Anxiety is more common than you may have imagined. In fact, feeling anxious every once in a while it is a normal part of growing up. However, children with autism may experience intense and crippling anxiety more frequently than other children. Seemingly simple tasks can become a source of extreme anxiety for children with autism and interfere with day-to-day activities, like socializing with friends, getting in the car, or meeting new people. This decreases the overall quality of life.
The problem is that children with autism, especially younger children, find it hard to express what they are feeling. This makes it difficult for parents and caretakers to identify when a child is feeling anxious. As a result, they are often unable to offer help when it is required the most. So, before we take a look at what you can do to reduce anxiety in children with autism, it is important to learn how to identify anxious behavior.
Identifying Anxious Behavior in Children with Autism
Most children with autism have the same concerns, fears, and anxious feelings as other children. The only difference is that expressing these concerns and troubling thoughts does not come easily to children with autism. As a result, their anxiety manifests in the form of challenging behaviors generally associated with autism. These behaviors may include unexpected temper tantrums, frequent meltdowns, obsessive behavior, or resisting change in the routine and surroundings.
Keep an eye out for changes in behavior. If you notice an increase in the intensity or frequency of autistic behavior, your child may be experiencing anxiety. Some other behaviors associated with anxiety in children with autism include the following:
- Avoiding social interaction
- Exhibiting self-harming behavior, like banging their head, scratching, or biting
- Spinning, rocking, or flapping hands excessively
- Sleeping difficulty
5 Ways to Reduce Anxiety in an Autistic Child
Now that you know how to identify anxious behavior in children with autism, let’s take a look at what you can do to help them.
1. Get your Child to Notice Anxious Feelings
The first thing you need to do is help the child understand that what is happening to them is normal. Anxiety often leads to elevated heart rate, sweaty palms, and a tight feeling in the chest. One technique is to draw an outline of a person’s body on a paper and use colors to show how anxiety feels in the body. Simply knowing what anxiety is and what it feels like can help the child manage it.
2. Teach Relaxation Techniques
Once the child recognizes anxious feelings, teach them what they can do to feel better. A relaxation technique could be something as simple as taking deep breaths, closing eyes for a few seconds, or counting to 10. However, it will help the child keep their anxiety in control. Physical activity can also help with anxiety. So, you can also teach them to jump on the trampoline or run around the yard when they feel anxious.
3. Identify Anxiety Triggers
If your autistic child struggles with anxiety, it is essential to find out what’s causing it in the first place. Once you know the trigger, you can avoid it altogether or you can rehearse to prepare for it. Either way, identifying anxiety triggers can play a major role in anxiety management.
For instance, if you find that getting a haircut is anxiety-provoking for your child, take the time to rehearse it at home before heading out to the salon. Some common anxiety triggers for children with autism include unfamiliar social situations, sensory overload, and changes in routine or environment.
4. Create a Safe Place
Keeping the individual needs of the child in mind, create a safe place where they can go when feeling anxious. However, keep in mind that the use of the safe place must be as limited as possible. Otherwise, your child may use it to escape the stress of daily life.
5. Use Visual Aids and Social Stories
Most children with autism are visual learners. Hence, visual aids, like picture cards, photographs, and storybooks, are an excellent way to prepare your child. You can also use social stories to tell them what to expect during a particular situation. They are likely to experience less or no anxiety once they know what to expect!
These five techniques can help you reduce anxiety in children with autism. However, if nothing helps, it is best to consult a therapist for professional help.