Thursday, September 26, 2013

Anxiety on the spectrum

Anxiety on the Spectrum!

Over the next several days we will be discussing anxiety and strategies for combating anxiety.

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.

For 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.

2. 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.

3. Performance anxiety: Perfectionism; fear of being wrong; asking them questions or prompting to do something. Any demand for performance puts them “on the spot.”

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.

7. Defused generalized anxiety: An ongoing, pervasive anxiety that is not connected to a specific event. Seems to always be apprehensive and insecure.

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.

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