Anxiety is a common psychological condition associated with autism. In general population 3% of children are experiencing anxiety and 42% of children with autism are affected by anxiety. This is an additional condition along with the core features of ASD. Children with autism have struggled with their emotional aspects, thinking abilities, attention and behavioural changes. Since they don’t know how to express them to the outside world appropriately using verbal mode, they also find it difficult to show their anxiety and worries. Rate of anxiety disorders is higher in children with ASD than typically developing children. Behaviors and physiological changes in them can give us a clue about their anxiety.
Some Physiological changes related to anxiety are,
- Increased heart rate
- Muscle tightening
- Stomach issues
- Excessive sweating
- Shortness of breath
Since they can’t express verbally how they actually feel their mind, they start to show increased behaviors. Behavioral changes which usually seen,
- Increased aggressiveness
- More tantrums
- Increased repetitive behaviors like flapping, body rocking, jumping
- Hurt others or themselves.
- Insist to the same again and again
- Avoid social situations
- Increased self talk.
- Destroying things
Possible reasons for developing anxiety,
- Have fear when they face new people, new and crowd places.
- Fear in separating from their trusted one.
- Fear to certain objects or textures.
- Unexpected changes in their routines.
- Difficulty to read the psychological feelings of others.
- Doesn’t know how to react in a social situation.
- Sensory overload- child exposed to more auditory and visual stimuli than their ability to handle.
- Poor quality of sleep
- Sensory discomfort can leads to anxiety (e.g.; wet dress, particular type of cloth, specific type of light or sound, some food textures)
- Fear of particular situation ( walking in darkness, heights, going to other bathroom)
- Changes in environment
How we can help them to reduce anxiety?
By reducing anxiety, core symptoms of ASD won’t change. But this will help the child to become calm and more attentive. This canpossibly support the intervention program and prognosis.
- First we need to find the root cause of child’s anxiety. Make a note of situations or things which makes child more anxious.
- Give positive exposure of anxiety producing situations. For do a role play of situations using his beloved characters or models.
- Can provide more experiences in slow, safe and gradual way. Introduce similar situations and appropriate reactions using pictures, models and videos. If you feel that child started to understand the occasion, let us give him real life experiences.
- Time duration of real life experiences can also be controlled from short to long.
- We can give Relaxation techniques like taking deep breaths, doing jumping along with counting; giving favourite items to control anxiousness depends on the situation.
- If the child has good comprehension level,we can make the child to understand the physiological changes happening when he gets anxious through drawing cards.
- Prepare them well before any routine changes or before involving in a social situation. If possible using the pictures of those places, help him know how to behave in that situation. For example, if you are bringing the child to a restaurant first show him the picture of that restaurant, lethim know how we should order things, how we should behave using pictures.
- Social stories can be used to improve behaviors. Social stories are visual presentation instory mode to explain social situations and help them to behave with respect to that. Social stories can be developed based on child’s need.
- If the child is afraid of any items, we can introduce the items with positive phrases. For example if the child is afraid of fish we can introduce it with a phrase like look at the beautiful or funny fish.
- Practicing situations through observations.