Are The Worries And Fears Of Your Child With Autism Taking Over Their Life?
Does your child have excessive worries, phobias, and fears of certain situations or sensations? Do they need family members to answer questions in a particular way or carry out specific, routine actions in order to reduce their anxiety?
Maybe you notice them compulsively washing their hands, checking, counting, or arranging items. Or perhaps they have increased anxiety when they are in social situations, even refusing to go to school or staying at school for the full day once they are there.
Autism And Anxiety – Working Together Against You
Because autism is a spectrum disorder, your child will have a unique set of strengths and challenges, making their story specific to them. For example, they may struggle to communicate with other individuals, understand the person’s feelings and motivations, and process what is said to them. And this can provide fertile ground for anxiety to develop or amplify the social difficulties they already experience.
Or perhaps your child demonstrates repetitive behaviors or has very specific and restricted interests and hobbies. These existing behaviors might also mask underlying anxiety since these actions are often used even by individuals who don’t have autism to alleviate fear.
Without a doubt, both anxiety and autism have their own areas of impact. Together, they present even greater challenges.
But while mental health issues of this magnitude can lead to frustration and isolation, support is available! Treatment from an experienced therapist can provide skills for managing anxiety in people who have autism and help them find some relief.
Comorbid Anxiety And Autism Are Not Uncommon
Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) is a pervasive developmental disorder that now encompasses conditions previously known separately as Autism and Asperger’s Syndrome. Children with autism commonly experience co-occurring anxiety, and many of them will be diagnosed with an anxiety disorder at some point in their life.
According to Autism Speaks, ASD affects an estimated 1 in 44 children in the United States.** And the National Institute of Health reports that around 40% of these children suffer from anxiety.*** This statistic means that children with autism are two times as likely as their peers to receive an anxiety diagnosis. While these numbers are high, in reality, they are probably even higher, as anxiety often goes undiagnosed for individuals with ASD.
Biological And/Or Behavioral Components Play A Part
Both anxiety disorders and ASD have biological and behavioral factors. For instance, if a family member has autism or an anxiety disorder, a child might be at a greater risk for one or both of these diagnoses.
We also know that the environment that children interact with can at times directly and indirectly reinforce anxiety, whether this is parenting styles, observed behaviors, or other things. Moreover, the patterns that they engage in on a daily basis, might also be continuing the anxiety cycle.
Regardless of the biological and behavioral nature of these diagnoses, treatment for anxiety and autism spectrum disorder can help you and your child learn new and different ways to interact with fears, phobias, and uncertainty.
Treatment Of Anxiety In Autism Spectrum Disorder Can Reduce Areas Of Impact
Anxiety disorders can cause a large amount of distress and disruption for your child and your family. These problems can be even more heightened if your child has also been diagnosed with autism.
Though realizing this can be discouraging and devastating for both you and your child, there is hope. Treatment with evidence-based practices can help change your relationship with anxiety, assisting not only the child with autism but your family as a whole.
What To Expect From Treatment Sessions
Our skills-based sessions are designed to help with treating anxiety in individuals with autism. These sessions will provide education regarding the anxiety cycle and explore behaviors that are maintaining your child’s fears. Treatment is designed to teach them to tolerate uncertainty of fears while removing behaviors that are maintaining anxiety.
Your therapist will also teach you, the parent, about your role in helping to fight your child’s anxiety. For example, when your child is experiencing anxiety or distress, they might want you to respond or act in a certain way. While this may help them in the moment, it indirectly tells them that they cannot handle the distress and keeps them dependent on your response or behavior.
With our support, you can learn how to remove these accommodating behaviors, helping your child to gain their own confidence and independence to fight their anxiety.
Treatment Methods For Autism and Anxiety
At The OCD & Anxiety Center, we utilize the most evidence-based treatments possible. A type of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), Exposure and Response Prevention therapy (ERP), has been proven to be the most effective therapeutic method for individuals with anxiety disorders and ASD.
Through ERP, a therapist will work with your child to identify their fears and phobias, as well as behaviors that are maintaining them. Slowly and gradually, your child will learn to face these fears and see that what their anxiety tells them is going to happen is much less likely than they think. With this repetition, new learning can take place and the reinforced, prior fear response can change. Many times, this treatment process can take longer for children with autism, but over time, anxiety often reduces.
Therapy may also include the use of social skills training to help your child with autism learn strategies to create, maintain, and improve their relationships with others, despite the fears that might be present. We will also utilize CBT to help your child create flexibility in their thinking and learn skills for managing anxiety and discomfort.
Moreover, parent training is a large component of the treatment process for anxiety in children with autism. We will teach you how to respond to your child when they are anxious and how to help reinforce what they are learning. You will also learn about factors that maintain anxiety and how to reduce these.
It may feel hard to imagine right now that change is possible. But with support from one of our anxiety and autism specialists, you will discover that your child’s worries and anxious thoughts do not need to control them or you.
Perhaps You Are Considering Treatment For Anxiety In Autism But Still Have Some Concerns…
My child struggles to build relationships. I am worried about the connection between them and their therapist.
We understand that it can be challenging to find the right fit with a therapist and treatment, in general, and that anxiety in a child with autism can make this connection feel even more difficult. Our therapists will do what they can during the first few sessions to meet your child where they are at and use skills, games, and strategies to build rapport and trust. They will also work to teach your child social skills that may help them improve social connections overall.
My child is already enrolled in ABA. How does anxiety therapy fit into that?
ABA is a great evidence-based treatment approach to create new routines and schedules for children with autism and challenge their anxiety in a different way. When there are other individuals already on your child’s treatment team (therapists, doctors, psychiatrists, etc.), we will collaborate with them in order to best support your child. Managing anxiety takes a team, and learning strategies to reduce the impact of autism does as well.
We can also use ABA strategies when implementing the ERP hierarchy, keeping routines and patterns consistent, and both work to challenge and change anxiety’s impact.
Will therapy remove all of my child’s anxiety?
Treatment for children with autism is not about removing anxiety completely but about helping children manage it so it is not interfering with their life. ERP and CBT are extremely effective and evidence-based approaches to treating anxiety, including in children with autism. With time, repetition, and practice, your child can learn to interact with their fears, worries, and phobias in a different way. While the thoughts might still come up, they will know that they do not need to listen to their anxiety or react to it.
Your Child With Autism Does Not Need To Be Control By Anxiety
If constant worries, demanded behaviors, and social fears related to autism are making it difficult for you and your child to live an anxiety-free life, treatment with The OCD & Anxiety Center can offer you the right tools to break the cycle. To address further concerns or schedule an appointment, please call us at (630) 522-3124 or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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