Anxiety is one of the co-occurring disorders that affect autistic children. A study published by the Journal of Child and Family Studies found that autistic children had higher anxiety levels compared to neurotypical children. It is estimated that 40% of autistic teens display signs and symptoms of anxiety.
Why Autism and Anxiety?
There are many reasons anxiety affects autistic children in large numbers. Bill Nason, moderator of the Facebook page, Autism Discussion Page and psychologist, explains that daily experiences that impact their nervous system including sensory, cognitive, social, and emotional vulnerabilities leave autistic children and teens with daily high levels of stress. He explains what comes naturally for neurotypicals, is hard work for them placing their nervous system on high alert even during its resting state. High levels of anxiety make take the form of mood swings, rigid and inflexible thinking and obsessive compulsive behavior.
What are the signs of anxiety?
Complains about feeling sick
Complains about headaches
Fidgets and spins
Worries about making a mistake
Difficulty in performing in exams
Is afraid of being placed in a new situation
Apprehensive of meeting new people
Displays difficulty in joining new groups
Avoids interacting with peers
Worried about being laughed at.
Types of Anxieties
Anxiety of uncertainty- fear of anything new and unfamiliar
Social anxiety- difficulty interacting with others during social events
Sensory overload- Becomes anxious in settings that present strong sensory stimulation
Generalized anxiety- non-specific ongoing pervasive anxiety
Strategies for Reducing Anxiety
- Exercise or physical activity
- Allow time to participate in a favorite activity
- Self-stimulation can be used for calming purpose
- Relaxation techniques such as mindfulness and meditation
- Build structure into daily routines
- Review the day including what is expected of them
Anxiety in autistic adults
Classroom ideas to reduce anxiety
Managing anxiety in children with autism