Helping Autistic Children Manage Feelings of Anxiety

Many children with Autism also suffer from high levels of anxiety.
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Researchers have stated that children with Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD) often have high levels of anxiety, resulting in stress and fear. The anxiety they experience may range from a small fear of a loud noise, to the constant worry of making a mistake or not feeling accepted. These fears can leave these children feeling burdened and may interfere with their everyday lives. This results in negative experiences at school, and difficulties having relationships with friends and family.

Research suggests that anxiety may be treated in children with ASD, with cognitive and behavioral strategies that are modified for the Autistic child. Judy Reaven, Associate Professor of Psychiatry and Pediatrics at the University of Colorado-Denver, has provided a list of basic tools which can help parents and teachers assist children with ASD to face the fears they experience at home and at school.

Firstly, it is important for children to recognize their fears. Sometimes they experience anxiety but are unsure why. They often need an adult to help them identify what may make them feel nervous, and help them find the words to express what they are feeling. Having in-depth conversations teaches self-awareness and lets the child know that the feelings they may be experiencing are normal and acceptable.

It is also suggested that parents help shift worried thoughts into helpful thoughts. A child’s “active mind” can cause them to go into overdrive and worry even more, so when these worried thoughts arise, parents should coach their child into having peaceful thoughts. For example, if they are afraid of the dark, parents should let them know that they are safe and that they are there for the child if they need them. The child should repeat that they feel safe, and it will remind them that they are okay the next time they feel scared.

Children also learn a lot about how to manage their emotions from watching their parents or other adults. Therefore, when a parent feels stressed or anxious, they should label their emotion and tell the child how they plan to cope. Talking aloud is very helpful for children with ASD, as it allows the child to clearly see the steps to managing their emotions. Deep breaths, talking, and taking walks together are all great ways to help the child manage their fears and anxiety.

The ICare4Autism International Conference will be discussing educational strategies, treatments, and research in NYC from June 30th to July 2nd. Speakers include Dr. Celine Saulnier, Clinical Director for Research, Marcus Autism Center, and Assistant Professor, Division of Autism and Related Disorders at Emory University School of Medicine. On June 30th, Dr. Saulnier will be discussing The Role of Adaptive Behavior in ASD. To hear Dr. Saulnier speak, please select tickets here.  Early bird ticket specials are still available! Now is the best time to register. This is an Autism conference you will not want to miss!

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