manage Their Anxiety?
Despite calming strategies listed above, there are other ways to deal with your child’s anxiety, which are commonly sued by psychologists. These can be found below:
- Cognitive Behavior Therapy – this helps children to develop skills to help them change their perspective about situations that make them anxious
- Enrolling in therapies and supports that use step by step methods to help expose children to face their fears, for example, the “Stepladder Approach”
- Social stories are a useful tool to help prepare your child for new situations that generally worry them
- Relaxation training can help your child relax when they are experiencing anxiety
- Medication is yet another way to deal with anxiety, however, this method is only recommended when anxiety affects your child daily and none of the strategies listed above seem to work
How Can Parents Offer Their Child More Support?
Parents play a vital role in their children’s lives, which is why children are more responsive to their care and treatment than anyone or anything else. Parents of autistic children must play a greater role by becoming their child’s mentor, therapist, and friend to help their child to their maximum potential. To do this, they must exercise some things:
- Encourage their child for their good behavior or effort and in some cases, even reward them to motivate them
- They must learn more about their child’s behavioral patterns so they can be addressed with the correct treatment
- Boosting their child’s confidence in their ability to cope with stressful situations can be of great help to the child
- Work together with their spouse and family to help support their child
- Discuss and share coping strategies with those around them to spread awareness, so that in their absence, there is always someone present to manage the situation if it unexpectedly arises.
Overall, anxiety can be a quite concerning because it hampers with the child’s ability to communicate effectively and be comfortable in their surroundings. However, these indicators and tips for parents can be of great help if you want to be help your child as much as possible.