One of the greatest obstacles to communicating and learning for us all is anxiety. Anxiety is a state of apprehension, uncertainty, and fear, that is often the result of a realistic or falsified event or situation, often impairing an individual’s ability to function mentally and physically. They are often unable to stay engaged or interactive in that given moment.
Autism and anxiety therefore go hand in hand. Autism affects a child’s ability to communicate or understand the world around them, which leads to anxiety and panic. Anxiety overload can occur when there is a change in the autistic child’s routine. Even a positive change can lead to an increase in their anxiety and aggressive behavior.
The best course of action as a parent of a child with autism is to anticipate these changes, and take the necessary steps to help your child prepare for them. It is often helpful for parents to use pictures or stories to initiate change in a positive way. For example, if you are going to take your child to the park, show them pictures of where you are going. Talk to them about what they will see and experience while they are there. Incorporate this into their routine up to 4 days ahead of time. This way, the child will already appreciate and understand what is happening when the event actually happens.
For a child with continual anxiety, it is often helpful to introduce change with a series of non negative events leading up to a negative one. An example of a non negative event would be to allow the child a little extra time performing an activity they enjoy, like watching TV, doing a puzzle, or playing outside instead of homework time one night. You can then proceed to a neutral event by switching homework time to after dinner instead of before. Then expose the child to a negative event such as changing play time to chore time. By increasing the child’s change in routine slowly, they begin to adapt and become less anxious.
Routine is not the only area in which a child with autism will become anxious. Social interactions can be one of the most stressful situations that bring about a negative reaction from them. They simply do not have the ability to react to them in a calm manner. If given the opportunity to become social, they may wander off to be by themselves. Remember, do not force activities with others on them, but be sure to make them available. A child with autism can learn how to handle different social interactions with others, given the time.
The most important thing as a parent is to remain calm and patient with your child. A child with autism has a different way of looking at things which makes their journey unique. There is no known way to prevent anxiety, but recognizing the symptoms when they appear can often minimize the distress for you and your child.