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Social Anxiety: Through the Eyes of an Autism Mom

July 1, 2021

Follow the account of an autism mom whose daughter, despite attending various therapies, began to revert to previous behaviors due to social anxiety. 

Social Anxiety: Through the Eyes of an Autism Mom

My youngest daughter is autistic and suffers from social anxiety. At first, I thought the characteristics she was exhibiting was a part of her diagnosis, so I was not concerned about the onset of behaviors she was experiencing.

As she continued through her stages of development we learned different techniques through occupational, physical, and music therapy to help her overcome some obstacles she was facing with her diagnosis. I noticed certain behaviors recurring in her teenage years. She began reverting to old behaviors and challenges she had previously mastered. She became more nervous in crowds of people, she stopped making eye contact, she did not want to sit in restaurants and eat, nor did she want to eat lunch in front of her peers. 

I was even more alarmed when she started flickering her fingers and rocking back and forth, having sweaty hands, and becoming more nervous to speak and use her words. In stores, she literally walked so close to me, I felt like she was walking on my heels. I knew then, this was more than her diagnosis. My daughter exhibited behaviors of someone with social anxiety.

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Social anxiety and autistic children 

Social anxiety in children with autism spectrum disorders (ASD) intensifies because they see life and the world we live in differently to many neurotypical people. We all perceive the world as being large, however, for children on the spectrum, the world is humongous!

Many autistic children struggle with identifying the difference between fiction and reality. Like most children, ASD children are either visual or hands on—either literal—meaning it is factual; or figurative—meaning something that is not factual i.e. metaphorical. It is important to determine at an early stage in their life how to explain the difference between the two. This will benefit parents, as well as, assist with the growth and development of children on the spectrum. 

Ways to identify social anxiety:

  • Clingy to one or both parents
  • Would rather eat at home and not around others
  • Feels alone, withdrawn from others
  • Fidgets flickers fingers, or rocks back and forth
  • Avoids social activity
  • Needs reassurance
  • Constant worrying

How social anxiety affects children with ASD:

  • Headaches
  • Panic attacks
  • Trouble concentrating
  • Trouble sleeping
  • Impatient and moody
  • Stomach aches
  • Avoidance

 Ways to manage social anxiety:

  • Establish a routine
  • Prepare ahead of time for changes in environment and/or daily routine
  • Practice social skills
  • Locate a “safe buddy” in school, someone he/she feels comfortable with and can talk to
  • Have a calming method available: a gadget, a stress ball, a fidget spinner, a bag of rice
  • Establish a code word for when your child feels fearful or in trouble  
  • This is a mechanism to let him/her know someone is aware of his/her need
  • Preparation is the key to balancing anxiety and stress  
  • Many times, anxiety can be associated with stress or stressors. As a parent, knowing your child’s triggers can help to reduce anxiety and  stress

Stressors that create stress or anxiety:

  • Loud noises
  • Lack of structure and routine
  • Lack of preparation
  • Touching and textures
  • Lack of understanding
  • The unknown

As parents, we must make our children feel safe, and equip them with the tools and techniques for them to successfully reduce and overcome anxiety and stress. Children with autism need structure and understanding to be successful and thrive in a world that’s often unaware of their needs, and the unique differences that make them so valuable to us all.

This article was feature in Issue 120 – Epilepsy: High Risk for ASD Kids

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