Is Anxiety Affecting Your Child on the Autism Spectrum?
“Anxiety is extremely prevalent among children and teenagers in our world today. More than ever before, do we hear of such a huge proportion of our young people experiencing immense levels of anxiety on a daily basis… Although this subject might seem very complex, the solution can be a lot more simple than we realize.
“Here are some loving and gentle ways to help your loved ones on the spectrum navigate their way out of feeling anxious:
“Reducing the demands you (and others) put on your child
“Long days at school, homework, therapies, driving around, various different appointments… Plus, social expectations and pressure – all of these can contribute to our children feeling stressed and not having time to self-regulate. Our children and adults on the autism spectrum (who experience great challenges in the social and sensory areas), need many opportunities throughout the day to self-regulate. In an attempt to help our children with their many challenges, we inadvertently end up over-packing their schedules, not realizing that this is not actually helping them!
“A powerful way to help reduce our children’s stress levels is by reducing the demands we put on our children. This might include reducing (or even eliminating) some of the activities and therapies that your child is currently doing! Does this seem counterproductive to you? We would imagine so, especially because many of these activities that our children are enrolled in, are therapies meant to help them with their challenges. The reality of the matter, and what many parents are realizing is: that some of these activities/therapies are not really always helping their children and instead, some are even causing huge control battles, resistance, and intense behavior (such as hitting, shouting, and meltdowns) in their children.
“I speak to autism parents on a weekly basis that tells me how their current therapy is causing a lot of stress for their children. One parent told me: “it is torture to watch what our ABA therapist does because it just leads to my child screaming the whole time and he hates it”. Another parent told me that since their son had been in a new school that puts a lot of demands on the child and doesn’t allow him to take self-regulating breaks, he has become aggressive, and even lost some of his previously acquired social skills.
“When our children are experiencing high levels of stress, they are not able to learn effectively! Until we address the anxiety and help reduce their stress levels, our children will not be benefiting from those therapies and activities that are causing stress.
“Therefore, less is more in this case! When our children have fewer demands, less pressure, and fewer scheduled activities; they can relax and come out of fight or flight mode, which in and of itself is huge! Additionally, now you have a child who can finally engage and learn from the people in their lives.
“Is there something in your child’s daily schedule that can be reduced (or eliminated) just for right now, to allow them more time for self-regulation? Think of the particular therapies and activities that you notice your child is not gaining or learning from – can you stop them for some time?
“I’m sure you would agree that our children’s emotional and general well-being comes first, and this is also a pre-requisite for them to be able to learn and grow.
“Take the time to really listen to what your child wants to talk about
“Really lovingly, attentively, and curiously listening to our children has a massive direct effect on their emotional state.
“When your highly verbal child wants to talk about a preferred and (probably) repetitive topic, or if what your child is saying might sound like “nonsense” – this is important to them and helps them create a sense of comfort and predictability in a world that seems chaotic and disorganized to them.
“Your child feels anxious because a lot of the time the world feels out-of-control to them. Your child is choosing to talk about this topic repeatedly because this helps them feel in control of their world and helps them self-regulate and relax. When you listen attentively and lovingly, it helps create an even bigger sense of trust in people and the sense of predictability that your child is seeking. This will help reduce their anxiety and the people around them will feel more predictable and safe!
“If your child is not yet highly verbal, you can still practice being attentive, curious, and interested in their speech-like sounds, partial words, and gestures – these too have great importance to your child. By listening attentively, you are showing your child that their communication matters to you. It will give them a greater sense of control, leading to them feeling safer and more comfortable in the world.
“Your child’s isms (aka stimming) are the Anti-Dote for their Anxiety
“That is right! You might have been advised to stop your child from doing their stimming behaviors and to re-direct them to do something more ‘productive’.
“However, you might have noticed yourself, that when we stop our children from doing their isms, this leads to a more anxious, agitated, and sometimes even more “aggressive” child. And it’s not more productive, because our children don’t just then magically start doing what we want them to do; they become more stressed instead.
“In the Son-Rise Program for the past 40 years, our approach not only allows our children to do their isms but encourages the parent or caregiver to join them and do their isms with them while they are in a Red Light. Over the years, we have observed that by joining our children’s repetitive behaviors (isms), they become more relaxed, and happier, and they learn and grow so much more.
“When speaking with parents who use the Son-Rise Program as the main approach for their children on the autism spectrum, and who focus on joining their children’s repetitive behaviors when they are in a Red Light; one thing we hear consistently is that their children are much happier and more relaxed than when they use any other approach! ❤
“Joining is the ultimate way to give our children a sense of predictability and to inspire trust, fundamentally helping reduce their anxiety! Joining takes away the pressure of our children having to be different (having to conform to expectations and agendas), and it tells our children we love and accept them just the way they are right now! The ism itself and when we join our children help them relax, and therefore these behaviors are the antidote for your child’s anxiety.
“Next time your child is doing their isms (stimming behaviors), remind yourself that this is your child’s very own antidote for their anxiety – remember this is helping them! It’s good!!! 😊 If you want to help your child be more relaxed and less anxious, allow them to do what they naturally know to do to regulate themselves.”
Camila Titone, Senior Son-Rise Program Teacher