Anxiety is a prominent feature of autism although hard to determine at first. According to Dr. Jeffrey Wood, “Children with autism express anxiety or nervousness in many of the same ways as typically developing children do. We often see separation anxiety, for example, when children must part with trusted parents or caregivers to go to school or camp. Many children worry and become preoccupied with challenges such as homework, friends or health issues.”
The thing is, it is hard to distinguish what upsets a kid with autism. With the few words that sometimes come out of his mouth, he cannot explain precisely what happened to his days. He can’t even tell what he is feeling exactly, whether he is bored or wants something that he will suddenly act out. Did something happen out of the ordinary that he suddenly felt anxious and afraid? It is indeed a tough job to care for a child with autism. However, a parent will do anything to make things better although she is left in wonder.
Meltdowns With No Routine Change
My daughter, Raj, will suddenly have an outburst even when she is doing her regular activities. She will suddenly scream at the top of her lungs, hit whoever or whatever is near her, and would jump around and clutch on things. Sometimes, I wonder why is that so when it has been her routine for a long time. It is hard to deal with her sudden tantrums especially when we are out. With the big girl she is now, it sometimes feels awkward and worrying that other people who do not know might misunderstand her.
Sometimes, I will give her gum which is useful in appeasing her and then hand her the Pooh stuffed toy which is her fav carry-around toy. It takes much effort to calm her down after longdrawn-out meltdowns.
Undiagnosed Anxiety In Autism
Feeling the wrath of a child with autism who suddenly feels anxious is unbearable. It leaves a scar in the hearts of the parents and caregivers, especially when it is too much that they sometimes need to be institutionalized. Seeing your kid locked away for weeks to months is the darkest moments in a parent’s life.
Autism and anxiety are a terrible combination. Children may be given antipsychotic medications which effectively treat their aggression (which is symptoms of autism), but not to address the anxiety. The anxiety in autistic children is often overlooked that it is left untreated.
Doctors find it hard to suspect anxiety as the culprit to their aggressive behaviors and sudden outbursts as it, too, are part of his being autistic. Social deficits, restricted interests, stereotyped movements can mask or mimic the symptoms of anxiety. However, Dr. Roma Vasa mentioned in an interview, “Often, the development of an anxiety disorder coincides with the onset of puberty and the transition to middle school. This tends to be a time of new expectations and a decrease in supportive special education programming.”
Another doctor gave an example of a patient who is a non-verbal autistic. He will repetitively trace patterns in the air with his hands. At first, it may seem like a “stimming” (repetitive behaviors are often seen in children with autism). However, what is very distinct is that he is doing it at specific times, so the doctor suggested a ritual-related to OCD (obsessive-compulsive disorder) which is a form of anxiety.
With the complex issues of symptoms in children and adults in the spectrum, doctors and caregivers find it hard to understand what they are feeling or thinking, and even the autistic themselves cannot articulate what it is to the people around them (parents or caregivers).
People in the autism spectrum disorder genuinely have unique, distinct ways of viewing the world and also have different experiences, that is the reason why caregivers should be oriented or learn things about social phobia and generalized anxiety. Remember, “It’s common for children with ASD and anxiety to become extremely frightened in response to sensory stimuli,” according to Dr. Judy Reaven.
Researching online to understand the connection between anxiety and autism better, I came across a site, https://www.betterhelp.com/advice/anxiety/, that talks more about these things and shed light onto understanding children and adult alike who belong to the spectrum.
Know your child’s autism-related manifestations and have an understanding of what is going on with him. Working hand in hand with your doctor to better detect the anxiety that could be hiding in your child’s autism could help give him better treatment and a better life.