How You Can Help Kiddos on the Spectrum Cope with Anxiety
Children with autism often have a difficult time managing their emotions due to lack of language and not understanding how to express themselves in ways that are socially acceptable and appropriate. If your child is anything like mine, he or she is usually worried about something and often unable to move on from minor events that take place.
These are common symptoms of anxiety, and as we know, anxiety can be an appropriate response to some situations. Anxiety is often noted for its fight, flight or freeze response in our bodies. However, this response in your child may be disrupting his or her life and having a major impact on the way he or she behaves in everyday situations. As a parent to a child with autism, I have become a scientist when it comes to dealing with and learning about my child’s behavior.
I constantly find myself trying to figure out new ways to manipulate my child’s behavior so that he can ultimately be happier and healthier. Try approaching your child’s anxiety with the curiosity of a scientist by implementing the following strategies so that you can get a better understanding of your child’s behavior and help him or she manage emotions more effectively:
- It could literally be anything that is triggering your child’s anxiety. Start by keeping a consistent diary of your child’s behaviors. This will allow you to see what was taking place right before the anxious behavior started to occur. It is important to figure out what is triggering the anxiety so emotions toward that trigger can be managed more effectively.
- Once you figure out what exactly is triggering the anxiety, try to be more realistic about your expectations. The ultimate goal is to help your child learn to cope with anxiety, not eliminate it in its entirety. Try in every way you can think of to increase visual supports and to be consistent in helping the child understand emotions.
- Help your child to feel like they are in control as much as possible. I found a very handy chart on the Internet that allows my child to rate his emotions from 1 (happy) – 5 (mad). It allows him to communicate to me how he is feeling. Below that section, it gives him three choices for what he can do to help himself feel better, such as hiding under blanket, squeezing a fidget, or getting a hug. This tool has been very helpful in deterring destructive behaviors.
- Create two anxiety kits, one for your home and the other for on the go. This will take some trial and error to figure out what works best for your child. One tip I would suggest is to use the five senses (sight, smell, touch, taste, and hearing) to create your kit. Is there a particular stuffed animal or fidget that you have noticed helps to decrease your child’s anxiety, or at least helps to distract him or her enough to make the situation tolerable? Ask your child for suggestions on what helps him or her feel better.
- As a caregiver to a child with special needs, we often neglect our own well-being in order to care for our child. I encourage you to take a few minutes out of your day to take care of yourself. Making sure your anxiety is in check before dealing with your child’s emotions can make a world of difference. It reduces the negativity in the atmosphere and helps you to more effectively deal with your child and his or her emotions.
- Lastly, and most importantly, seek professional help if you feel it is needed. Only you know your child best, and sometimes professional interventions are necessary to help your child obtain the best quality of life. There is no shame in that! Please be gentle with yourself and remember: you are not alone. Your child will evolve, grow, and learn to manage anxiety with proper treatment.
This article was featured in Issue 54 – Surviving Family Challenges