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High-Functioning Autism and Anxiety Overload

"Our child (high functioning) gets quite worried and anxious about most things that fall out of his comfort zone. Problem is, we are never really sure what is in - and what is out - of this zone. Any tips for a very anxious little boy?"

Autism spectrum disorders and anxiety often go hand-in-hand. High Functioning Autism (HFA) and Asperger's (AS) may affect a youngster’s ability to communicate effectively with others and to understand the world around him -- and that’s bound to cause anxiety. 
Anxiety can become even worse when there is a change in the child’s routine. Even positive and “fun” changes (e.g., school field trip, visit to the zoo) can increase anxiety and aggressive behaviors.

For parents, the best course of action is to anticipate upcoming changes and help the child prepare for them. Many moms and dads find it helpful to use social stories and pictures to prepare their "special needs" child for impending disruptions.

If it’s a field trip to the zoo, for example, use pictures to show your son what he’ll see at the zoo, what the zoo will be like, and what sort of things to expect. Do this each day for three or four days prior to the trip. That way, when the trip actually happens, your son won’t be entirely out of his element, but will already understand and appreciate some of what will be happening.

This father reported the following: “Social stories and plans do the trick for my son. we use plans also to become familiar with the fact of change: we put them up together on a piece of paper for the activity in question, and he takes it with him. if something changes he notes it down on the plan. we do this often as a game: he is the news reporter and takes notes during the activities and tells me all about afterwards.” 
==> How To Prevent Meltdowns and Tantrums In Children With High-Functioning Autism and Asperger's

Other changes in routine are less enjoyable, but still necessary. Getting a new teacher can be traumatic, as can moving to a new house. If at all possible, try to spread out the major changes. If you move to a new house, try to do it during the summer, so that your son won’t have to deal with the added anxiety of getting a new school and new teacher mid-year.

You can also introduce your son to the concept of “change” in a positive way by practicing with non-negative things. For example, just for practice, give him a little extra TV time instead of homework time one night, to show that changes in the routine can often be fun and good. Then practice with a neutral change (e.g., homework after dinner instead of before dinner), then with a negative one (e.g., changing play time into chore time). This process can help your son grow accustomed to the idea of change and learn to adapt without becoming anxious.

As one mother stated, "We have two boys, one diagnosed, and one suspected. They both have different triggers for anxiety and both have very different personalities. We find they need more preparation in advance, they need to know it may make them uncomfortable, and that it will end. We suggest coping strategies beforehand, and sometimes we have code words so they don't feel singled out by our suggesting coping strategies for them in the situation. Sometimes, the only solution is to take them out of the situation and trying another run at it another time."

Another parent had this to say, “Just roll with it. let him guide you. he is the driver in his world quite frankly. my child is the same. he gets very nervous and anxious about trying new things like sports, which he is very great at, but he's afraid people are watching him and picking on him, so he wont participate. maybe some confidence boosters of some sort will help. mine 13 y.o. is still this way. he sure would make one heck of a basketball player, but just wont do it. and I dont make him. I let him drive his life. and with gentle loving guidance he does ok.”

For continual, severe anxiety, some moms and dads have begun using anti-anxiety medications for their HFA and AS children. Usually, the medications are selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) (also used for obsessive-compulsive disorder and depression). Prozac, Luvox, Zoloft and Anafranil are all common medications for anxiety in these young people.

Medication should be the last resort for anxiety, not the first. You and your doctor should monitor your child’s progress very closely, using the lowest dose of medication possible, to see if what improvements it makes and whether there are any adverse reactions. There are a number of natural remedies available if you don’t want to go down the drug route. But try behavioral and dietary modifications first, to see what improvements can be made naturally.

==> Need some tips on how to handle your child's fixations and obsessions? You'll find more than you'll need right here...

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