Anxiety on the Spectrum!
Over the next several days we will be discussing anxiety and strategies for combating anxiety.
is the most common co-occurring disorder in people with autism spectrum
disorders. It is understandable since their nervous systems have to
work so hard just to "fit in" with our world. The constant stress on the
nervous system due to all the sensory, cognitive, social and emotional
vulnerabilities they experience naturally leaves them very prone to
anxiety. Their nervous systems are on “high alert” leaving them anxious
and on guard. It is important to help the child feel "safe and
accepted", and to minimize the amount of stress in their lives.
many children on the spectrum anxiety is a daily experience.
Anxiety is one of the most common conditions associated with
autism/aspergers. Their nervous systems are so fragile that simple day
to day processing and regulating our world is very taxing for them. What
comes natural for us is hard work for them. Much chaos and confusion
naturally results in anxiety. Studies have shown that even in a resting
state, their nervous systems are on high alert with greater levels of
stress chemicals, as compared to neurotypical (NT) people. Since the
world can be very overwhelming, it makes sense that there would be
stronger levels of anxiety for these children. This anxiety is often
expressed in obsessive compulsive behavior, oppositional defiance,
rigid/inflexible thinking, perseverations, rigid reliance on
rituals/routines, compulsive need for sameness, mood swings, as well as a
variety of other challenging behaviors. In providing proactive supports
to lessen stress it is important to isolate the type of anxiety your
child experiences. Below, I have tried to list several of the anxieties
that children experience.
Which of these does your child experience?
How does your child express his anxiety?
What supports/techniques have you found to be helpful in lessening the anxiety?
Types of Anxiety
1. Anxiety of uncertainty: Fear of anything new or unfamiliar, seeks sameness; can be controlling and oppositional.
Social anxiety: Interacting with others, participating in social
events; fear of not knowing how to act or fit in. The stronger the
desire to fit in, the greater the anxiety.
anxiety: Perfectionism; fear of being wrong; asking them questions or
prompting to do something. Any demand for performance puts them “on the
4. Anticipatory anxiety: Becomes anxious over an upcoming event; either good or bad. May ruminate/perseverate on upcoming event.
5. Sensory/informational overload:
Becomes anxious in settings that present strong sensory stimulation, or informational processing demands.
6. Separation Anxiety: Has to be next to mom or dad at all times. Becomes highly anxious when parent leaves their sight.
Defused generalized anxiety: An ongoing, pervasive anxiety that is not
connected to a specific event. Seems to always be apprehensive and
In future discussions we will look
at different techniques (bio-medical, sensory diet, exercise,
meditation, graded exposure, desensitization, and medications) that are
used to help reduce anxiety. First it is important to isolate out what
types of anxiety the child experiences.