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Causes of School-Related Anxiety in Kids on the Autism Spectrum

It's common for ASD level 1 (high functioning autistic) children of all ages to experience school anxiety and school-related stress.

This is often most apparent at the end of summer when school is about to start again, but it can occur year-round. Social, academic and scheduling factors play a major role, as do hidden environmental stressors.

Below are some of the anxiety-related factors that both moms and dads and teachers should consider when dealing with ASD children:

1. Many schools now have anti-bullying programs and policies. Though bullying does still happen at many schools, even those with these policies, help is generally more easily accessible than it was years ago. The bad news is that bullying has gone high-tech. Many children use the Internet, cell phones and other media devices to bully other children, and this type of bullying often gets very aggressive. 

One reason is that bullies can be anonymous and enlist other bullies to make their target miserable. Another reason is that they don't have to face their targets, so it's easier to shed any empathy that they may otherwise feel. There are ways to combat cyber-bullying, but many moms and dads aren't aware of them – and many bullied Aspies feel too overwhelmed to deal with the situation.


2. Most ASD children want to have friends but may not have the social skills to acquire them. Concerns about not having enough friends, not being in the same class as friends, not being able to keep up with friends in one particular area or another, interpersonal conflicts, and peer pressure are a few of the very common ways children on the autism spectrum can be stressed by their social lives (or lack of a social life) at school.

3. Children are being assigned a heavier homework load than in past years – and that extra work can add to a busy schedule and take a toll.

4. Due in part to the busyness of kids’ lives and the hectic schedules of most moms and dads, the sit-down family dinner has become the exception rather than the rule in many households. While there are other ways to connect as a family, many families find that they’re too busy to spend time together and have both the important discussions and the casual day recaps that can be so helpful for Aspies in dealing with the issues they face. Due to a lack of available family time, many moms and dads aren't as connected to their children, or knowledgeable about the issues they face.

5. Not having necessary supplies can be a very stressful experience for an autistic youngster. If the youngster doesn't have an adequate lunch, didn't bring his signed permission slip, or doesn't have a red shirt to wear on "Red Shirt Day," for example, he may experience significant stress.

6. You may already know that there are different styles of learning -- some learn better by listening, others retain information more efficiently if they see the information written out, and still others prefer learning by doing. If there's a mismatch in learning style and classroom, or if your youngster has a learning disability (especially an undiscovered one), this can obviously lead to a stressful academic experience.

7. Noisy classrooms and hallways, noise pollution from nearby airports, heavy traffic, and other sources have been shown to cause stress that impacts ASD kids’ performance in school.

8. Many Aspies aren't getting enough sleep to function well each day. As schedules get busier, even young children are finding themselves habitually sleep-deprived. This can affect health and cognitive functioning, both of which impact school performance. Operating under a sleep deficit doesn’t just mean sleepiness, it can also lead to poor cognitive functioning, lack of coordination, moodiness, and other negative effects.

9. In an effort to give their autistic children an edge, or to provide the best possible developmental experiences, some moms and dads are enrolling their children in too many extra-curricular activities. As these children become teens, school extracurricular activities become much more demanding.


10. With the overabundance of convenience food available these days and the time constraints many experience, the average Aspie's diet has more sugar and less nutritious content than is recommended. This can lead to mood swings, lack of energy, and other negative effects that impact stress levels.

11. Most Aspies experience some level of stress or anxiety in social situations they encounter in school. While some of these issues provide important opportunities for growth, they must be handled with care and can cause anxiety that must be dealt with.

12. A good experience with a caring teacher can cause a lasting impression on a youngster's life – but so can a bad experience! While most teachers do their best to provide “special needs kids” with a positive educational experience, some Aspies are better suited for certain teaching styles and classroom types than others. If there's a mismatch between student and teacher, the youngster can form lasting negative feelings about school or his own abilities.

13. Many of us experience test anxiety, regardless of whether or not we're prepared for exams. Unfortunately, some studies show that greater levels of test anxiety can actually hinder performance on exams. Reducing test anxiety can actually improve scores. Certain aspects of an ASD youngster's environment can also cause stress that can spill over and affect school performance.

14. There's a lot of pressure for children to learn more and more and at younger ages than in past generations. For example, while a few decades ago kindergarten was a time for learning letters, numbers, and basics, most kindergarteners today are expected to read. With test scores being heavily weighted and publicly known, schools and teachers are under great pressure to produce high test scores; that pressure can be passed on to children.

15. Just as it can be stressful to handle a heavy and challenging workload, some kids on the spectrum can experience stress from work that isn't difficult enough. They can respond by acting-out or tuning-out in class, which leads to poor performance, masks the root of the problem, and perpetuates the difficulties.

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Parenting Children & Teens on the Autism Spectrum: Support & Education

 


We wanted to create a support and education group for parents that is safe and confidential. So, we did!

JOIN our new private group for parents, teachers and other care-givers of children and teens with ASD. Our staff will be providing "tailored parenting skills" in daily articles and videos. Feel free to post questions, too.

Let's support one another as parents - and advocate for our special needs children.

 


==> JOIN TODAY: Parenting Children & Teens on the Autism Spectrum: Support & Education 

 

Crucial Strategies for Parents of Challenging Kids on the Autism Spectrum

 
 
More articles for parents of children and teens on the autism spectrum:
 
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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Meltdowns are not a pretty sight. They are somewhat like overblown temper tantrums, but unlike tantrums, meltdowns can last anywhere from ten minutes to over an hour. When it starts, the Asperger's or HFA child is totally out-of-control. When it ends, both you and your child are totally exhausted. But... don’t breathe a sigh of relief yet. At the least provocation, for the remainder of that day -- and sometimes into the next - the meltdown can return in full force.

Click here for the full article...

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Although Aspergers [high-functioning autism] is at the milder end of the autism spectrum, the challenges parents face when disciplining a teenager on the spectrum are more difficult than they would be with an average teen. Complicated by defiant behavior, the teen is at risk for even greater difficulties on multiple levels – unless the parents’ disciplinary techniques are tailored to their child's special needs.

Click here to read the full article…

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Your older teenager or young “adult child” isn’t sure what to do, and he is asking you for money every few days. How do you cut the purse strings and teach him to be independent? Parents of teens with ASD face many problems that other parents do not. Time is running out for teaching their adolescent how to become an independent adult. As one mother put it, "There's so little time, yet so much left to do."

Click here to read the full article…

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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.

Click here
to read the full article...

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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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A child with High-Functioning Autism (HFA) can have difficulty in school because, since he fits in so well, many adults may miss the fact that he has a diagnosis. When these children display symptoms of their disorder, they may be seen as defiant or disruptive.

Click here for the full article...

High Pain-Tolerance in Children with Autism Spectrum Disorder

It is not uncommon for ASD youngsters to experience great pain and discomfort that goes unreported, unnoticed by others, undiagnosed, and untreated. Enduring pain and allowing it to become chronic is extremely detrimental to your youngster's ability to function, grow, and learn. Untreated pain and discomfort will also seriously affect your child's behavior and ability to communicate with others.

Of all the “meltdown triggers” that drive behaviors, experiencing pain and discomfort is extremely significant. This is because pain affects behavior. Think of the last time your youngster was sick and feeling significant pain or discomfort (e.g., flu symptoms, migraine, menstrual cramps, pulled muscle, etc.). Now, think of how being in such pain manifested in his/her behavior. Perhaps he/she:
  • Felt especially vulnerable
  • Just wanted to be left alone
  • Just wanted to crawl under the covers and stay there
  • Lashed out or snapped at family members
  • Lashed out or snapped when anyone made a demand of him/her
  • Was especially hypersensitive to light or sound

What if the pain and discomfort is not treated and is allowed to persist due to a high pain tolerance?

Revisit the list above and consider how your child’s behavior might intensify the longer he had to endure the pain. Not only would he feel lousy, he would also feel disoriented and distracted. His attention would be focused on trying his best to cope and manage the pain that threatens to overwhelm him. Slowly but surely, any – or all – of the following could occur:
  • he might stop caring about his appearance
  • his ability to function, care for yourself, or interact with others would be greatly reduced
  • his mental health would be affected, eroded, and over time, seriously impaired
  • his self-esteem would suffer
  • the culmination of feeling physical pain would converge with mental anguish, leaving him weak and vulnerable

One prevalent form of pain in kids on the autism spectrum occurs with allergies. The challenge is that many moms and dads do not recognize this and see their youngster's symptoms in isolation, if at all (e.g., the youngster may frequently experience ear blockages and ear infections, sometimes from a very young age). 


Perhaps the youngster manifested outwardly visual symptoms (e.g., red, sore, pussy ears that drained spontaneously). The youngster may have been treated with antibiotics or had tubes in her ears to relieve pressure. More often than not, the ear problems were one symptom within a cluster of other symptoms, indicative of allergies.

In addition to ear blockages and infections, the Autistic youngster may also manifest symptoms of an allergy, such as:
  • Congestion and runny nose
  • Coughing and sneezing
  • Headaches and migraines
  • Red, itchy, or runny eyes
  • Sinus pressure over or under eyes
  • Sore throat
  • Swollen glands

You might have discovered that several of these symptoms manifest together at the same times of the year. The allergens could be absolutely anything — from one indicator (e.g., seasonal pollen) to an exhaustive collection of many known indicators. While you may have been treating one or two symptoms, you may not have been addressing the bigger picture (i.e., chronic allergies).

Treatment is available to relieve many of the physical side effects of severe allergies, but testing is necessary to determine the allergen type and degree of severity. This may be problematic for many kids on the spectrum, especially if they have had unpleasant experiences with doctors who were not as patient or sensitive as they should have been.

Some of the testing and treatment may involve drawing blood or receiving steroid shots, which may be an overwhelming experience (and perhaps not worth the potential trauma). Another type of testing is non-intrusive and involves the child holding various physical examples of allergens to ascertain a reaction. It is also possible that standard, over-the-counter medications may work to contain some or all symptoms of the allergies — at least until the child or teen can determine if she wishes to pursue other forms of obtaining relief.

Another prevalent factor that drives pain and discomfort in ASD kids is the gastrointestinal issues (e.g., severe gas and cramping, bloating, constipation, impaction, diarrhea, etc.). A number of such kids have an inability to properly digest dairy and wheat-based food products (among others), such that the enzymes from these foods “leak” through the gut and into the bloodstream, potentially creating an adverse reaction described by some as an “opiate” effect. In clinical trials, the dairy products are referred to as “casein,” and the wheat-based foods are referred to as “gluten.”

Moms and dads may find themselves frustrated with a youngster who seems “inappropriately” or embarrassingly gassy or who seems to have bowel complaints. Again, the youngster is not being deliberately difficult; there is a legitimate issue that is driving pain and discomfort.

As with pursuing the treatment of allergies, there are options that range from restrictive to less intrusive forms of treatment. In some instances, bacteria of the lower gastrointestinal tract may be responsible for creating these issues. This can be an excruciatingly painful experience that may cause a youngster to double over in pain. 

If the youngster is unaware of the root of the problem or doesn't know how to describe the pain in the moment, his “behavior” may be misinterpreted instead of correctly identified as a communication. Consult with your pediatrician to determine the appropriate treatment to get rid of all traces of the bacteria.


The procedures to determine the cause of the gastrointestinal tract problems may be very physically intrusive. You may want to explore less invasive methods of intervention as an alternative if the youngster has not had a good history with medical practitioners. These may include:
  • Avoiding foods with dyes or preservatives
  • Considering soy and other substitute foods, perhaps for a select time frame, to note any cause and effect
  • Cutting back on red-meat proteins in favor of chicken, fish, or other food options
  • Increasing consumption of natural food fiber found in fruits and vegetables
  • Increasing fluid intake, especially water, which may prove helpful as well
  • Promoting massage and exercise
  • Pursuing a diet free of dairy and wheat, in partnership with the youngster and in consultation with a dietician or nutritionist
  • Using any over-the-counter products designed to aid gas relief or alleviate bowel distress, like fiber-based additives

Some gastrointestinal problems may be compounded by the youngster's fears and anxieties around toileting. Children on the spectrum tend to be careful observers. Most will attempt toileting — especially urinating — in their own way and in their own time, just at a time later than what might be considered developmentally appropriate. Still others may appear to deliberately wet or soil themselves. But understand that your youngster is not deliberately being insubordinate. He really is struggling and feeling just as frustrated as you.

Here are some tips that may help clarify your understanding of toileting issues in the youngster:
  • If the youngster is not feeling safe and comfortable and in control, withholding body waste is one way of independently attempting to gain control.
  • Your youngster may be frightened by the toilet, believing that he may fall in and get sucked down.
  • Your youngster may be in a “perfectionism” mode, unwilling to admit his need to use the toilet when asked, or embarrassed to confess the need.
  • Your youngster may be overwhelmed by the loud roar of a flushing toilet.
  • Your youngster may not be connected enough with his body to consistently receive the physical “signals” or pressure indicating the need to evacuate waste.
  • Your youngster may panic, believing that in making a bowel movement, he is shedding a vital, living piece of his body.

To counteract these and other issues, it will be important to deconstruct the whole toileting process for your youngster using very basic, visual information. Explain the process of how and why the body rids itself of waste. Use your own visuals (e.g., graphics) to explain the human digestive system and name the internal parts of the body. Reinforce with your youngster that the process of eliminating waste from the body is natural. Also reinforce that using the toilet is a private matter. It is not to be discussed freely in public. It should only be discussed with close, trusted individuals (list them in writing), usually if there is cause for concern like constipation, impaction, diarrhea, etc.

Some of these kids will want specific assurances about exactly what happens to their stool once it gets flushed away (e.g., “where does it go?” … “what becomes of it?”). You may need to research this yourself, or look it up on the Internet with your youngster. If you are uncertain if your youngster experiences the sensations indicating the need to use the bathroom, first ask him about it. Talk about the ways in which you know your body gives you the appropriate signals, and plan daily, gentle exercises designed to better connect your youngster with his body (e.g., yoga, breathing, stretching exercises, etc.).

There may be some adaptations you can make in giving your youngster control in toileting (e.g., adjusting the water pressure to avoid a rushing roar when the toilet is flushed, partnering with your youngster to select a new toilet seat that is more comfortable and makes the toilet opening less imposing).

Keeping a sticker or piece of tape handy when in public will empower your youngster's encounters with automatic flush toilets, which can create great anxiety for being so unpredictable. Simply have your youngster cover the toilet sensor with the adhesive, and remove it when ready. The toilet will be disabled until the sticker is removed.


As your youngster grows into an adult, she should be able to identify and advocate for her own relief from pain. As with toileting, it will be useful to visually explain how the brain and body usually work together to send signals indicating pain. Sometimes the signals are accompanied by visuals that help reinforce that something is wrong (e.g., bleeding, a cut or blister). Other times, the signals may be exclusively inside the body and unseen, just felt. The Internet or your local library should be a resource in accessing images, books, or videos that describe these physiological processes.

There are some kids with ASD who are inconsistent in reporting pain – if they report it at all. Here’s why:
  • As with toileting, your youngster may not have a nervous system he feels fully connected with, such that the pain is delayed or not “registering” properly.
  • Being inherently gentle and exquisitely sensitive, your youngster may have been severely traumatized by experiences with doctors and nurses so that he considers enduring the pain the better option.
  • Your youngster may not realize that what he's feeling in the moment is anything any different from what anyone else feels.
  • Your youngster may not understand that there exists an unwritten social expectation that all people report pain and discomfort in order to gain relief.

In addition to educating your youngster about how the body works when communicating pain, it will also be important to partner with your youngster in gaining self-awareness and control leading to lifelong self-advocacy. This means reinforcing that it is good and desirable to identify and report one's own pain. The message needs to be loud and clear: “It is not okay to live with chronic pain.” Also, it will help considerably in relieving your youngster’s anxiety if you endeavor to demystify the entire concept of going to the doctor in advance of an appointment. You may do this by partnering with your youngster to consider doing the following:
  1. Arrange to get as many specifics about the appointment as possible, including approximate wait time and details of any procedures, along with literature and other visuals.
  2. Assign your youngster the responsibility of reading you driving directions to and from the office location, noting street names and landmarks.
  3. Because of downtime while waiting, suggest your youngster bring something to read or work on, possibly to share with the doctor as well.
  4. Before making the trip, partner with your youngster to develop a list of questions to ask the doctor, nurse, or receptionist. If there's the opportunity to do this, allow your youngster to take the lead in gleaning the information desired.
  5. Discuss flexibility of time frames with your youngster, and empower him to keep track of the time during the actual appointment.
  6. Gain clear information about the tentative sequence of events in order to visually list these out with your youngster (he can bring this list with him on appointment day).
  7. If at all possible, arrange to meet the doctor, the nurse practitioner, and — at the least — the receptionist. Again, provide the opportunity for your youngster to take pictures.
  8. Once at the office, empower your youngster by allowing him to take photographs inside and out. Review these later at home (where your youngster feels most comfortable), eliciting details from him.
  9. Schedule a pleasurable activity for your youngster to follow the appointment. Ensure that the activity occurs regardless of how well you think your youngster does or if he “earned” it.
  10. Suggest that your youngster photograph a typical private room, being remindful that, next visit, you may not get that exact room but one very much like it.
  11. With your youngster, schedule a time to drive to the doctor's office before the appointment day.

This is a lot of prep work and a significant investment of time, but in the long run, this investment of time up front will go a long way in supporting your youngster to feel safe and comfortable and in control. Empowering her to take the lead during this process promotes her ownership and sense of self-advocacy.



==> Videos for Parents of Children and Teens with ASD

5 Ways to Make Your Autistic Child’s Life Easier

 

Source: https://www.pexels.com/photo/a-young-girl-playing-a-board-game-7943969

Autism spectrum disorder is a neurological condition that can cause a range of social, communication, and behavioral challenges. Many autistic children struggle with anxiety, sensory processing issues, and difficulty transitioning between activities. As a result, everyday tasks can be a challenge. However, there are many things that parents can do to make their autistic child’s life happier and more fulfilling. Here are five of the most important:

Teach Them Coping Skills for Dealing With Difficult Emotions

Autistic children often have difficulty understanding and expressing their emotions. As a result, they may become overwhelmed by negative emotions like anxiety or anger. It is essential to teach your child coping skills for dealing with these emotions. This can reduce or prevent meltdown episodes and help your child lead a happier life. There are many different coping skills that you can teach your child. The most popular include deep breathing, muscle relaxation, and positive self-talk.

Establish a Daily Routine

For children with autism, having a daily routine can be invaluable. Predictability and routine can help to reduce anxiety and provide a sense of security. When establishing a daily routine, it is crucial to involve your child in the process as much as possible. This will help them to understand the expectations and feel more comfortable with the new routine. Start by brainstorming together what activities should be included in the daily routine. Then, create a visual schedule that your child can follow. Place this schedule in a prominent location, such as on the fridge, so that everyone in the family can refer to it throughout the day. It is also essential to be flexible and adjust the routine as needed.

Care for Their Health Needs

Most autistic children have sensory processing disorder, which means that they are overloaded by certain stimuli and under-sensitive to others.  This can make everyday activities challenging, like going to the grocery store or getting a haircut. One way to ease your child’s anxiety is to equip them with earplugs or noise-canceling headphones. This will help reduce the amount of sensory information they are taking in and make it easier for them to concentrate on the task. Visit HearCanada to find the best earplugs that will work for your child’s individual needs.

Enroll Your Child in Auditory Integration Training

Auditory Integration Training (AIT) is a therapy that can help autistic children with sound sensitivity. The therapy involves listening to music through headphones for a set amount of time each day. AIT is effective in reducing sensitivity to sound, as well as improving communication and social skills. Talk to your doctor or a local therapist if you think your child would benefit from AIT.

Use Visual Supports

Many autistic children have difficulty understanding spoken language. As a result, they may benefit from the use of visual support. This can help with communication, behavior, and daily routines. For example, you could use a picture schedule to help your child understand the sequence of activities for the day. You could also use visual cues to help your child stay on task during an activity. There are many different types of visual supports that you can use. Talk to your child’s therapist to find out which ones would be most helpful for your family.

Implementing these five strategies will help to make your autistic child’s life easier. However, it is essential to remember that every child is different. What works for one child may not work for another. Talk to your child’s therapist to find out what strategies would be most helpful for your family. Patience, love, and understanding are crucial to raising a happy and healthy autistic child.

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…

How to Prevent Meltdowns in Children on the Spectrum

Meltdowns are not a pretty sight. They are somewhat like overblown temper tantrums, but unlike tantrums, meltdowns can last anywhere from ten minutes to over an hour. When it starts, the Asperger's or HFA child is totally out-of-control. When it ends, both you and your child are totally exhausted. But... don’t breathe a sigh of relief yet. At the least provocation, for the remainder of that day -- and sometimes into the next - the meltdown can return in full force.

Click here for the full article...

Parenting Defiant Teens on the Spectrum

Although Aspergers [high-functioning autism] is at the milder end of the autism spectrum, the challenges parents face when disciplining a teenager on the spectrum are more difficult than they would be with an average teen. Complicated by defiant behavior, the teen is at risk for even greater difficulties on multiple levels – unless the parents’ disciplinary techniques are tailored to their child's special needs.

Click here to read the full article…

Older Teens and Young Adult Children with ASD Still Living At Home

Your older teenager or young “adult child” isn’t sure what to do, and he is asking you for money every few days. How do you cut the purse strings and teach him to be independent? Parents of teens with ASD face many problems that other parents do not. Time is running out for teaching their adolescent how to become an independent adult. As one mother put it, "There's so little time, yet so much left to do."

Click here to read the full article…

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.

Click here
to read the full article...

Highly Effective Research-Based Parenting Strategies for Children with Asperger's and HFA

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...

My Aspergers Child - Syndicated Content