Autism spectrum disorder (ASD), as the name suggests, affects each individual differently. No two cases of autism are identical, and each person on the spectrum experiences unique challenges that require comprehensive and tailored care. However, one particularly prevalent aspect of autism that many individuals share is an interconnection with anxiety. This close relation between anxiety and autism affects people of all ages and can prove detrimental if not appropriately addressed.
Many factors of autism can perpetuate or fuel this anxiety, which we will discuss in this blog. At ABA Centers of New Jersey, our comprehensive ABA therapy aims to lessen general stress by building vital skills in areas that can fuel this apprehension. Since developing cognitive, behavioral, and academic skills is a primary focus of Applied Behavior Analysis, this care is tremendously valuable in reducing worry, social pressures, and psychological distress. Let’s explore the relationship between anxiety and autism so we can highlight the best ways to tackle this interconnection.
Defining Anxiety and Autism
The interconnection between anxiety and autism becomes apparent when you distinctly define each aspect. Autism is a neurodevelopmental disorder that frequently impacts communication, social interaction, and behavioral skills. Individuals on the spectrum often face difficulties engaging and maintaining conversation, making eye contact, understanding sarcasm, and making friends, among many other social challenges.
Experts define anxiety as intense feelings of worry, tension, stress, or lack of control regarding a potential occurrence, either legitimate or speculative. Unlike fear, which is generally appropriate and short-lived, individuals can experience anxiety in the long term, even with no identifiable cause. When left untreated, anxiety can cause physiological changes in blood pressure, breathing, and heart rate.
The Connection Between Anxiety and Autism
The social complications experienced by people on the spectrum provide a basis for bouts of anxiety. These individuals typically have trouble adapting to new circumstances and settings and often lack the confidence to confront these situations appropriately. They may feel unprepared, nervous, or as if people will judge them for their differences. These emotions can even manifest during small talk or extremely casual settings.
Changes in routine can also induce anxiety in people on the spectrum. These individuals often follow and adhere to strict schedules throughout their day as they provide comfort and normalcy. When these routines shift in any way, neurodivergent people will have a more challenging time acclimating to the new situation, even if it differs only slightly from what they know.
Sensory-related challenges also actuate anxiety in autism. Individuals with ASD experience increased sensitivity to sights, sounds, and textures, so any situation where these may cause issues can bring forth tension. Large and busy public settings like schools, malls, grocery stores, sports venues, and other boisterous locations can induce fear and worry in someone on the spectrum, making them hesitant or downright against going.
Of course, like all other symptoms of autism, the causes of anxiety are unique to each individual. A stressor for one person may mean nothing to another. The severity may vary significantly between any two people. Addressing these root causes requires a tailored approach considering each person’s strengths and weaknesses.
Autism and Clinical Anxiety Disorder
According to statistics from the Anxiety & Depression Association of America (ADAA), nearly 40% of young people with autism also have clinically elevated anxiety or at least one anxiety disorder, such as obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD). Other manifestations of anxiety disorder in autism include:
- Specific phobia/phobias
- Social anxiety
- Separation anxiety
- Selective mutism
This comorbidity between clinical anxiety and autism sometimes leads individuals to self-injurious behaviors (SIB) and depression. Since these can be detrimental and life-threatening, it’s essential to address anxiety’s causes sooner rather than later to avoid these unfortunate comorbidities.
ABA Therapy For Anxiety and Autism
Applied behavior analysis (ABA) therapy is an evidence-based approach to autism care that significantly reduces anxiety levels in children and teens on the spectrum. ABA therapy teaches individuals crucial coping mechanisms and strategies to manage anxiety appropriately. These tools include bolstering social and behavioral skills through play-based therapies and utilizing positive reinforcement to increase positive and more independent behaviors. Other key areas that ABA therapy reinforces include:
- Positive self-expression and confidence
- Preparing for new or unfamiliar experiences and social settings
- Staying goal-oriented
- Adaptability to sudden changes in routine
Tips For Parents to Reduce Their Child’s Anxiety
While ABA therapy can help reduce anxiety in children and teens on the spectrum, parents and caregivers can do their part to assist their loved ones outside of care sessions. There may not be a one-size-fits-all approach to managing these symptoms, but parents and caregivers can follow some simple practices to help minimize their loved one’s distress. These can include:
1. Establish a Routine – As stated before, routines are imperative when reducing anxiety in a household setting. Establishing a schedule can help set standard expectations and predictability for your child or teen throughout their day to reduce overwhelming feelings of uncertainty. They’ll know what to do, know when to do it, and have the tools to champion each obstacle.
One aspect to remember when creating a daily schedule is that altering any part of an established routine can trigger challenging behaviors and increase anxiety. To avoid these situations, ensure your child is prepared and informed about any schedule alteration as soon as possible.
2. Connect With Autism Professionals – While ABA therapy is our primary focus at ABA Centers of New Jersey, we also take pride in providing helpful resources and support to families and caregivers. Parents can benefit from speaking with a professional, such as a Board Certified Behavior Analyst (BCBA) or a Registered Behavior Technician (RBT), as these experts carry out nearly all our ABA services. They can provide guidance, support, and interventions to teach parents and caregivers better ways to manage their loved one’s anxiety.
3. Practice Self-Care – Caring for a child or teen on the spectrum can be emotionally and physically exhausting for parents and caregivers, and rightfully so. These people dedicate their time and efforts to ensure their loved one has the best care, but they often neglect their mental health.
Parents, caregivers, and relatives who assist in their loved one’s daily needs should equally focus on their personal goals and priorities. By doing so, they’ll have a clear and focused mind free from private stress and anxiety that may inhibit their ability to care for their loved one as well as they can.
4. Consider In-Home ABA Therapy – When people think of ABA therapy, they mainly consider clinic-based care where they drop off their loved ones and pick them up day-to-day. However, ABA Centers of New Jersey offers in-home ABA therapy to target goals and objectives unique to the household. If anxiety and stress appear at their worst in a home setting, our autism experts can address these concerns as they arise. In-home ABA therapy is also an excellent way for siblings to get involved, as they can see their loved one progress and accurately understand the challenges they face. We offer in-home services in Trenton, Cherry Hill, throughout Bergen and Hudson Counties, and across the state.
Reach Out to ABA Centers of New Jersey
If your loved one struggles with daily anxiety and distress, don’t hesitate to get started with ABA therapy at ABA Centers of New Jersey. We understand how challenging these emotional complications can be for children and teens. Our evidence-based approach is proven to create lasting and positive change.
We consistently stress the importance of early intervention for autism. If anxiety poses problems in school, at home, or in other social settings, help is just a phone call away. Call (855) 640-7888 or click here to learn more about our ABA services or a free consultation.