Anxiety disorder is a type of mental health condition that's characterized by feelings of nervousness, rapid heartbeat, sweating, fear, and panic.
Cognitive and behavioral techniques have been at the forefront of anxiety treatment, and one such example is ABA therapy.
Read on to learn more about this form of anxiety treatment.
What Is ABA Therapy?
ABA is the acronym for Applied Behavioral Analysis. It's a therapy centered on the science of learning and behavior. The aim is to encourage desired behaviors and restrict harmful ones.
ABA therapy uses a couple of strategies to learn, predict, and transform behavior. Positive reinforcement and A-B-C (antecedent, behavior, and consequence) are critical techniques used in ABA.
Positive reinforcement encourages a pattern of good behavior by offering a reward whenever good behavior is exhibited. The reward, in this case, has to be meaningful to the person. That could include praise, money, a toy, tickets to the cinema, and more.
Another strategy used in ABA therapy is A-B-C. A-B-C represents “antecedent, behavior, and consequence.”
An antecedent happens right before the goal behavior and what triggers the behavior. It could be a verbal request or command, a physical reward such as a toy or money, or an environmental trigger such as light or sound.
Behavior is the individual's response or lack of it following the antecedent. It could be an action or a spoken response.
The consequence follows the behavior. It may include a reward or lack of a reaction because of unwanted behaviors.
What Is Anxiety?
Anxiety is a way in which your body reacts to stress. It's how your body notifies you about threatening situations in readiness to deal with them. But your body should not always be on the alert. Normal anxiety can turn into chronic anxiety, causing you to be in a constant state of alertness.
Chronic anxiety may manifest itself in the following ways:
Behavioral symptoms of anxiety are what you do when you are anxious. They attempt to deal with the distasteful aspects of anxiety. They may include:
- Avoiding situations that heighten your anxiety. For example, using the stairs instead of a lift.
- Taking part in unhealthy behaviors such as overdrinking or excessive smoking.
- Staying indoors.
- Becoming too attached to an individual or place that you to try to avoid separation.
Anxiety may manifest itself psychologically. Its symptoms may include:
- Shortness of breath
- Stomach "butterflies"
- Muscle tension
- Chest pains
- A racing heart
While anybody can suffer anxiety, research shows that autistic children are more predisposed to anxiety attacks. Read on to learn more.
Children With Autism and Anxiety
Autistic children often worry or get stressed about things that other children don't usually worry about. So, they experience intense anxiety more regularly compared to other kids.
The following are some of the common triggers for anxiety in autistic children:
- Changes from the norm/routine: For instance, failure to go swimming because the weather is chilly.
- Changes in surroundings: For instance, when they relocate to a new house.
- Unusual social situations: For instance, when the child attends a birthday celebration at an unfamiliar house.
- Times of transition: Examples include the start of puberty, starting high school, or shifting to a new school.
- Sensory sensitivities: The autistic child may have sensitivity to bright lights, specific noises, or certain food flavors and aromas.
- Fear of a specific action, situation, or object: The child may fear sleeping on their own, going to the washrooms, or the sight of insects.
You may encounter symptoms of more than one type of anxiety. Below, we discuss the different types of anxiety that you may experience.
The Different Types of Anxiety
Generalized Anxiety Disorder
With generalized anxiety disorder (GAD), you're constantly in a state of anxiety and worry. Your concerns relate to different aspects of ordinary life, like health, work, family, or money problems, instead of just one major issue. The anxiety is intense, unrelenting, and interferes with your regular life.
The symptoms include:
- Sleeping difficulties
- Trouble concentrating
- Excessive worrying
- Muscle aches, headaches, or baffling pains
Social Anxiety Disorder
Social anxiety disorder makes you feel a crushing fear and worry about others judging you in social situations. In most cases, you fear that you may be a source of embarrassment or ridicule, so you end up avoiding social settings altogether.
Symptoms related to social anxiety disorder include:
- Fear of making eye contact with other people
- Rigid body posture
- Being afraid of being judged negatively
With panic disorder, you experience panic or fear attacks regularly and unexpectedly, often for no apparent reason. These panic attacks are always more intense than other forms of anxiety disorders. They can last anywhere between 5 and 20 minutes, and you might end up constantly worrying about the next panic attack.
A panic attack comes with the following symptoms:
- Feeling of choking
- Pounding heart
- Shaking or trembling
- Chest pains
- A fear of dying
- Hot flushes
- A churning stomach
How Can ABA Therapy Benefit Autistic Children With Anxiety?
ABA therapy can help autistic children with anxiety in the following ways:
- ABA therapy enhances independent life skills in autistic children with anxiety. These include self-care aspects like comfortably sleeping through the night, toileting, getting dressed, and brushing their teeth.
- Behavioral interventions applied in ABA help teach autistic children the social skills that are important in making friends and relating with their peers.
- ABA therapy encourages proper parenting by allowing the active participation of parents in the treatment plan. As an autistic child's parent, you get a deeper understanding of your kid's habits and behaviors, mainly when they are nervous and cannot communicate.
- Your child's life satisfaction can rise with ABA therapy. When they can do things they couldn't do before, they will feel satisfied because of their enhanced quality of life.
The Bottom Line
ABA therapy is all about reducing the negative symptoms associated with anxiety through positive reinforcement and A-B-C techniques. If performed right, it can help decrease problem behaviors and improve attention, focus, and memory. And within a short period, you'll be able to see remarkable progress in your kid’s social life.