The world for autistic children and teenagers can often feel like a very overwhelming place; it is therefore little surprise that autistic children experience high levels of anxiety which can have a disabling impact throughout their lives.
Anxiety is a natural part of life and something that everyone experiences at some stage.
Characterised by a feeling of mild or severe distress, anxiety is the emotional response to a detected of perceived danger. This creates an innate drive to enter protective mode, otherwise known as the ‘fight-or-flight’ or ‘freeze’ mode.
Autistic children feel many of the same worries and fears as other children. Although the way they display their anxiety can look a lot like common characteristics of autism – such as stimming, obsessive, ritualistic and repetitive behaviour, and resistance to changes in routine and environment.
Autistic children often worry or feel stressed about things that are less worrying for typically developing children, like disruptions in their routine or unfamiliar social situations.
They can also have trouble recognising their own anxious thoughts and feelings and can’t always tell you that they’re feeling anxious. Instead, you might notice an increase in changes in behaviour.
Autistic children may have varying degrees of sensory sensitivities to their environment especially when it comes to structed environments such as school or college. Loud noises, unpleasant smells and bright lights can be over whelming for them, often leading to exhaustion which can trigger further anxious feelings about their performance in the classroom.
Changes in routine
There are multiple transitions in a child’s day that could bring on anxiety, examples can include changing out of pyjamas into school uniform, changing classrooms frequently throughout the day and transitioning from work to leisure mode at breaktimes and home-time.
The pressures of fitting-in and being socially accepted can be challenging for a young autistic individual. Lack of structure in the playground and pressure to join in with small talk can make breaktimes the most dreaded part of the day.
Autistic children are more vulnerable to bullying, often learning to mask at an early age in order to appear ‘normal’. This can cause extreme anxiety for anticipation of bullying and can in turn take its toll on mental health and well-being.
Feelings of failure about not reaching expected norms and potential can have a very detrimental effect on an autistic child’s self-esteem and exasperate performance anxiety. Being told to ‘concentrate’, ‘try harder’ and ‘overcome challenges’, that are part of a child’s autistic identity can be a burden and effect feelings of self-worth.
Understanding and recognising how anxiety presents in autistic children and teenagers is a great step to identifying anxiety triggers in advance and in order to give support. Anxiety can be communicated through behaviour, such as:
It is important to recognise that self-regulatory behaviours are an autistic child’s way of trying to communicate, and that it is important to not reprimand your child for what may be perceived as ‘bad behaviour’.
Behaviour is a form of communication and recognising and understanding your child’s unique way of communicating can help you to foresee and avoid difficult situations and triggers, and to enable your child to have an easier time in the classroom.
You can work with us and your child’s teachers to put in place any required reasonable adjustments to make sure their school day go as smoothy as possible. Our dedicated team can offer advice and support on how to communicate with schools and local authorities, and to help alleviate your child’s anxiety in the classroom.
Content provided by ProblemShared.