HELP FOR PARENTS OF CHILDREN WITH ASPERGER'S & HIGH-FUNCTIONING AUTISM

Education and Counseling for Individuals Affected by Autism Spectrum Disorders

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Anxiety: An Intrinsic Feature of Asperger's and HFA

“Why do children on the high functioning side of autism seem to experience more than their fair share of anxiety? And, are there any drugs that can be used to help with this problem?”

Young people with Asperger’s (AS) and High Functioning Autism (HFA) are particularly vulnerable to anxiety. This vulnerability may be an intrinsic feature of AS and HFA due to a breakdown in circuitry related to extinguishing fear responses, specific neurotransmitter system defects, and/or their inability to make social judgments throughout development.

Other reasons for anxiety in AS and HFA children/teens include the following:
  • Limitations in generalizing from one situation to another often contributes to repeating the same social gaffes.
  • Limitations in their ability to grasp social cues - and their highly rigid style - act in concert to create repeated social errors. 
  • Many experience the discomfort that comes from somatic responses that are disconnected from events and experience.
  • The lack of empathy severely limits skills for autonomous social problem-solving. 
  • The social challenges of AS and HFA make it difficult for kids with the disorder to develop coping strategies for soothing themselves and containing difficult emotions. 
  • There is sufficient grasp of situations to recognize that others “get it” when they do not. 
  • They are frequently victimized and teased by their peers and can’t mount effective socially adaptive responses.



Several medications have been tried for treatment of anxiety in this population. There is no reason to suspect that kids with AS and HFA are less likely to respond to the medications used for anxiety in “typical” kids. Thus, SSRIs, buspirone, and alpha-adrenergic agonist medications (e.g., clonidine or guanfacine) have been tried. The best evidence to date supports use of SSRIs. However, it is also true that young people on the autism spectrum may be more vulnerable to the associated side-effects. Disinhibition is particularly prominent, and can be seen with any of the SSRIs.

The Aspergers Comprehensive Handbook

1 comment:

Wingnut said...

Working with a psychiatrist, one trained especially with children, is vital in helping our Aspergers/HFA kids with their anxiety, to managed use of medications. Fine tuning is critical to the process.

We also had enroll our child into a day program as weekly counseling wasn't keeping up with his anxiety and depression. Daily and intensive individual and group therapy are the focus of this program. 5 months in and we've seen dramatic improvement. We're about to start the transition back to his normal school (they tutor at the day program).

Most important is to pay attention to the child's anxiety levels. We almost waited too long to take a big step toward doing something different.

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