If your autistic child is struggling with anxiety then you are reading the right article.
Anxiety can be mild or severe and it is very common in autistic children to struggle with it.
In this article, we will explain what anxiety is, list some of its common symptoms, and explore the reasons why autistic children struggle with it.
We will also discuss some treatment options to give you some actionable tips for stopping your child’s anxious episode.
What is anxiety?
So, what is anxiety? According to the American Psychological Association, anxiety is an emotion characterized by feelings of tension, worried thoughts and physical changes like increased blood pressure.
Anxiety disorders are one of the most common mental health issues in the world affecting over 40 million adults in the United States alone.
Autistic children often struggle with anxiety. In fact, recent studies have suggested that 40-80% of autistic children will experience an anxiety induced episode.
Signs of Anxiety
So what are the signs that your child is struggling with anxiety?
According to the Mayo Clinic, common symptoms of anxiety include:
- Restlessness: Constant moving, pacing and fidgeting.
- Feeling on edge: A sense of feeling like something bad is going to happen and that it could happen at any time.
- Irritability: Your child may get angry easily,
- Muscle tension: You may notice your child clenching their hands or jaw.
- Difficulty concentrating: Your child may have a hard time focusing on anything or completing tasks.
- Insomnia: Difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep.
- Eating problems: Your child may not eat enough or they may overeat.
- Panic attacks: Sudden feelings of terror, shortness of breath, chest pain and dizziness.
- Avoidance of everyday activities: Avoiding school, work and social situations out of worry and fear
If you notice your child struggling with these symptoms, it may be time to contact a therapist or doctor.
Why do autistic children struggle with anxiety?
There are many reasons why autistic children struggle with anxiety.
Some of the most common include:
Lack of social skills
Autistic children may not know how to interact with others which can lead to feelings of isolation and loneliness. This can also cause them to feel anxious about upcoming events where they will have to socialize.
Autistic children often struggle with sensory overload. This is when they are overwhelmed by too much noise, light, or touch. This can cause them to become anxious and agitated.
Autistic children thrive on routine and order. When things change or are unpredictable it can cause them to feel anxious and afraid.
Bullying: Autistic children are often targeted by bullies because of their differences. This can lead to a lot of emotional distress and anxiety.
Treatment options for anxiety in autistic children
So what are the treatment options for anxiety in autistic children?
There is no one size fits all answer to this question because different things work for different people.
However, there are some common treatment options that can help your child reduce their feelings of anxiety. These include:
- Behavioral therapy: With behavioral therapy,your therapist will teach you and your child techniques to manage stress and anxiety in everyday life.
- Cognitive-behavioral therapy: This type of therapy helps your child to change the negative thoughts and beliefs that contribute to their anxiety.
- Medication: If your child’s anxiety is severe, medication may be necessary. There are a variety of medications that can help treat anxiety including antidepressants and anti-anxiety drugs.
- Talk therapy: In talk therapy, your therapist will help your child explore and understand their thoughts and feelings about anxiety.
- Support groups: Joining a support group can be helpful for both you and your child. This is a place where they can share their experiences with others who are going through the same thing.
- ABA therapy: ABA or Applied Behavioral Analysis therapy is a type of therapy that helps your child with communication and learning skills and can help modify anxious behaviors.
- Relaxation techniques: Teaching your child relaxation techniques such as deep breathing, yoga, tai chi and mindfulness can help them to calm down when they feel anxious.
Tips for helping your autistic child during an anxious episode
So how can you help your child during an anxious episode?
The most important thing is to stay calm. When you notice them becoming upset, try to be reassuring and encouraging. You may want to hold their hand or give them a hug depending on their sensory needs. Try not to force anything on them that they don’t want during their anxiety attack.
It can also be helpful to have a plan in place for when your child has an anxious episode. This may include having a safe place for them to go to, an electronic device to distract them, and other calming activities such as deep breathing exercises or listening to music.
Anxiety is a common problem for autistic children, but there are things you can do to help. From therapy to medication to relaxation techniques, there are many options available to help your child manage their anxiety.
Remember to stay calm and be supportive during an anxious episode, and have a plan in place so you know what to do when things get tough.