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Children on the Autism Spectrum Who Worry Excessively: Tips for Parents

Some kids with Aspergers and High-Functioning Autism (HFA) worry excessively and are often overly tense and uptight.  Some may seek a lot of reassurance, and their fears may interfere with activities. Moms and dads should not discount their youngster’s concerns – even when they seem unrealistic. 

Because fretful kids on the autism spectrum may also be quiet, compliant and eager to please, their difficulties may be missed.  The parent should be alert to the signs of excessive worrying so he/she can intervene early to prevent complications.

There are 3 different types of worries in these young people:
  1. fretting about being separated from the parent (e.g., being overly clingy, constant thoughts about the safety of parents, extreme worries about sleeping away from home, frequent stomachaches and other physical complaints, panic or tantrums at times of separation from the mother or father, refusing to go to school, trouble sleeping or nightmares, etc.)
  2. fretting about getting physically hurt (e.g., extreme apprehension about a specific thing or situation like getting bit by a dog, stung by a bee, stuck with a needle, etc.)
  3. fretting about being around people who are not familiar (e.g., avoidance of social situations, worries of meeting or talking to new people, few friends outside the family, etc.)

Other symptoms of excessive worrying in kids on the spectrum may include:
  • constant concerns about family, school, friends, or activities
  • fear of making mistakes
  • low self-esteem
  • lack of self-confidence
  • fears about things before they happen
  • repetitive, unwanted thoughts (obsessions) or actions (compulsions)

Moms and dads can help their child develop the skills and confidence to overcome excessive worrying so that he/she doesn't develop phobic reactions to certain stimuli.

To help your youngster deal with worries and anxieties, consider the follow tips:

1. Don't cater to your child’s fears. If your youngster doesn't like dogs, don't cross the street deliberately to avoid one. This will just reinforce that dogs should be feared and avoided. Provide support and gentle care as you approach the feared object or situation with your youngster.

2. Never belittle your child’s concerns as a way of forcing him to overcome them. Saying, "Don't be ridiculous! There are no monsters in your closet!" may get your youngster to go to bed, but it won't make the related anxiety go away.

3. Recognize that your child’s worries are real. As trivial as it may seem to you, it feels real to her – and it's causing her to feel nervous and afraid. Being able to talk about these feelings helps. Words often take some of the power out of the negative feeling. If you talk about it, it can become less powerful.

4. Teach coping strategies. Using you as "home base," your youngster can venture out toward the feared object, and then return to you for safety before venturing out again.

5. The youngster can learn some positive self-statements, such as, "I can do this" and "I will be OK" …to say to herself when feeling out of sorts.

==> Highly Effective Research-Based Parenting Strategies for Children with Asperger's and High-Functioning Autism

6. Relaxation techniques are helpful, including visualization (e.g., floating on a cloud, lying on a beach, etc.) and deep breathing (e.g., imagining that the lungs are balloons and letting them slowly deflate).

7. Teach your child to rate his level of worry. A youngster who can visualize the intensity of his fears on a scale of 1 to 10, with 10 being the strongest, may be able to "see" the anxiety as less intense than first imagined. The child can think about how "full of fear" I am, with being full "up to my knees" as not so afraid, "up to my stomach" as more frightened, and "up to my head" as truly petrified.

8. If your youngster's apprehension consistently seems out of proportion to the cause of the stress, this may signal the need to seek outside help (e.g., counselor, psychiatrist, psychologist). Moms and dads should look for patterns. If an isolated incident is resolved, don't make it more significant than it is. But if a pattern emerges that's persistent or pervasive, you should take action. Contact your doctor and/or a mental health professional that has expertise in working with children and teens on the autism spectrum.

The key to resolving excessive worries and anxieties is to overcome them. Using the suggestions above, you can help your youngster better cope with life's situations.


Anonymous said...

My 8yr. old has horrible anxiety! He is on Zoloft now because it was so bad. He was on Prozac but it didn't really help and had side effects. Zoloft seems better so far.

Jsmom said...

Thank you for this article. As, I was thinking that it may be just him. Now, I realize more that we are not alone, it has been a battle of these forces for years. I believe you can not raise a child by putting them down. They are people too.

Anonymous said...

My son heard a news report about flesh eating bacteria someone caught from walking barefoot. As a result, he wore socks for almost a full year, night and day. I could go in his room at 2am to try and remove his socks, he would wake up! So we let it go. On the beach, he wore socks.

He really wanted swimming lessons. I had no idea how he was going to handle this sock issue, but told him they can't go in the water. On his own volition he took them off. Slowly as he developed other interests he stopped his sock thing even going to a sandy beach. Now I have to insist he wear his sandals in the gym showers, as he has no worry about catching bacteria. Amazing.

He also wears a hat in social situations where he feels uncomfortable, which are many. This drove us bananas,as he looked odd in the hat, on hot days even odder. I advocated to let it go unless we were in church or a formal setting. How my heart does sing when I see him take his hat off on his own, showing me he is gaining confidence in some areas. Letting him wear it, with a few limits, was actually helpful.

Anonymous said...

My son was diagnosed with ADHD/ODD and Aspergers. He is 11 and his anxiety is horrible. He goes into a tunnel vision and anything from thunder storms to going to the doctor is a challenge. He is not on any anxiety medication but going to look into different ways to help him cope with his anxieties.

Anonymous said...

I am taking Paxil 20 mg for Anxiety! I am diagnosed with Asperger's Syndrome! I am 18! My name is Isobel Shearer! I take Abilify 2 mg for meltdowns!

Anonymous said...

one of my a/s grown up daughters still worries contin ualy,also very o,c,d,

Anonymous said...

Thunder storms and tornado warnings are on the top on my son's panic list. Also fires in the house or when his sister is driving. Talking to him helps a lot and letting him watch the weather updates during a thunderstorm helps. I tried to keep him from looking at the weather, but that just made him more anxious. He is 12 years old.

Anonymous said...

Nine old aspie son freaks if he sees a bee outside then won't go out again for some time

Anonymous said...

my son is 7 . He constently fears his pets will die or he will choke to death . Sometimes he will cry for hours about one subject or the other i just sit and hug him and try to console him best as i can .. ..?? Not sure what else to do ..

Anonymous said...

My seven year old heard about a tornado at school and they talked about the tsunami. He worries constantly about being swept away by wind and sea even though we live in California. He has anxiety about a lot of other things as well. He used to always complain that he had "the itchies" before he was diagnosed. He would cry and dance around and rub himself uncontrollably. I now understand that this is code for how he interprets anxiety. He will say he feels the itchies coming on and I intervene quickly using our calm down techniques.

Sheila said...

My parents died when I was a kid. So, my 2 older kids grew up knowing about my parents And never had a problem with it. But, Kaden has such anxiety over the possibility that I'm going to die as well. At night it's the worse. He basicly has to be swaddled and he has a 2 hand grip on me most nights. He's 5, so I try and sooth him without feeding into it. It's hard to redirect him, because it's so real for him. I fear he is going to need a medication.

Anonymous said...

my 7 yr old autistic daughter is the exact same way. In addition to storms, flushing toilets, going into rooms in the house by herself areally issues. She is also a back seat driver at 7!

My child has been rejected by his peers, ridiculed and bullied !!!

Social rejection has devastating effects in many areas of functioning. Because the ASD child tends to internalize how others treat him, rejection damages self-esteem and often causes anxiety and depression. As the child feels worse about himself and becomes more anxious and depressed – he performs worse, socially and intellectually.

Click here to read the full article…

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Parenting Children and Teens with High-Functioning Autism

Two traits often found in kids with High-Functioning Autism are “mind-blindness” (i.e., the inability to predict the beliefs and intentions of others) and “alexithymia” (i.e., the inability to identify and interpret emotional signals in others). These two traits reduce the youngster’s ability to empathize with peers. As a result, he or she may be perceived by adults and other children as selfish, insensitive and uncaring.

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Become an expert in helping your child cope with his or her “out-of-control” emotions, inability to make and keep friends, stress, anger, thinking errors, and resistance to change.

Click here for the full article...

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