HELP FOR PARENTS OF CHILDREN WITH ASPERGER'S & HIGH-FUNCTIONING AUTISM

Education and Counseling for Individuals Affected by Autism Spectrum Disorders

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Showing posts sorted by relevance for query stress anxiety. Sort by date Show all posts

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


 COMMENTS:

•    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?

Post your comment below…

Anxiety and Sleep Problems

Question

My 11 yr old daughter was diagnosed with Asperger's just about a year ago. She is very very high functioning, well we though until about 6 months ago, when her anxiety took over and she had a mental and physical breakdown. Her anxiety continues to plague her, although, she is better than she was.

Sleeping is a huge issue for her, always has been since she was 18 months old. The hard thing is, is that no calming techniques seem to help or better yet, she is not willing to even try some. Not to mention the fact that nothing is consistent, yet it’s all consistent. That something is always the matter, here or there. She is very smart, very stubborn, and very very pre pubescent. She was always quirky, and pretentious, but this anxiety is very difficult to maintain daily life without know what she can handle and what she can’t. No rhythm or reason. She is on anti anxiety meds, only at night... but sometimes do the opposite. They make her cranky and anxious, frustrated and sometimes they knock her right out. But nothing.... keeps her sleeping. We need to re visit the Neurologist and see if there is something other than anxiety causing such issues. But, for right now, life is different every day and night. It’s getting harder on me, because we have to tip toe around the house at night, to try not to wake her or she cries until I lay with her or she makes me stay on the couch until she falls asleep there. So, I am wiped out too. It’s to the point where I need to take a mild sedative to fall asleep because I am always in anticipation of her waking up.

This is her first year of Middle school was a complete disaster. Beyond disaster. So, for this coming year, I am going to look into alternative education methods that fit her strengths and giftings. So, that is it in a short nut shell. I could type for days, on details of our life with an Aspie, but this is what I feel to share so far. Thanks for listening.

Answer

Re: Anxiety—

While most people associate anxiety with an emotional response to stress, a major factor in stress and anxiety is the physical response to external stimulus. The stress response in the brain sends signals to the body to prepare us to handle a perceived danger or threat, and this induces a physical state of tension that can add to the emotional reaction to problem situations. As the body stores tension over time, a state of chronic anxiety can occur. Proper diet and regular exercise can help alleviate the physical tension associated with stress and help lower anxiety levels.

Eating a balanced diet consisting of whole grains, fruits, vegetables, and lean meats can help strengthen the body’s resistance to stress. These foods contain nutrients that are essential for healthy body function. Combining complex carbohydrates available from whole grains such as whole wheat bread or whole oats with protein helps to keep blood sugar levels steady, avoiding the stress of the sugar crashing cycle that can add to physical stress. Drinking plenty of water helps, too, as dehydration is just added stress to the body.

Avoiding stimulants such as caffeine also helps to reduce stress. Stimulants put the body in a constant state of heightened agitation and can facilitate a kind of false stress response when no stress is present. Refined sugar also creates stress as the body feels a rush of energy and then a crash in blood sugar. Processed foods should be avoided in favor of whole foods as they don’t contain the nutrients needed for strengthening the body’s ability to handle stress.

Exercise also helps to alleviate stress and anxiety. It does this in several ways. Engaging in physical activity increases the flow of oxygen through the body and stimulates the nervous system, and this can help to release the tension held in the body and induce a relaxed state of calm, making it easier to deal with stressful situations when they arise. Hormones such as endorphins are released during exercise, and these hormones help to alleviate pain and create a mental state of well-being. Exercise also helps to create a more positive self-image, provides a distraction from worries, and facilitates a sense of motivation and positive direction.

It doesn’t have to be overwhelming or exhausting to provide benefits against anxiety. Just 10 minutes of moderate exercise a day can create a more positive outlook. Choose an activity that you enjoy. Try becoming a member of a group to provide the added benefit of social interaction and fun. To see benefit, make sure to move at least 3 to 4 times a week, and remember to start small and build slowly based on your level of fitness. Overdoing it too soon can cause problems and make it hard to keep up the routine.

Adopting a more physically healthy lifestyle based on balance is the key to a healthy emotional outlook and reduction in problems such as anxiety. Wellness can be looked at as a lifestyle choice, and making good decisions about diet and exercise is one way to improve the quality of life.

Re: Sleep problems—

Here are some suggestions:

• Accept some awakenings. The experts stress that nighttime awakenings are perfectly normal -- much more normal, in fact, than the elusive solid eight hours people think they should be getting. Most people will roll over and go back to sleep, but those with insomnia become conditioned to feel anxious when they awake during the night. You need to accept that you will arouse some, so reassure yourself in the middle of the night that nothing catastrophic will happen if you are awake for a while.

• Acupuncture may help reduce her anxiety and induce deeper sleep.

• Cognitive behavioral therapy is often used in cases like this, and the experts agree that it could help. CBT aims to stop the behaviors that are perpetuating the insomnia. Typically, a therapist will work with a patient for four to eight weeks -- in sessions that last from 30 minutes to two hours -- to assess, diagnose, and treat the underlying problem, such as relationship worries. The therapist will teach the patient things like progressive-relaxation techniques and point out actions that are getting in the way of deep sleep, such as rehashing conversations that occurred earlier in the day.

• Distract her brain by trying a relaxation technique, like focusing on her breathing.

• Keep the glaring electric clock off the bedside table. Clock watching will only increase your anxiety about being awake.

• Make an appointment at a sleep clinic, which can be a smart step for people with a long history of sleep issues. Most often this involves office visits (which will not necessarily be overnight observations), during which the patient will undergo a physical examination and work with a doctor to assess and diagnose the cause of the sleep problems.

• Modulate her exposure to light, which could reset her internal clock gradually. Too much light at night will push her clock even later, so the key is to keep the lights dim the closer she gets to bedtime. Also maximize her light exposure first thing in the morning. If she can go outside in bright sunlight for some exercise, that would provide a double whammy of wakefulness.

• Pay even more attention to her evening routine and her sleep environment. Good sleep habits don't necessarily solve sleep problems, but they do create a foundation for improved sleep. Good habits include things such as keeping the bedroom cool and dark, using a fan or a white-noise machine to create a blanket of sound, and using the bed exclusively as a place for sleeping -- and not for watching television, for example.

• Take 0.3 milligram of an over-the-counter melatonin supplement about 20 minutes before bedtime since the production of melatonin (a naturally produced hormone that helps regulate circadian rhythms) drops off as we age.

• Try wearing earplugs.

• Use caution regarding over-the-counter sleep medications, since they contain some type of antihistamine, which can stay in the body for a long time. It takes about 18 hours for your body to clear out 50 percent of the active drug. For most of your waking hours, it will still be in your system, making you drowsy.

• Work on keeping her sleep environment quieter, such as using an air conditioner or a fan, as well as blackout shades to block street light.

Some parents enforce a strict bedtime and a regular bedtime routine as a way of calming their child for sleep. Another good trick is to use flannel sheets and to experiment with pajama fabrics until you find one that your child tolerates. Enclosing the child in a sleeping bag or under a bed tent can help. So does playing "white noise" in the background.

Your pediatrician may prescribe sleeping pills such as Sonata, Ambien, Desyrel or Serzone.


More resources for parents of children and teens with Asperger's and High-Functioning Autism:
 
COMMENTS:

•    Anonymous said… How can anxiety be managed in hfa children please?
•    Anonymous said… I also recommend melatonin - completely natural (no script needed) and works very well for my daughter, who is now 16. For the anxiety, she started on Zoloft a year ago and it helps her keep it at a manageable level. That plus cognitive behavioural therapy has been a winning combo. My daughter has improved dramatically in the past year.
•    Anonymous said… I do not have any advise. I will pray for all of you as you journey this rocky road. My Grandson Tyler is an aspie. His Dad, my son, has just written a book, Love That Boy, that may help you not feel so alone.
•    Anonymous said… I hear and feel you. My soon to be 16 year old daughter began severe anxiety and depression right about that age. Sleep has always been an issue;however, we had done several things with her in her early years that have luckily carried over into her teen years that do help. Melatonin helped for a while, but I have found that meditation helps the most. What is happening is that she can't stop the multitude of thoughts that come into her head and leaves her body in a state of fight or flight. Spray a little lavender near her pillow (calming), have her soak in a hot bath before bed (you can add lavender essential oil to the bath too), if she will allow it - lay down next to her and take turns telling each other what silly things pop up in your head while falling asleep. This helps to keep the anxious thoughts at bay. If she is really wound up, try just holding her feet. It sounds strange, but there is a hugely calming effect that this has. On the bright side, my daughter has decided to not depend on anti-anxiety/depression meds anymore and is doing great! Every day is a new day, with new challenges and hopefully some victories as well. Stay strong. She will get through this.
•    Anonymous said… I'd like to know if anyone has successfully gone "back" to school and graduated after experiencing all of the above^^^^symptoms? And if so, what worked for you?
•    Anonymous said… I'm experiencing something simile with my 10 year old daughter who is going through the diagnosis process. It especially comforting to me to read these comment as Esmes symptoms are starting to present themselves more severely now. Never been good at sleep since day1, now she is starting to say she won't go to school on a daily basis, cries all the time, tremendous anger outbursts. It's mentally exhausting for her and us. It's helpful for us as parents knowing this is not exclusive to Esme as everyone knows, we are having to find out a lot of this info by ourselves as the diagnosis process is so slow
•    Anonymous said… Melatonin has worked wonders with our kids. We have also been subscribed Clonodine with success though I am not sure there is much of a difference between them.
•    Anonymous said… Melatonin to help her sleep could work. No sleep, even if she denies being tired, will make her very overtired and emotional and then it won't matter what you do. Sleep is #1
•    Anonymous said… My 7 year old daughter has epilepsy and we thought adhd, but now the neuro is saying he thinks it could be aspergers, we are screening her for it now.... she is a sweet girl but gets bad rage fits all the time and it's not the medicine, she had them before the medicine. If she does have this she is very high functioning, I just can't be sure. But school, sleep every day its a struggle with her when she is not happy. When she doesn't get her way watch out and I don't mean regular kid meltdowns, she doesnt seem to care about punishment or time outs or anything. Rewards barely work on her. I find myself pleading and begging her all the time to stop with the behavior. Once it is over, she is back to her normal self and exhausted. The neuro says it has nothing to do with her epileptic spike. We are going to take her to a psychiatrist soon as well. We recently got IEP for her because of her slow slow pace. She is smart, but can't always focus and can't always complete her work.
•    Anonymous said… My daughter has the same issues. Cannabis oil isn't legal in Oklahoma yet. I wish it was.
•    Anonymous said… My six year old son is the same way, except for instead of anxiety and depression, he experiences anxiety and aggression. He has been a horrible sleeper since day one. We have tried several different meds to help his behavior, different counsellors, sports, and nothing takes his aggression towards our family away. He's fine with everyone else. Ugh. It's a daily struggle I wouldn't wish on anyone.
•    Anonymous said… My son is 13 and had struggled and struggles with all the above! He has good times and bad times that seem to come in waves. I have found a few helpful things....Anxiety medication has really helped calm his Anxiety and that in turn helps his friendships, his OCD And calms his mind so his ticks are not as bad as normal. I also have a weighted blanket, and use Melatonin to help him sleep. If all else fails I lay beside him, just having me with him helps soothes! I've even had late night walks, swinging time on the swing set or having him run laps around the yard to calm him at night. Hope this has given a few ideas to those that are struggling like I am. Each day is a new day! Never know what version of your child your going to see...such a stressful thing! Love and patience above all!!
•    Anonymous said… Not for under 18 though
•    Anonymous said… Our 10 year old use to wake up 1-3 times a night for almost eight years. Melatonin and a weighted blanket has finally straightened out his sleeplessness.
•    Anonymous said… Please check into the safe and effective cbd cannabis oil treatment. It is a miracle waiting for her.
•    Anonymous said… Saphris works wonders for high functioning Aspergers..taken at night sleep for 10 hrs straight
•    Anonymous said… Sounds like my 10 year old boy, our challenges are really more about the anxiety bought about through his Aspy needs for structure, routine etc than the other Aspy challenges. We had not slept through the night for the years and had tried everything from weighted blankets, meditation, counselling, bed routines (multiple), and sleeping medications to little success. In December his Paedetritian put him on a half tablet of anti anxiety medication (Prozac) due to his anxiousness around school and unexpected activities associated with being the youngest of four, He is a different boy. Within a month he was sleeping through the night and he s now sleeping through the night and in his own bed. I am not sure if this will be your answer but stay hopeful and keep trying things. Something will work. Good luck and God bless
•    Anonymous said… This is our 16 year old daughter
•    Anonymous said… This post mirrors my now 18 yr old daughter, eventually had to pull her out of school and do virtual classes. Helped the anxiety tremendously. Last year we were introduced to essential oils and were given a blend to help support her anxiety and she loves it. I have a fb page Essential Oils For All Your Needs, not trying to market it here, but it's got a lot of information on safe oil use and different blends to read about. I wish we knew of these oils years earlier so there wouldn't have been so many years of suffering. Great advice on here-Good luck to your family!
•    Anonymous said… We experienced something similar with our 16 year old son. There is a program called getting your teen out of defence mode that we are finding very helpful. It's put out by a group called asperger experts.
•    Anonymous said… We had the same breakdowns but our little one is 5. The neurologist put her on resperidol and epival when she had her mental break down and it was a god send. We added prozac for her anxiety and she is doing wonderfully and now sleeps through the night.
•    Anonymous said… We use melatonin for sleep. I didn't have high hopes for it originally since a lot of other oils and natural sleep aides didn't work. To my surprise my usual night owl was asleep in under 15 min.
•    Anonymous said… Welcome...to my world. We have a 14 year old daughter. Her high functioning autism comes along with its friends anxiety and depression. The trio are making life so miserable. Getting her to go into a school building is a never ending battle. Academically, she is fine. Well ahead of her grade....she still struggles to go in. Everyday. She hates being there. We even switched from a public school to a private, autism aware, school--thinking that might help. Nope. Sleep has been a thorn in her side from day one. It's been a rough road for her (and I) for at least 6 years. Seems to only be getting worse through the teen years. Hugs back to you mom. I know it's not easy.
•    Anonymous said… What are some of the medications being used. I am thinking it's time for a change and want some ideas.

Post your comment below…

Aspergers/HFA Students and School Anxiety

"Help! My 9 y.o. Aspergers son is suffering real bad anxiety trying to get back into the routine of school after the Christmas holidays. He is crying on and off all day at school and bedtimes, finding it hard to sleep and again crying. I feel so helpless that I can't do anything for him. Any advice would be greatly appreciated."

Aspergers (high functioning autism) children of all ages commonly experience school anxiety (i.e., 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. This post explains school anxiety – and what can be done to help the Aspergers child become more relaxed and confident.

Social Stressors—

Many Aspergers children experience some level anxiety in social situations they encounter in school. While some of these issues provide important opportunities for growth, they must be handled with care:

• Bullies— 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.

• Peers— While most children would say that friends are one of their favorite aspects of school, they can also be a source of stress. 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 can be stressed by their social lives at school. Dealing with these issues alone can cause anxiety in even the most secure children.

• Educators— A good experience with a caring teacher can cause a lasting impression on a youngster's life -- so can a bad experience. While most educators do their best to provide children with a positive educational experience, some children are better suited for certain teaching styles and classroom types than others. If there's a mismatch between student and teacher, a youngster can form lasting negative feelings about school or his own abilities.

Scheduling Stressors—

Many grown-ups find themselves overwhelmingly busy these days—work hours are getting longer, vacations are shortened or skipped, and people find themselves with little down time. Sadly, our children are facing similar issues. Here are some of the main scheduling stressors they face:

• Lack of Family Time— Due in part to the busyness of children’ 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 children 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, as they would like.

• Not Enough Sleep— According to a poll on this site, a large proportion of readers aren't getting enough sleep to function well each day. Unfortunately, this isn't just a problem that grown-ups face. 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.

• Over-scheduling— Much has been said in the media lately about the over-scheduling of our children, but the problem still continues. In an effort to give their children an edge, or to provide the best possible developmental experiences, many moms and dads are enrolling their children in too many extra-curricular activities. As children become teens, school extracurricular activities become much more demanding. College admissions standards are also becoming increasingly competitive, making it difficult for college-bound high school children to avoid over-scheduling themselves.

Academic Stressors—

Not surprisingly, much of the stress of school is related to what children learn and how they learn it. The following are some of the main sources of academic stress for Aspergers children:

• Homework Problems— 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.

• Learning Styles Mismatch— 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.

• Test Anxiety— 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.

• Work That's Too Easy— Just as it can be stressful to handle a heavy and challenging workload, some kids 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.

• Work That's Too Hard— 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 educators are under great pressure to produce high test scores; that pressure can be passed on to children.

Environmental Stressors—

Certain aspects of an Aspergers youngster's environment can also cause stress that can spill over and affect school performance. The following are some stressors that moms and dads may not realize are impacting their kids:

• Lack of Preparation— Not having necessary supplies can be a very stressful experience for a youngster, especially one who's very young. If a youngster doesn't have an adequate lunch, didn't bring her signed permission slip, or doesn't have a red shirt to wear on "Red Shirt Day," for example, she may experience significant stress. Younger children may need help with these things.

• Lack of Sleep— As schedules pack up with homework, extracurricular activities, family time and some “down time” each day, children often get less sleep than they need. 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.

• Noise Pollution— Believe it or not, noise pollution from airports, heavy traffic, and other sources have been shown to cause stress that impacts children' performance in school.

• Poor Diet— With the overabundance of convenience food available these days and the time constraints many experience, the average youngster'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.

Signs of school anxiety in Aspergers kids include:
  • Clinging behavior
  • Difficulty going to sleep
  • Exaggerated, unrealistic fears of animals, monster, burglars
  • Excessive worry and fear about parents or about harm to themselves
  • Fear of being alone in the dark
  • Feeling unsafe staying in a room by themselves
  • Headaches
  • Lying
  • Meltdowns
  • Negative attitude
  • Nightmares
  • Refusing to go to school
  • Severe tantrums when forced to go to school
  • Shadow the mother or father around the house
  • Stomachaches
  • Withdrawal, regressive behavior, or excessive shyness

What Can Be Done To Reduce School Anxiety In Aspergers Students? 

Here are 12 important tips:

1. Understand the value of tears. Crying can be a great stress reliever. It flushes out bad feelings and eases tension. It's hard to see your Aspergers youngster crying, and your first instinct may be to help him stop as soon as possible. But after the tears have all come out, your youngster may be in a particularly open and receptive mood for talking and sharing. Provide a soothing and sympathetic presence, but let the crying run its course.

2. Set a regular time and place for talking with your Aspergers youngster, whether in the car, on a walk, during mealtimes, or just before bed. Some Aspies will feel most comfortable in a cozy private space with your undivided attention, but others might welcome some sort of distraction to cut the intensity of sharing their feelings.

3. Routines are good. They help alleviate stress. Establishing a regular bedtime, get-up time, and bath time is important at any age. It also helps children with Aspergers learn to develop routines themselves. Family meetings are important. At the beginning of school, set a weekly time to regroup and to talk about what's going on and how it will work: who gets the shower first, what time to set the alarm clocks for. Give everybody a chance to talk.

4. Resist the urge to fix everything. There are some instances in which moms and dads do have to take action. If your youngster is in a class that's too challenging, or is having trouble because an IEP isn't being followed, there are steps you can take. If a teacher or a classmate is truly harassing your youngster, you will want to follow up with that. But you'll also want to teach her that some things in life just have to be dealt with, even though they stink. Fix only what's really badly broken.

5. Know when to get help. Most kids experience school anxiety to some extent, and some feel it more deeply and disruptively. When does it become a big enough problem to require professional help? Some signs to look for are major changes in friendships, style of clothing, music preferences, sleeping and eating habits, attitude and behavior. If you've established a good rapport with your youngster and he suddenly doesn't want to talk, that's a sign of trouble as well.

6. Keep the lines of communication open. Let your Aspergers youngster know that he can always talk to you, no matter what. It's not always necessary even to have solutions to his problems. Sometimes just talking about things out loud with a trusted adult makes them seem less threatening. And if the situation does become overwhelming for your youngster, you want to be the first to know about it.

7. Do some role-playing. Once you have some concrete examples of anxiety-provoking events, help your youngster figure out an alternate way to deal with them. Discuss possible scenarios and play the part of your youngster in some role-playing exercises, letting him play the part of the demanding teacher or bullying classmate. Model appropriate and realistic responses and coping techniques for your youngster.

8. Be aware that all students feel anxiety about school, even the ones who seem successful and carefree. Knowing this won't lessen your youngster's anxiety, but it may lessen yours.

9. Ask, "What three things are you most worried about?" Making your request specific can help your youngster start to sort through a bewildering array of fears and feelings. If he's unable to name the things that are most worrisome, have him tell you any three things, or the most recent three things.

10. Ask, "What three things are you most excited about?" Most students can think of something good, even if it's just going home at the end of the day. But chances are your youngster does have things she really enjoys about school that just get drowned out by all the scary stuff. Bring those good things out into the light.

11. Acknowledge the problem. Does hearing, "Don't worry!" help when you're anxious about something? It probably doesn't comfort your youngster much, either. The most important thing you can do for a youngster experiencing school anxiety is to acknowledge that her fears are real to her. If nothing else, you'll ensure that she won't be afraid to talk to you about them.

12. When school anxiety persists, parents should consult with a qualified mental health professional who will work with them to develop a plan to immediately return the child to school and other activities. Refusal to go to school in the older Aspergers child or teen is generally a more serious illness, and often requires more intensive treatment.


More resources for parents of children and teens with Asperger's and High-Functioning Autism:

Aspergers Students: Causes of School-Related Anxiety

It's common for Aspergers (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 Aspergers 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 Aspergers 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 Aspergers children 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 Aspergers 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 Aspergers 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 Aspergers 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 Aspergers 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 an Aspergers 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 Aspergers 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 Aspergers kids 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.

My Aspergers Child: Preventing Meltdowns at Home and School

Anxiety Management in Aspergers and HFA: 25 Tips for Parents

Anxiety can't be measured or observed except through its behavioral manifestation, either verbal or nonverbal (e.g., crying, complaining of a stomachache or headache, crawling under the table, becoming argumentative, etc.).

To manage the anxiety in Aspergers and High-Functioning Autistic (HFA) kids, moms and dads are encouraged to do any – or all – of the following:

1. Avoid over-scheduling. Soccer, karate, baseball, music lessons, play-dates the list of extracurricular activities children can take on is endless. But too many activities can easily lead to stress and anxiety in kids. Just as grownups need some downtime after work and on weekends, kids also need some quiet time alone to decompress.

2. Be flexible and try to maintain a normal routine.

3. Consult a counselor or your pediatrician. If you suspect that a change in the family such as a new sibling, a move, divorce, or a death of a family member is behind your youngster's stress and anxiety, seek advice from an expert such as your youngster's school counselor, your pediatrician, or a child therapist.

4. Create an anxiety hierarchy, and put the events in order from easy to hard.

5. Develop, practice, and rehearse new behaviors prior to exposure to the real anxiety-producing situation.

==> Preventing Meltdowns and Tantrums in Asperger's and HFA Children

6. Don’t dismiss his feelings. Telling your youngster “not to worry about his fears” may only make him feel like he’s doing something wrong by feeling anxious. Let him know that it’s okay to feel bad about something, and encourage him to share his emotions and thoughts.

7. Don’t punish mistakes or lack of progress.

8. Get him/her outside. Exercise can boost mood, so get him moving. Even if it’s just for a walk around the block, fresh air and physical activity may be just what he needs to lift his spirits and give him a new perspective on things.

9. Gradually shift “anxiety control” to your youngster by preparing him for anxiety-producing situations by discussing antecedents, settings, triggers, and actions to take.

10. Help your youngster identify the source of the anxiety if he is old enough to understand this concept.

11. If he is old enough, teach your youngster increasing independence in anticipating and coping with anxiety in a variety of situations.



12. Implement new behaviors in the actual situations where anxiety occurs.

13. Keep your youngster healthy. Make sure he’s eating right and getting enough sleep. Not getting enough rest or eating nutritious meals at regular intervals can contribute to your youngster’s stress. If he feels good, he’ll be better equipped to work through whatever is bothering him.

14. Limit your youngster's exposure to upsetting news or stories. If she sees or hears upsetting images or accounts of natural disasters such as earthquakes or tsunamis or sees disturbing accounts of violence or terrorism on the news, talk to her about what's going on. Reassure her that she and the people she loves are not in danger. Talk about the aide that people who are victims of disasters or violence receive from humanitarian groups, and discuss ways that she may help, such as by working with her school to raise money for the victims.

15. Listen carefully to your youngster. You know how enormously comforting it can be just to have someone listen when something’s bothering you. Do the same thing for your youngster. If he doesn’t feel like talking, let him know you are there for him. Just be by his side and remind him that you love him and support him.

16. Make a list of numerous anxiety-producing situations, from easy ones to those that are more difficult (this is called “anxiety mapping”).

17. Modify expectations during stressful periods.

18. Offer comfort and distraction. Try to do something she enjoys, like playing a favorite game or cuddling in your lap and having you read to her, just as you did when she was younger. When the chips are down, even a 10-year-old will appreciate a good dose of parent TLC.

19. Plan for transitions (e.g., allow extra time in the morning if getting to school is difficult).

20. Prevent anxiety by “external control” (i.e., structuring the environment to make it predictable, consistent, and safe).

==> Discipline for Defiant Asperger's and HFA Teens

21. Use psychological, environmental and psychopharmacological treatments as needed (see below).

22. Recognize and praise small accomplishments.

23. Set a calm example. You can set the tone for how stress and anxiety in kids is handled in your house. It's virtually impossible to block out stress from our lives in today's high-tech, 24-hour-news-cycle world, but you can do something about how you handle your own stress. And the more you are able to keep things calm and peaceful at home, the less likely it is that anxiety in kids will be a problem in your household.

24. Stay calm when your youngster becomes anxious about a situation or event.

25. Stick to routines. Balance any changes by trying to maintain as much of her regular routine as possible. Try to stick to her regular bedtime and mealtimes, if possible.

Behavioral Manifestations of Anxiety in Kids on the Autism Spectrum:



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

Summary of Anxiety Treatments for Children on the Autism Spectrum—

1. Psychological Treatments:
  • Behavioral Therapies: Focus on using techniques such as guided imagery, relaxation training, progressive desensitization, flooding as means to reduce anxiety responses or eliminate specific phobias.
  • Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy: Addresses underlying “automatic” thoughts and feelings that result from thoughts, as well as specific techniques to reduce or replace maladaptive behavior patterns.
  • Psychotherapy: Centers on resolution of conflicts and stresses, as well as the developmental aspects of an anxiety disorders solely through talk therapy.
2. Environmental Treatments:
  • Reduction of stressors. Identify and remove or reduce stressful tasks or situations at home, school and work.
  • Good sleep habits. Getting adequate, restful sleep improves response to interventions to treat anxiety disorders.
  • Avoidance or minimization of stimulants. No caffeine, minimize use of asthma medications if possible (bronchodilators, theophylline), avoid use of nasal decongestants, some cough medications, and diet pills.
3. Psychopharmacological Treatments (used as a last resort only):
  • Antihistamines: Older medications used for mild to moderate anxiety for many years. These, like the benzodiazepines, work fairly quickly (Atarax, Vistaril).
  • Benzodiazepines: Long-acting are best (Klonopin, Ativan, Valium, Librium, Serax) to quickly reduce the symptoms of an anxiety disorder. However, if used long term the result may be that tolerance develops.
  • Buspirone (BuSpar): A new serotonergic combination agonist/antagonist. Is nonaddicting, but may take 2 to 4 weeks for full effect.
  • Combination Serotonin/Norepinephrine Agents: New medications such as Effexor, Serzone, and Remeron, also with excellent tolerability and effectiveness. Takes 4 to 6 weeks for full response.
  • Major Tranquilizers (also called neuroleptics): Medications that act on a variety of neurotransmitter systems (acetylcholine, dopamine, histamine, adrenergic). Most are somewhat sedating, and have been used in situations where anxiety is severe enough to cause disorganization of thoughts and abnormal physical and mental sensations, such as the sense that things around you aren't real (derealization) or that you are disconnected with your body (derealization). Commonly used neuroleptics include: Zyprexa, Risperdal, Seroquel, Mellaril, Thorazine, Stelazine, Moban, Navane, Prolixin, and Haldol.
  • Serotonergic Agents: Newer antidepressants act as antianxiety agents as well, with excellent tolerability and effectiveness. Takes 4 to 6 weeks for full response (Luvox, Prozac, Zoloft, Paxil).
  • Tricyclic Antidepressants (TCAs): Older antidepressants with more side effects typically than the serotonergic agents, but also effective. Takes 4 to 6 weeks for full response (Tofranil, Elavil, Pamelor, Sinequan) 

Aspergers and Separation Anxiety

Question

Our son Jack, who is turning 6 next week, and has Aspergers is not coming to terms that mum and dad will be going away for 4 days for a holiday in January (20th to be exact). It is my and my husband 1st year anniversary (strange as it seems after being together for almost 12 years). It is important for us as a couple to have this time away, and a friend in our compound has agreed to look after Jack. She also has a boy who is 6 1/2 years old. I have two other sons who will be going to other houses in the compound whilst we are away. The kids will still be close to each other but not in each other’s pockets.

I tried to explain to Jack via using a calendar of the days we will be away, but he had a complete meltdown. Not sure if this is just a manipulation game but I will admit I haven't left him with anyone for a very long time. Their father leaves a lot for travel for work but mum is always home.

Are you able to provide me with a strategy to discuss with him of our leave away? Should I not go? My only concern with this is that then I will never be able to have time away with my husband and sometimes things get strained as it is.

Is the change too much? We do have a nanny, but not to sound rude, the nannies here in Ghana are not a western nanny and she simply can't cope with Jack - let alone with 3 boys by herself. I can have the option of the nanny staying in the house here with the three kids, but last time we were out and Jack vomited, she left him in his vomit (so not exactly reliable).

Has any other parents asked you this question before? I will admit to you our relationship is not going the greatest so I am hoping that having time away from the kids may help.


Answer

Separation anxiety is a problem for many kids, but with an Aspergers (high functioning autistic) youngster, the situation is even more serious due to sensory issues, poor social skills, and the need for structure and routine.

Separation anxiety is defined as excessive anxiety about becoming separated from mother, father, and any siblings that might be in the home. Aspergers kids experiencing separation anxiety often exhibit generalized fear, anxiety over the possibility of death, and recurrent nightmares. Unlike the occasional worries that kids may feel at times of separation, separation anxiety causes fears that may limit a youngster’s ability to engage in ordinary life.

Normal separation anxiety and “Separation Anxiety Disorder” share many of the same symptoms, so it can be confusing to try to figure out if your youngster just needs time and understanding—or has a more serious problem. The main differences between healthy separation anxiety and a disorder are the intensity of your youngster’s fears, and whether these fears keep him from normal activities. Kids with separation anxiety disorder may become agitated at just the thought of being away from his parents, and may complain of sickness to avoid playing with friends or attending school. When symptoms are extreme enough, these anxieties can add up to a disorder.

Kids with Separation Anxiety Disorder feel constantly worried or fearful about separation. Many kids are overwhelmed with one or more of the following:

• Kids with anxiety disorder may fear that once separated from mom or dad, something will happen to keep the separation (e.g., they may worry about being kidnapped or getting lost).

• Kids with separation problems often have scary dreams about their fears.

• The most common fear a youngster with separation anxiety disorder experiences is the worry that harm will come to his mother or father in the youngster's absence (e.g., the youngster may constantly worry about a parent becoming sick or getting hurt).

Separation Anxiety Disorder can get in the way of a youngster’s normal activities. Kids with this disorder often:

• Shadow you around the house or cling to your arm or leg if you attempt to step out.

• Complain they feel ill.

• Anxiety may make these kids insomniacs, either because of the fear of being alone or due to nightmares about separation.

• A youngster with separation anxiety disorder may have an unreasonable fear of school, and will do almost anything to stay home.

Here are some tips to help your Aspergers youngster deal with his separation anxiety:

• Allow your youngster to call once each evening to reassure him that you will be home soon.

• Anticipate separation difficulty. Be ready for transition points that can cause anxiety for your youngster. If your youngster separates from one parent more easily than the other, have that parent handle the separation.

• Develop a “goodbye” ritual. Rituals are reassuring and can be as simple as a special wave through the window or a goodbye kiss.

• Educate yourself about separation anxiety. If you learn about how your youngster experiences this condition, you can more easily sympathize with his struggles.

• Give your child a calendar with the days that you will be gone circled. Call daily and have him put a big ‘X’ inside the circle that corresponds to the current date, bringing him that much closer to your return home.

• Have a consistent primary caregiver. If you hire a caregiver, try to stick with this one person for as long as possible.

• Help him practice relaxation. Your youngster can control stress levels with relaxation techniques like yoga, deep breathing, or meditation.

• If possible, try to arrange it so that the anxious youngster and his brother or sister stays with the same caretaker while you’re gone. In this way, the anxious youngster will still be in the presence of a family member throughout your absence.

• Keep a sense of humor. The act of laughing helps the body fight stress in a number of ways.

• Keep calm during separation. If your youngster sees that you can stay cool, he is more likely to be calm, too.

• Keep familiar surroundings when possible. Have the caretaker come to your house.

• Leave him with a picture of you and a personal item of yours before you leave.

• Leave without fanfare. Tell your youngster you are leaving and that you will return, then go—don’t stall.

• Listen to and respect your youngster’s feelings. For a youngster who might already feel isolated by his anxiety, the experience of being listened to can have a powerful helping effect.

• Make new surroundings familiar. When your youngster is away from home, let him take a familiar object with him.

• Make sure he gets enough sleep. Feeling tired will only increase stress, causing him to think irrationally or foggily.

• Make sure your youngster eats right. A well-nourished body is better prepared to cope with stress, so be mindful of what he eats.

• Make sure your youngster exercises regularly. Physical activity plays a key role in reducing and preventing the effects of stress.

• Minimize scary television/movies. Your youngster is less likely to be fearful if the shows you watch are not frightening.

• Offer choices. If your youngster is given a choice or some element of control in an activity or interaction with an adult, he may feel more safe and comfortable.

• Practice separation. Leave your youngster with a caregiver for brief periods and short distances at first.

• Praise your youngster’s efforts. Use the smallest of accomplishments—going to bed without a fuss, a good report from school—as reason to give your youngster positive reinforcement.

• Provide a consistent pattern for the day. Don’t underestimate the importance of predictability for kids with separation problems. If your family’s schedule is going to change, discuss it ahead of time with your youngster.

• Reassure your youngster that you will return and at what day/time.

• Schedule the separation in the morning right after breakfast. Kids are more able to deal with separation anxiety if they are rested and fed.

• Set limits. Let your youngster know that although you understand his feelings, there are rules in your household that need to be followed. And one of the rules is “mommy and daddy go on trips together sometimes.”

• Spend a considerable period of time with your youngster before you leave and upon your return.

• Support the youngster's participation in activities. Encourage your youngster to participate in healthy social and physical activities while you’re gone.

• Talk about the issue. It’s healthier for kids to talk about their feelings—they don’t benefit from “not thinking about it.” Be empathetic, but also remind the youngster—gently—that he survived the last separation.

• Try not to give in. Reassure your youngster that he will be just fine—setting limits will help the adjustment to separation.

If you see any of the following “red flags” and your interventions don’t seem to be enough, it may be necessary to get a professional to diagnose and help your youngster:
  • Age-inappropriate clinginess or tantrums
  • Constant complaints of physical sickness
  • Excessive fear of leaving the house
  • Preoccupation with intense fear or guilt
  • Refusing to go to school for weeks
  • Withdrawal from friends, family, or peers

Therapists can address physical symptoms, identify anxious thoughts, help your youngster develop coping strategies, and foster problem solving. Professional treatment for separation anxiety disorder may include:

• Counseling for the family. Family counseling can help your youngster counteract the thoughts that fuel his or her anxiety, while you as the parent can help your youngster learn coping skills.

• Medication. Medications may be used to treat severe cases of separation anxiety disorder. It should be used only in conjunction with other therapy.

• Play therapy. The therapeutic use of play is a common and effective way to get kids talking about their feelings.

• Talk therapy. Talk therapy provides a safe place for your youngster to express his or her feelings. Having someone to listen empathetically and guide your youngster toward understanding his or her anxiety can be powerful treatment.

More resources for parents of children and teens with High-Functioning Autism and Asperger's:

==> How To Prevent Meltdowns and Tantrums In Children With High-Functioning Autism and Asperger's

==> Parenting System that Significantly Reduces Defiant Behavior in Teens with Aspergers and High-Functioning Autism

==> Launching Adult Children with Asperger's and High-Functioning Autism: Guide for Parents Who Want to Promote Self-Reliance

==> Teaching Social Skills and Emotion Management to Children and Teens with Asperger's and High-Functioning Autism

==> Parenting Children and Teens with High-Functioning Autism: Comprehensive Handbook

==> Unraveling The Mystery Behind Asperger's and High-Functioning Autism: Audio Book


==> Parenting System that Reduces Problematic Behavior in Children with Asperger's and High-Functioning Autism

Reasons Why Your Asperger’s or HFA Child Gets So Stressed-Out at School

Kids with and Asperger’s (AS) and High-Functioning Autism (HFA) commonly experience anxiety. Estimates report that as many as 80% of kids on the spectrum have anxiety disorders such as specific phobias, social anxiety disorder, panic disorder, or generalized anxiety disorder. Physical complaints with no apparent medical basis is often an indicator of anxiety (e.g., stress in a social situation, a demanding school setting, sensory sensitivities, etc.).

Factors that can make existing anxiety even worse can include an introverted temperament, having highly anxious parents, high levels of family stress or conflict, and a family history of anxiety.

Signs of school anxiety in AS and HFA children include the following:

Behavioral Signs—
  • Abnormal failure or delay to complete everyday responsibilities
  • Change in eating habits
  • Change in sleeping habits
  • Frequent lying
  • Nail biting
  • Pacing
  • Significant change in school or work performance
  • Trouble getting along with classmates and/or teachers

Cognitive Signs—
  • Anxious thoughts or feelings
  • Chronic worrying
  • Impaired concentration
  • Impaired speech (e.g., mumbling or stuttering)
  • Reduced or impaired judgment
  • Repetitive or unwanted thoughts
  • Trouble with remembering things (e.g., homework assignments or deadlines)
  • Unusual desire for social isolation

Emotional Signs—
  • Feelings of being overwhelmed
  • Feelings of sadness and/or depression
  • Irritability
  • Less than normal patience
  • More frequent or extreme pessimistic attitude
  • Reduced or eliminated desire for activities once enjoyed or regularly done
  • Restlessness
  • Sense of isolation
  • Trouble coping with life’s issues

Physical Signs—
  • Chest pain with or without tachycardia
  • Clenched teeth 
  • Fatigue 
  • Flushed skin 
  • Getting sick more often than normal 
  • Headaches 
  • Heartburn or indigestion 
  • Involuntary twitching or shaking 
  • Irregular bowel movements 
  • Muscle aches 
  • Nausea 
  • Trouble sleeping 
  • Unusual changes in weight

Other signs include:
  • Shutdowns
  • Shadowing parents around the house
  • Severe tantrums when forced to go to school
  • Regressive behavior
  • Refusing to go to school
  • Nightmares
  • Meltdowns
  • Feeling unsafe staying in a room by themselves
  • Fear of being alone in the dark
  • Excessive worry about harm to themselves
  • Excessive shyness
  • Exaggerated, unrealistic fears of animals, monster, burglars
  • Clinging behavior



Let’s take a deeper look at all the things that can contribute to your AS or HFA child’s anxiety level:

1. There's a lot of pressure for students 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 are under great pressure to produce high test scores. That pressure gets passed on to the students, and no one feels that pressure more than a child on the autism spectrum.

2. Just as it can be stressful to handle a heavy and challenging workload, some students experience stress from work that isn't difficult enough. Many children with AS and HFA have average to above-average IQs (sometimes into the “gifted” range), and can become easily bored and disengaged if the subject matter is not challenging enough. They may respond by acting-out or tuning-out in class, which leads to poor performance, masks the root of the problem, and perpetuates the difficulties.

3. Many of us have experienced test anxiety, regardless of whether or not we're prepared for exams. Unfortunately, greater levels of test anxiety hinder performance on exams. Due to the fact that the AS or HFA child already has an element of anxiety to contend with throughout the day, the added pressure of an exam may prove to be too much anxiety-overload, resulting in either a meltdown or shutdown.

4. With the overabundance of convenience food available these days - and the time constraints we all experience - the average youngster'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 exacerbate the stress levels of “already-anxious” kids on the spectrum.

5. While most “typical” kids would say that their peers are one of their favorite aspects of school, peers can be a source of stress for students on the spectrum (e.g., due to being rejected, teased, and bullied). Concerns about not having any friends, not being in the same class with someone who actually is a friend, not being able to keep up with peers in one particular area or another (e.g., gym class), interpersonal conflicts, and peer pressure are a few of the very common ways kids with AS and HFA can be stressed by their social lives at school.

6. In an effort to give their “special needs” child an edge, or to provide the best possible developmental experiences, some parents enroll their child in too many extra-curricular activities. As the child becomes a teenager, school extracurricular activities become much more demanding. College admissions standards are also becoming increasingly competitive, making it difficult for a college-bound high school student to avoid over-scheduling himself. All of this adds up to stress-overload.

7. Many parents of children on the autism spectrum report that their child is not getting enough sleep to function well each day. As schedules get busier, even younger kids are finding themselves habitually sleep-deprived. This can affect health and cognitive functioning, both of which increase anxiety levels and impact school performance.

8. Noise pollution from school hallways, strange smells coming from the cafeteria, the buzz of florescent lighting, and other environmental stimuli have been shown to cause stress that impacts the AS or HFA child’s performance in school.

9. As you know, there are different styles of learning. Some students learn better by listening, others retain information more efficiently if they see the information written out, and still others prefer learning by doing. Students on the spectrum usually learn best through visual forms of instruction. If there's a mismatch in the child’s learning style and the teacher’s teaching style, this often leads to a stressful academic experience.

10. Due in part to the hectic schedules of parents, 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 “special needs” kids in dealing with the stressful issues they face. Due to a lack of available family time, many parents are not as connected to their children - or knowledgeable about the issues they face - as they would like.

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

12. Many schools now have anti-bullying policies. Though bullying does still happen at many schools, help is generally more accessible than it was years ago. The bad news is that bullying has gone high-tech. Many kids use the Internet, cell phones and other media devices to bully HFA and AS kids, 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.

What can be done to reduce school anxiety in AS and HFA children? Here are a few suggestions:

1. You may have tried to “reassure” your anxious child. But oftentimes, these reassurances sound “empty.” Saying something such as “It's going to be fine” is not likely to help a nervous AS or HFA youngster. When he begins to worry, you can use it as an opportunity to have more dialogue and find out what is making him so anxious. The more information you have, the better job you can do to help him feel more comfortable in the school environment. Thus, do a bit of an investigation to get to the root of the problem. For example, your child may become extremely anxious getting on the bus in the morning, during transitions, in the lunch room, during gym class, while taking a quiz or test …just to name a few. On a scale of 1 to 10 (with 10 being the highest level of anxiety), your child is not at a level 10 all day. Most likely, there are only one or two situations that launch him to that level. Address those situations first.

2. Try to find out if your child is refusing to go to school due to real anxiety issues, or some other reason. Answers to the following questions may help to determine the motivation behind school-refusal:
  • What specific tangible rewards does your child pursue outside of school that cause her to miss school?
  • What specific social situations at school are avoided?
  • What specific school-related stimuli are provoking her concern about going to school?
  • What specific problematic behaviors are present in the morning before school?
  • What is her degree of anxiety or misbehavior upon entering school?
  • What is her academic and social status? (This would include a review of academic records, formal evaluation reports, attendance records, and IEP or 504 plans.)
  • What family disruption or conflict has occurred as a result of her school-refusal?
  • What comorbid conditions (e.g., anxiety, depression, sensory sensitivities, etc.) occur with her school-refusal?
  • What are her specific forms of absenteeism, and how do these forms change daily?
  • Is her school-refusal relatively acute or chronic in nature? 
  • Is her refusal to attend school legitimate or understandable in some way (e.g., due to a school-based threat, bullying, inadequate school environment, etc.)?
  • Is she willing to attend school if you accompany her?
  • Is she willing to attend school if incentives are provided for attendance?
  • How did her school-refusal develop over time?
  • Have recent or traumatic home or school events influenced her school-refusal?
  • Are there any non-school situations where anxiety or attention-seeking behavior occurs?
  • Are symptoms of school-refusal evident on weekends and holidays?

3. Put a picture of you, the parent, in your youngster's notebook, or place a special note in his lunch box (e.g., “Mommy loves you”). These “little things” aren’t so little, and will help your child feel more comfortable at school (especially if he is coping with separation anxiety).

4. Discuss the daily plans with your child so that everyone is informed and knows what to expect. Make sure your youngster is aware of everything, including who will be at the bus stop or who will be picking her up at school (this is especially important if you carpool).

5. Emphasize the positives of school. Frequently discuss how much fun school can be and all the new friends your child can meet. If your AS or HFA youngster has an older sibling in school, have that sister or brother talk to your “special needs” child about recess and all the fun that is had during the school day.

6. Meet with the school guidance counselor. This visit will make you and your child more relaxed about school. If you keep your youngster’s anxiety in the open with the counselor, he or she will likely check in on your child more often.

7. Lastly, if your youngster’s anxiety continues to grow, or you feel you can’t help her resolve her fears about school, it is time to see the doctor. Your doctor can consult with you and the entire family in order to decide if a therapist is needed.

More resources for parents of children and teens with High-Functioning Autism and Asperger's:

==> How To Prevent Meltdowns and Tantrums In Children With High-Functioning Autism and Asperger's

==> Parenting System that Significantly Reduces Defiant Behavior in Teens with Aspergers and High-Functioning Autism

==> Launching Adult Children with Asperger's and High-Functioning Autism: Guide for Parents Who Want to Promote Self-Reliance

==> Teaching Social Skills and Emotion Management to Children and Teens with Asperger's and High-Functioning Autism

==> Parenting Children and Teens with High-Functioning Autism: Comprehensive Handbook

==> Unraveling The Mystery Behind Asperger's and High-Functioning Autism: Audio Book


==> Parenting System that Reduces Problematic Behavior in Children with Asperger's and High-Functioning Autism


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COMMENTS:

•    Anonymous said… Even with the IEP it's still about conforming.
•    Anonymous said… Great article. My daughter has always shown signs of anxiety, but it ballooned once she started high school and resulted in severe depression, cognitive decline, and school refusal. It was not until age 16 that she was diagnosed with Asperger's. Her diagnosis came as both a surprise and a relief to us. She flew under the radar for so long, developing her own coping strategies along the way... but it finally became too much for her to handle. It has helped her and us to have a better understanding of her behaviour and sensory triggers. She is now back in school but on a reduced schedule of 2 in-school classes and 1 online class this semester. Our school has been very helpful and accommodating. She knows it will take her longer to complete high school with this schedule and she's fine with that. We still have our daily challenges but, with the right medication and removing the pressure to attend a full day of school, we've seen a positive change.
•    Anonymous said… I am done with school systems. After my son being bullied and called a loser by the school psychologist, that was the last straw. My ASD Spectrum son is 16. I dropped him out and homeschooling him. He'll take the Hi-Set (new GED) and go at his own pace until he's ready to take the Hi-Set.
•    Anonymous said… I am raising a child who is struggling in school.She doesn't have servers but has learning disabilities. You are right, it might look good on paper but the schools don't understand anxiety or learning pace.
•    Anonymous said… I am so sorry your son was bullied. No one deserves that.
•    Anonymous said… I can only speak from my own experience. The schools in our area really have nothing for Aspergers kids. My son is expected to be neurotypical and this has caused so much heartache for us. Inclusion without real support is rough. My hope is that there are schools out there who have more than what we've been given.
•    Anonymous said… Inclusion without support is not inclusion...it has been my experience that schools think they're being inclusive when really they are working towards integration...trying to make a neurodiverse student indistinguishable from their peers...the pressure to conform causes significant anxiety... this was one reason we recently moved schools...there are good schools out there striving for a truly inclusive culture... we are feeling positive about our new school....it's small and has a great part time program
•    Anonymous said… It is a real shame that schools don't work with kids with aspergers the way they should. Oh they go through the motions but they don't seem to do all that they can! It is very difficult for kids to sit in a classroom for a whole period and concentrate on the lesson....is that so hard to understand!
•    Anonymous said… my son gets stressed out at school feeling hes being bullied because other kids are trying to tell him what hes supose to do, then they ignor his requests knowing he will loose it and will get into trouble when they tell the teacher, all innocent, that he was yelling at them.
•    Anonymous said… my son is in first grade and I'm exhausted. We changed schools to give him something better. Looking ahead is hard. The thought of middle school worries me as well.
•    Anonymous said… We are in elementary school have problems with it too. I am very worried about middle school.
•    Anonymous said… You can ask for a IEP Which gives aspergers children a easier time. my son also has aspergers and makes his school day rough but he has learned to cope thank goodness also do you have any charter schools in your area they are also more prepared and willing to work with aspergers children.

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