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School-related Anxiety in Children on the Autism Spectrum

"My 15 year old son has just had a meltdown over exams at school today and I'm at home with him - afraid to leave him alone and go to work in case he does something silly to himself. When he loses control, he bashes walls, rants, raves and finally curls up and hides somewhere (what I consider to be the danger period where he beats up on himself). He’s a very intelligent boy …places extreme expectations on himself. I try my best to reason, but with little success."

Research has shown that the rate of anxiety symptoms in kids with ASD (high-functioning autism) is much higher than the “average” youngster. More than 75% of all kids with ASD experience intense anxious feelings. For people without autism, anxiety most often begins during the late teens and early adulthood – but if it appears together with ASD, it can be present even in young kids. 
 
Some of the symptoms of anxiety include: 
  • Anger management problems
  • Avoidance of new situations
  • Insisting on rules and routines
  • Irritability
  • Preference for sameness
  • Repetitive behavior
  • Rigidity
  • Social Withdrawal
  • Somatic complaints
  • Tantrums 
  • Test anxiety

ASD and Sensory Overload—

Kids with ASD are known to have problems with sensory overload. This means they can be overly sensitive to touch, tastes, textures in the mouth, movements, loud sounds or lights. They receive too much information or stimuli from their environment, which can explain some of their typical behaviors such as keeping their ears covered in a crowd, their clumsiness or their unwillingness to go to social gatherings. Their poor communication skills and social withdrawal may also be caused by the input of too much sensory information in the brain.

Sensory overload occurs when the brain receives too much sensory information. This sensory information is needed to interact with the world around us. The only way we receive this information is through the senses which help us to find out where we need to put our attention, how to react or when to ignore stimuli. The senses can be seen as a filter that helps us protect ourselves against too much information.

But if that filter does not work properly and lets in way too much information, it is impossible to function normally. Unable to sort out the right sensory information, autistic kids become overwhelmed by the world around them and are unable to react to it effectively.

Signs of Sensory Overload:
 
• Overly sensitive when touched, refusing to be held or cuddled
• Easily distracted
• Avoiding moving playground equipment such as swings
• Emotional problems
• Social withdrawal
• Hyperactive
• Sensitive to sounds such as singing or humming
• Lack of fear even when it would be appropriate
• Unaware of dangers
• Clumsiness
• Anger management problems
• Unable to calm themselves down
• Unable to stop their behavior, even when it is asked
• Impulsive
• Delayed motor skills
• Delayed language acquisition
• Delayed speech skills
• Refusing to get splashed by water in the face (taking a shower)
• Unable to wear anything with clothing tags still in it
• Fainting when too much sounds or lights are unexpectedly present

"Typical" kids will learn to make sense of the information by interacting with others and through their daily play activities. However, kids with ASD lack social interaction with others, and because their senses are overly sensitive, they have to put more effort into all the normal simple stuff others take for granted. Learning new things or playing with others is much more difficult this way.

Sensory Integration Therapy:

The purpose of Sensory Integration therapy is to engage kids in fun activities which will help them integrate the sensory information. The therapy involves deep pressure, brushing, massage, vibration, and the use of play equipment such as inclines, balls, swings, and tunnels. This way they learn to get more control over their bodies and their environment. It’s a creative fun way to interact with kids and has shown some amazing results.

There are possibilities for a home program or specific types of activities you can do yourself. It is fun to interact with your youngster this way and it helps them too! If your youngster has specific problems that re-occur in daily life, a good therapist will train you to help your youngster. Look for a qualified therapist – an OTR specialized in sensory integration. 
 
You can look in the Yellow Pages under therapy, occupational therapy or physical therapy and call clinics or hospitals that specialize in pediatrics. Most therapists are not qualified to give Sensory Integration Therapy. Make sure you find a qualified ORT!
 


 
 COMMENTS:

•    Anonymous said... My 9 y.o. was finally put on RX for anxiety and since then, a year has passed and he has seen a dramatic decrease in the levels of anxiety he exhibits, the number of meltdown incidents, and the recovery time from those meltdowns is much shorter now too. He can see things/situations more clearly now that the anxiety isn't crippling him any longer. He is finding himself competent in so many ways and we are soaking it up! A confident, caring, super smart boy who can now speak for himself most of the time and who always wants to do his best....I attribute that to the RX. it was near the bottom of our list of options, after trying so many other Things and it, plus all those other things, have really been life changing. I hope you explore the possibility that a medication maybe able to help your son deal with his anxiety. Anxiety can be crippling...I know because I have it and I take medication for it and ive had panic attacks. The moral of my story here is that we were very cautious about medicating our child for a neurological condition and we delayed doing so but the results of that particular therapy have been phenomenal and life changing. I wish the same for your child.
•    Anonymous said... Have him write a dairy. Can be dot points with his feelings. You might find a routine and get closer to the issue of what makes him so anxious. I tried several things myself to help my daughter, it is growing above my knowledge. I am too close to her and therefor she is now seeing a psychotherapist to help her. What frustrates me the most is that everything the therapist is giving as advise, I am already doing. It is just that my daughter needs to hear it from someone else to confirm what I have said. I can feel your frustration, and it is not an easy road, but role play does work!
•    Anonymous said... I am in a similar position with my 8 year old. He can't grasp the concept of things like "What 3 things are you most excited about?" All he sees is that he hates school, and nobody is listening to him. He is on anti-anxiety meds. We were told by the school yesterday that he should start to settle in grade 4, which is 2016. Is putting an Aspergers child in a social situation, which goes against their nature and causes extreme anxiety not going to cause long-term self-esteem problems? Our children cannot learn how to socialize just by being in a school environment. They need to be taught how to socialize. I have reached a wall.
•    Anonymous said... I bought a lamp for my son I put it on for about an hr everyday & it defo helps plus got him nytol cos he suffers from a sleeping disorder & this also helps but he's 14 & I'm not sure if there's something like that for a 9 yr old think nytol is from 12 yrs plus x
•    Anonymous said... I son had aspergers. He is 10 now. We had to finally home school with computer. He is doing 100% better. At school we had light issue. Sounds in chapel and music. Ear plugs helped. The Ada meds made agitation worse instead of better. He was at the point his friends were not interested in things he was and he was agitated easy. He feels better not have people looking at him
•    Anonymous said... There are a lot of good ideas out there. We tried some. It's just not that simple. I had to take from everything I could and try to apply it to our ways. He is so smart he would be very insulted with stickers. Kids and parents are different. You can tx me anytime.
 

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Click here to read the full article…

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