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Helping Aspergers Children Alleviate School-Related Stress

Research suggests that up to 80% of students with Aspergers and High-Functioning Autism experience school-related anxiety at some point during their school career. Anxiety Disorders such as OCD, Social Anxiety and Generalized Anxiety Disorder commonly co-occur with Aspergers.

When anxiety symptoms are untreated, they can further interfere with a child's quality of education. Kids with both Aspergers and Anxiety Disorders experience a more limited social world than kids with only one disorder. They may have difficulty in adapting at school by avoiding opportunities to make friends, join social activities, and break their usual rituals to try something new.

Although little is known about what anxiety symptoms look like in Aspergers students, the following symptoms (which overlap with Anxiety Disorders) indicate school-related anxiety:
  • Avoidance of new situations
  • Becoming "silly"
  • Becoming explosive easily (e.g., anger outbursts)
  • Increased insistence on routines and sameness
  • Increased preference for rules and rigidity
  • Increased repetitive behavior
  • Increased special interest
  • Irritability
  • Somatic complaints
  • Withdrawal from social situations

So, what can parents do to alleviate their Aspergers child’s school-related anxiety? Here are some tips:

1. Encourage sleep, exercise, and family mealtimes. It's not unusual for 30% - 40% of Aspergers children to get 6 hours of sleep or less (due to Aspergers-related sleep difficulties). Very few are getting the required hours that a child needs (which is 9 ½ hours). Adequate sleep alone will make a big difference in the child’s stress levels.

Exercise to help cope with stress is also an important step toward alleviating school-related anxiety. If all a child has is academics during the day and computer games during the evening, stress due to the lack of exercise is going to build up – and it's got to go somewhere. It's going to help if Aspergers kids are being physically active.

Family time is also crucial for cushioning stress. Having meals together is a good way to connect with your youngster (i.e., a minimum of 20 minutes sitting down together at least 4 to 5 times a week). Listen to your kid, and communicate with him.

2. Keep the fun in childhood. Kids often have too little unstructured time to relax and play, from a leisurely bike ride with friends to a Sunday hanging out at the park. School is their job, and you know how stressful jobs can be. If you don't go and have fun and forget about it for a little while, you're just going to take it with you the next day. And you’re not going to perform as well.

3. Over-scheduling is a big source of school stress. For example, many high-school students enroll in more Honors or Advanced Placement courses than they can handle, and then pile extracurricular activities on top.

If parents filled their kids' schedules with more sleep, down time, and family time, they would notice such a big difference in their children’s stress level. It would be that dramatic of a change. There are so many things to do now. It's not like you just go outside and play. Now there are clubs, sports, ballet, gym – plus you're trying to squeeze homework in there.

As a society, we're just in a whirlwind. For some Aspergers kids, this hurried lifestyle is a source of stress and anxiety that often leads to depression. The challenge is to strike a balance between work and play. If your youngster feels overly stressed and overwhelmed, look for ways to cut back on school work and extra activities (though that's not easy for overachieving parents to hear).

4. Teach kids time-management skills. With today's heavy homework loads, time-management and organizational skills are crucial weapons against stress. Teach your Aspergers kid to budget his time wisely with homework. For example, he should try to do something every night instead of cramming at the last moment.

5. Watch for signs of school-related stress. With Aspergers teens, parents should watch for stress-related behaviors, like purposely cutting themselves, or expressions of despair or hopelessness, however casual the comments may sound. Those are off-hand remarks that you need to take seriously. Younger kids may have more subtle signs of school stress (e.g., headaches, stomachaches, reluctance to go to school, etc.).

6. Watch the parental pressure. Some parents may not realize they're making school stress worse by pressuring their Aspergers kid to excel. But moms and dads who want to ease their youngster’s stress must shift their perspective.

Really think about how you're defining success in your family. If the first question out of your mouth when your child walks through the door is, “How did you do on that Math test today?” …then you're sending a message that you value grades more than anything else. Instead, ask: "What's the best thing that happened to you today?" "Did you learn anything exciting or new?" At first, the conversations may be awkward. It's going to take some practice. But just asking the questions in that way is starting to send the right message.

It's not easy for some parents to lighten up. Even moms and dads who wish to take a lower-key approach to child-rearing fear slowing down when they perceive everyone else is on the fast track. Try to keep in mind that a few low test grades won't torpedo your youngster's lifelong plans.

7. Use some stress-relieving homework tips:
  • Ask the school about resources if your Aspergers youngster is struggling academically. Many schools now have homework clubs, math clubs, and tutoring programs after school.
  • Give your youngster a quiet place to study, free of distractions, away from TV and video games.
  • If your youngster struggles with tracking his homework, help him by following along with homework if his school posts assignments online.
  • If possible, have your youngster study earlier rather than later in the day. The later it is for most children, the shorter their attention span.
  • Teach your youngster to use a planner to keep track of assignments. When he finishes each assignment, he can check them off for a feeling of accomplishment.

==> Parenting Children and Teens with High-Functioning Autism


•    Anonymous said... Definitely applies to my anxious, perfectionistic, Aspie. I try to ask her more about the fun stuff after school every day.
•    Anonymous said... I have aspergers, GAD, OCD, and SPD and I hated school. I home school my kids I would never torture them with public schools. I was bullied even by my so called friends also one teacher. I am indifferent and easily annoyed by faux social BS. I do not require friends, however if I meet a person with similar interests I will engage and try to remember to ask them questions and I tell them that I have aspergers and I wont ever call them or anything so if they want to meet up to just call me and a couple do. (play dates which I normally hate) I like to limit my stress, noise blocking head phones, sunglasses so I can make sure I take my kids out to do lots of fun things. I do not handle schedules or appointments well at all. School is one big schedule! Im guessing parents of aspie kids make them shower every day. Big mistake! you just exhausted half their energy for the day. You can stay clean and not shower daily. Its like you dont take a hungry baby that hasnt napped out to the grocery store! Make them feel comfortable and if they are not figure out a way to make them comfortable, comfort is key to me and that includes my routine, how my clothing feel, list of things I require to function etc I shut down more then I melt down becuase I have a very understanding family that are so thoughtful to help not contribute to over stimulation. Comfort = peace, for me anyway
•    Anonymous said... This is totally my son, but he doesnt see it. He refuses to go to therapy and has missed 8 appointments due to refusal, he doesnt see anything is wrong. He now rarely goes to school. Has anyone else found luck getting treatment for teen who refuses to cooperate?

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Anonymous said...

Anxiety disorder was diagnosed before Aspergers. Sleep is and has always been a huge problem.

Anonymous said...

My 8 yr old was recently diagnosed with aspergers and lots of anxiety. I always knew he had some anxeity and a term we've used all his life until recently was "stranger anxiety" because he never liked strangers talking to him or approaching him. today we are learning so much more about him. Thank you for the site :)

Anonymous said...

every school day is a social minefield for our 7 yr old aspie, the more we learn the more we feel sorry for him. The least we can do is make homelife as good as possible. We have a blackboard in the kitchen and write up a daily timetable as he craves structure and routine. we use a timer to help with transition. We are trying to educate the school but don't really feel they will fully 'get it'. We can't fully eliminate anxiety but hope things get easier for him as he gets older.

christyjames said...

Thank you very much for these wonderful tips. Very helpful.
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