Autism and Anxiety Disorders

December 16, 2014

Anxiety is a natural part of life that impacts everyone at some point in life.  Children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) feel many of the same worries and fears as other children, teens and even adults.  What is different is the ability to cope and manage the anxiety.

Disabling anxiety can take the form of one or more disorders, including: panic disorder, obsessive compulsive disorder, social anxiety disorder/agoraphobia, separation anxiety disorder, and phobias. A recent review of scientific studies on autism and anxiety revealed that we have no clear gauge of how commonly anxiety disorders  overlap with autism. Researchers believe that the percentage of children with autism and anxiety is right around 40%. With this number so high, what can you do as a parent to help your child deal with anxiety.

Children with autism have very natural triggers of anxiety.  For example anxiety can happen in the following situations: changes in routine, changes in environment, unfamiliar social situations, sensory sensitivities  (noises, lights,  flavors or food textures) and fear of a particular situations. Avoiding these situations and objects difficult but try to keep a running list of situations that cause the highest anxiety.  When avoidance is not possible try these calming strategies such as:

  • counting slowly to 10
  • taking five deep breaths
  • running around the yard five times
  • doing 50 jumps on the trampoline
  • looking at her collection of favorite or special things
  • reading a favorite book
  • closing his or her eyes for a few moments
  • going to a quiet part of the house.

Practicing these techniques as well as visual practicing can be a step in the calming direction.  For more information on helping your child manage their anxiety read more at Autism Speaks Anxiety.