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Highly-Anxious Asperger’s & High-Functioning Autistic Kids

"How can I help my little girl (with autism) to not be so chronically fearful. She's really developing the habit of finding most things quite worrisome?"

All kids experience anxiety. It is expected and normal at specific times in development. However, children with Asperger’s (AS) and High Functioning Autism (HFA) tend to suffer from anxiety more than “typical” children do. Estimates report that as many as 80% of children on the autism spectrum have anxiety disorders. Because these young people may also be quiet, compliant and eager to please, their difficulties may be missed by both parents and teachers.

Other factors that may contribute to heightened anxiety include the following:
  • Family history is frequently a factor. Both Asperger’s and anxiety disorders run in families. Kids who have a family history of anxiety, often going back several generations, are at increased risk for developing an anxiety disorder.
  • Kids with introverted temperaments may be more prone to anxiety. Introverted kids are more apt to internalize their distress rather than to act it out.
  • Kids who are experiencing high levels of family stress or conflict may exhibit signs of anxiety.
  • Kids with highly anxious moms and dads may exhibit high levels of anxiety themselves. The highly anxious parent who continually worries and frets about her “special needs” child or who is overly-protective can foster high levels of anxiety in her child.


There are several types of anxiety disorders, including:
  • Generalized anxiety disorder: Involves excessive, unrealistic worry and tension, even if there is little or nothing to provoke the anxiety.
  • Panic disorder: Children with this disorder have feelings of terror that strike suddenly and repeatedly with no warning. Symptoms include a feeling of "going crazy," a feeling of choking, a feeling of having a heart attack, chest pain, sweating, and unusually strong or irregular heartbeats.
  • Social anxiety disorder: Involves overwhelming worry and self-consciousness about everyday social situations. 
  • Specific phobias: An intense fear of a specific object or situation (e.g., snakes, heights, flying, etc.). The level of fear is usually out of proportion to the situation and may cause the child to avoid common, everyday situations.

The behavioral and emotional symptoms listed below may signal an anxiety disorder in your AS or HFA child (or the propensity for developing one):
  • avoidance of activities that require independence
  • avoidance of social situations 
  • avoidance of stressful situations (e.g., tests and exams, interactions with others, etc.)
  • avoidance, refusal or reluctance to participate in social activities that might result in social scrutiny
  • being overly clingy 
  • complains about physical concerns and problems (e.g., headaches, stomachaches, etc.)
  • constant thoughts and intense fears about the safety of parents 
  • constant worries or concerns about, school
  • constant worry about everyday activities (e.g., what's going to happen next)
  • extreme fear about a specific thing (e.g., dogs, insects, needles, etc.)
  • extreme worries about sleeping away from home 
  • extremely slow to complete tasks in order to ensure they are done correctly
  • fears of embarrassment or making mistakes 
  • fears of meeting or talking to people 
  • few friends outside the family 
  • highly dependent on a parent
  • highly sensitive to other people watching them
  • low self-esteem and lack of self-confidence 
  • many worries about things before they happen 
  • panic or tantrums at times of separation from parents 
  • physical symptoms (e.g., flushing) or an extremely quiet or shaky voice during social situations
  • refusing to go to school 
  • reluctant to engage in activities without a significant other
  • repetitive, unwanted thoughts (obsessions) or actions (compulsions) 
  • shows a high need for a great deal of reassurance
  • signs of perfectionism 
  • trouble sleeping or nightmares

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

Fortunately, much progress has been made in the treatment of children with anxiety disorders. Although the exact treatment approach depends on the type of disorder, one or a combination of the following therapies may be used for most anxiety disorders:
  • Cognitive-behavioral therapy: A therapeutic approach in which the child learns to recognize and change thought patterns and behaviors that lead to troublesome feelings.
  • Dietary and lifestyle changes
  • Medication: Drugs used to reduce the symptoms of anxiety disorders include anxiety-reducing drugs and anti-depressants.
  • Psychotherapy: Counseling that addresses the emotional response to anxiety. Trained mental health professionals help children by talking through strategies for understanding and dealing with their disorder.
  • Relaxation therapy

How parents can help the highly-anxious Asperger’s or HFA child:


It’s nearly impossible to “cure” anxiety in AS and HFA kids. Some anxiety is genetic, and others are as a result of situations beyond the parent’s control. But parents can minimize the effect that anxiety has on their youngster’s development. Over time, moms and dads can help their child develop the coping strategies he or she needs to be able to handle day-to-day anxiety and stress. Here are some tips:

1. As a mother or father, it’s natural to want to be supportive of your “special needs” youngster. But you may be unintentionally reinforcing negative behaviors. For instance, if your youngster is anxious when you drop him off at school and he runs back to the car crying, it’s not a good idea to pick him up, hug him, cry too, and tell him ‘it will be okay’.  This just reinforces that leaving him is a scary thing to do.

2. AS and HFA children who suffer with anxiety issues are often described as "going from 0-to-60 in a split second," which often results in a meltdown.  In reality, however, the child’s emotions probably grew more gradually from calm to uneasy to anxious, but the parent (and the child) didn't notice the build-up. Teaching your child to identify this escalation is essential if he is to learn how to catch himself on the way up. A helpful tool to use is an emotional thermometer. When your youngster is calm, share the graphic with him, explaining how emotions often grow in intensity from calm to uneasy to anxious. Give him a copy of the thermometer and ask him to pay attention to where he is on it at different times of the day over the course of a few weeks, checking in with him as needed to discuss what he is noticing.

3. Breathing exercises that involve your youngster letting her belly expand as she inhales through her nose and deflate as she exhales through her mouth can help alleviate anxiety. The intake of oxygen and exhaling of carbon dioxide when she breathes deeply can lower her blood pressure and slow her heartbeat. When teaching this strategy to your child, tell her to pretend that she is blowing out candles on a cake or blowing up a make-believe balloon.

4. Calming music helps lower a youngster’s level of stress hormones, blood pressure and heart rate. When your youngster feels stressed, have him listen to soothing music (e.g., lullabies) using a pair of headphones. Create a playlist of spa-like music to play on an MP3 player.

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

5. Guided imagery teaches a youngster to calm her body and mind. This works best in a quiet, comfortable environment. Have your child close her eyes as you use a soothing voice to help her imagine that she’s in a relaxing situation (e.g., have her imagine that she’s filling bubbles with her negative emotions, which disappear into the air).

6. Kids pick up on social cues from their moms and dads. If the parent is an anxious person, her youngster is far more likely to be anxious as well. This is why it’s important that parents work on their own anxiety. They should try to minimize their fearful reactions to things when in front of their youngster – and try their best to relax and find composure in daily life.

7. Practice is key. Each day, at a time when your child is calm, ask him to role play what he looks like when he is fearful or anxious. Then ask him to practice self-soothing techniques. To make the practice most effective, have your child do the role-play in the area of the house he is most likely to go when he's actually upset (e.g., bedroom, beanbag chair, reading area, etc.). Then when he goes there in a moment of feeling uneasy, he'll be more able to use the correct technique in that space. Self-soothing training takes only a few minutes a day, but it's important that you focus on it daily with your child until you see him beginning to take hold of the strategies.

8. Social anxiety is easily the most common type of anxiety that affects kids on the autism spectrum. One of the main problems is that the AS or HFA youngster is unlikely to be adept at social skills. Parents should try to make sure that their youngster doesn’t have his fears reinforced. For example, you may be against violent video games or rap music, but the truth is that your youngster will want to converse with peers that will likely be talking about these subjects. The more your child knows about pop culture, the easier it will be for him to get into normal conversations, gain acceptance, and avoid having his social anxiety reinforced.

9. Teach your AS or HFA youngster to identify emotions by conducting a "body check." When you notice signs of anxiety first beginning, label it for your youngster and explain how you know (e.g., “Your voice is getting louder and your facial muscles are clenched, so I can see you're having some anxiety right now").  Over time, your youngster will learn to identify when he's anxious without your cues.

10. Think back to when you were a child. Most certainly, there were things that your parents did or said that helped calm you down. And most likely, there were those things that they did that raised your anxiety level. Vow to pass on the best – and leave the rest. In other words, some of the things that soothed you as a child may very well work with your child – so try them. Also, try to avoid doing the things that caused you be anxious as a child.

11. Try to find your child some very close friends. Studies have shown that having social support from close friends greatly reduces anxiety and improves confidence. As the AS or HFA youngster gets older, she will be able to leverage those friendships in such a way that she becomes less anxious in the process.

12. When your youngster feels anxious, oxygen-rich blood triggered by his fight-or-flight response often causes large muscle groups to feel tense. Practicing progressive muscle relaxation helps release the tension so he feels calmer. Guide your youngster by telling him to bring his shoulders up to his ears for five seconds – and then relax. Repeat the exercise five times.

SHARE WITH YOUR CHILD:



 Are you worried that your AS or HFA child may be exhibiting symptoms of anxiety? Observe his or her behavior and ask yourself the following questions:
  • When did you begin to notice some of the signs of anxiety in your child?
  • What factors or stressors do you think are contributing to the anxiety?
  • What effect does anxiety have on your youngster and those around him or her?
  • On a scale of 1 to 10, how severe do you think the problem is?
  • Is it hard to manage?
  • How long have these problems been of concern?
  • How long do the symptoms of anxiety last?
  • How frequently does your youngster exhibit symptoms of anxiety?
  • How does it interfere with your youngster’s life?

By getting answers to these questions – and by utilizing the ideas listed above – parents should be able to greatly reduce the level of anxiety that their “special needs” child experiences.

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

Things To Consider When You First Discover Your Child Has Aspergers

When your child finally gets a diagnosis, it will all make sense. Even if it doesn't change his  behavior, it will change the way you interpret it --  which will make so much difference.





Self-Advocacy & Self-Disclosure: Advice for Teens on the Autism Spectrum

The purpose of this article is to get young people on the autism spectrum thinking about how they can actively advocate for themselves rather than passively accepting “things as they are” or settling for a one-down-position in various situations or aspects of life.

We will look at both self-advocacy and self-disclosure, because disclosure (i.e., telling others about your diagnosis) to the right people is a primary way to advocate for yourself. When self-disclosure works well, it has positive effects for interpersonal relationships. On the other hand, when self-disclosure does not work well or you disclose to the wrong person, it can lead to lowered self-esteem, embarrassment, and relationship deterioration – or termination!



Self-Disclosure—

The hard part for many teenagers with Asperger’s (high-functioning autism) is telling friends, classmates and coworkers about their diagnosis, given the prevalence of ignorance in regards to Autism Spectrum Disorders in general. Many Asperger’s teens want to be honest and share their diagnosis, hoping that others will be accepting and supportive. While there are many compassionate people out there who will be, there are also many who won't be – or aren't ready to be.

So, should you tell people about your Asperger’s? It depends on what your needs are and if you're ready to accept the good or bad results that may stem from your disclosure. Self-disclosure is a tough decision. It's crucial that you take the process seriously – and protect yourself. In any event, there comes a time when decisions have to be made as to who to tell and what to tell about your disorder.

It can be quite a challenge to tell peers about the struggles you are experiencing. Asperger’s teens look “normal” (of course), yet many suffer terribly – often on a daily basis. It’s the absence of obvious physical clues that cause other people to minimize the full extent of the challenges that accompany autism spectrum disorders. Thus, it’s wise to decide carefully who you tell. Despite numerous campaigns to raise awareness of autism, there are always going to be individuals in your life who do not (or will not) understand your disorder. Unfortunately, these people are capable of inflicting further distress.
 
==> Parenting System that Significantly Reduces Defiant Behavior in Teens with Aspergers and High-Functioning Autism

Here are some guidelines that Brandon, one very smart 18-year-old Asperger’s teenager, used to make the task of telling others about his diagnosis easier and more empowering:

Before I tell anyone about my diagnosis, I want to be clear as to why I am telling this person. In one case, this person was my boss and I needed to explain some absences. In another case, it was a friend because I needed his assistance on a school project. So, I always want to be clear what it’s that I hope to achieve by telling any particular person. Knowing this helps me cope with negative reactions that I may receive. I don’t want to disclose for the wrong reasons. So, I make sure I know what my true motives are for revealing my Asperger’s.

I have a pamphlet on Asperger syndrome and have it on hand to give to people should they require further information. A lot of people out there are poorly informed about autism spectrum disorders in general, and providing them with good information benefits me in the long run. Critics in particular are more likely to react more favorably to well-informed documentation than a personal, emotionally-charged monologue delivered by me.

When I need help from the person I am disclosing to, I try to be clear about what form that help should take. I find that a lot of people are more than willing to help, but don’t have the faintest idea of what to do. This is where I need to be specific about my needs. So, I write my thoughts down on paper before sharing them. This is a useful practice for clarifying my reasons for telling a particular person about my special needs.

I think it’s important for my own mental health to share my disorder with a few specific people. Some are willing to assist me, and some have walked out of my life once they were aware of the true nature of my disorder. A few others have even teased, bullied, or ignored me all together. I expect this. I expect to be hurt by some of my peers and acquaintances. But I don’t let this aspect of some people’s characters put me off telling significant others.

Lastly, I try to prepare myself for all possible reactions from the other person. I remind myself that I can’t control other people’s reactions or belief systems, but I can be prepared for what to say in response to any questions I may encounter. Telling other people, regardless of their reactions, is a truly empowering experience in most cases.
 
==> Parenting System that Significantly Reduces Defiant Behavior in Teens with Aspergers and High-Functioning Autism

Self-Advocacy—


Self-advocacy teaches Asperger’s teens to identify issues that mean the most to them. It helps them prioritize their hopes and dreams – and to make certain that nothing gets in the way of achieving their goals.  

Here are some important tips for learning self-advocacy skills:

1. Asperger’s is nothing of which to be ashamed. It’s a part of who you are, but it does not define you. Once you realize this, and that you are capable and intelligent, you should be able to step up and take on some of the responsibility of self-advocacy. In the meantime, remember, you are still a teenager.

2. The road to becoming your own greatest advocate begins by being as informed as possible about your disorder. There are dozens of books (some more scholarly than others) that you can read to help yourself understand that this disorder is not your fault and to learn patterns of behavior you have come to see in yourself, but didn’t know what they meant.

3. Another aspect of being a good self-advocate is to pay careful attention to yourself. Learn your idiosyncrasies and pay attention to the things that work for you, along with the things that don’t work. For example, if you have certain obsessions or compulsions, understand what they are and find out ways to get around them (if needed, and if possible).

4. Know your strengths. Asperger’s teens are often gifted with an above average I.Q. It’s likely that you excel in one or more academic subjects. Also, you probably have an intense interest outside of academics (e.g., music or computers). Knowing your own strengths will help you gain much needed self-confidence.
 
==> Parenting System that Significantly Reduces Defiant Behavior in Teens with Aspergers and High-Functioning Autism

5. Recognize and accept your weaknesses. Just as with your strengths, you must also be mindful of your weaknesses. For example, teens with Asperger’s sometimes struggle with language based academics. Social skills and sensory problems may be weak areas for you as well.

6. Participate in counseling and group therapy to help keep yourself focused. Counseling sessions are useful for teens on the spectrum. This is a place where you can talk about how your strengths and weaknesses make you feel. In group therapy, you can learn new strategies for coping in social situations.

7. Regarding school-related issues, remind staff that you are an individual and must be viewed as such. There is no single solitary program or approach that works effectively with ALL students – even if they have the same diagnosis. If you can't learn the way teachers instruct, then teachers need to instruct the way you learn.

8. If you have a problem with a certain teacher, remember that an adversarial relationship between you and that teacher is typically never in your best interest. It's sometimes easy to fall in the trap of blaming teachers for disappointments or a particular issue. However, blame doesn't typically result in anything more than bad feelings and an ill-willed outcome. Instead of blaming your teacher, try the opposite approach: keep calm, know the facts, and advocate about meeting your unique needs. Propose solutions or create a possible plan that works best for you and the teacher. Be open-minded and hear proposed solutions from your teacher’s side as well.

9. Be an active participant in your IEP process and know your written goals. Also, take part in your IEP meetings. Once you acknowledge your own strengths and weaknesses, your input can help the IEP team set reachable goals.

10. Understand that your school’s Principal is a key player. You MUST have the loyalty, support, faith, and cooperation of the Principal in order to advocate effectively for yourself in the school setting.




Self-disclosure and self-advocacy are core communication skills. Being proficient at using these skills means that you express yourself effectively and stand up for your point of view, while also respecting the rights and beliefs of others. These skills can help with stress management, boost your self-esteem, and help earn others' respect. Some teenagers seem to use these skills naturally, but if you're not one of them, you can become skillful by utilizing the information above.

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