What Is Anxiety?
Every kid eventually gets worried or even scared in their life. But sometimes, these feelings can become overwhelming. And this intense feeling is referred to as anxiety. It’s a normal reaction to the different stresses in life. Also, it’s the body’s way of warning you of danger or being cautious in certain situations. And though these are normal, if that feeling lasts longer than you’re comfortable with, you might have anxiety.
Anxiety has different impacts on people, and it can affect children and adults alike. Unfortunately, when kids get anxious, their worries may get severe. And it can come to the point it interferes with their everyday life, at home, at school, or play.
Luckily, the condition is treatable, and understanding the signs of anxiety in kids is crucial as a parent. Doing so helps your child deal with their emotions and reactions to stress.
What are the Causes of Anxiety Disorders?
Many things play a role in causing an overactive “fight or flight” response in children that occurs with most anxiety disorders, such as:
- Genetics. Children with family members suffering from an anxiety disorder have higher chances of developing one. After all, these kids might inherit the genes, making them vulnerable to anxiety.
- Environment. Growing up in a place around people with anxiety disorders can teach kids to feel the same.
- Life situation. Certain events in a kid’s life can be stressful and challenging, especially losing a loved one, violence, or a severe illness. These can lead to anxiety in children.
- Brain chemistry. Genes help brain chemicals, known as neurotransmitters, to work. If these are short in supply or dysfunctional, it can cause anxiety.
Common Anxiety Symptoms to Look Out for in Children
Signs to watch out for in your kids are the following:
- Often worries about the future and other “bad” things happening. This trait can be a sign of general anxiety.
- Extremely afraid when away from parents or other peers, even for a short while. This behavior can be an early sign of separation anxiety.
- Incredibly scared of school or other places with many people. This trait may indicate social anxiety.
- Have extreme fears about specific things or situations, like heights or insects. You may link this odd behavior to phobias.
- Experiences repeated episodes of severe fear with additional symptoms such as nausea, shakiness, and sweating. When these happen out of the blue, your child might be experiencing the panic disorder.
Remember, anxiety doesn’t always pertain to fear or wear, but it can also translate to anger and irritation. After all, being nervous can’t make anyone function well, affecting sleep and overall well-being.
Anxiety in Autism Spectrum Disorder
Recent studies at The University of Amsterdam have shown that over 40% of kids with autism suffer from at least one anxiety disorder. Psychologists include many diagnoses under the heading of “anxiety disorders,” but the primary root cause of all these is the presence of excess worry and fear.
For better insight, here are the findings on the prevalence of anxiety disorders in kids with autism:
- Over 30% suffer from at least one specific phobia.
- 17% suffered from obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) or social anxiety disorder (agoraphobia).
- Nearly 15% experienced a generalized anxiety disorder.
- A mere 9% experienced a separation anxiety disorder.
- Only 2% had panic disorder.
This research study and others have proven that kids with autism experience more severe symptoms related to anxiety than other groups of children. And they may experience the signs of the following conditions more often:
- Motor and vocal tics
- Social phobia
Anxiety can make it challenging for kids with ASD to do everything from making friends to taking public transportation. So, remember to take the condition seriously for your kids, even without an official diagnosis. After all, it’s a crucial factor in the everyday lives of many children with autism.
How Anxiety Rises In ASD and How to Recognize it as a Parent
It can be challenging to recognize the presence of anxiety in children with autism due to overlapping symptomatology and the different presentations of symptoms.
Minimally verbal kids may be unable to show their inner feelings, like worry, and instead show anxiety through disruptive behaviors. In contrast, others might be verbally fluent but have difficulty understanding one’s emotions and expressing them.
Another cause of anxiety in kids with autism is the sense of being misunderstood or not accepted by “normal,” non-autistic individuals. Therefore, some autistic people may mas or camouflage what they feel to ‘fit in’ and not be different. But this is risky as it increases anxiety and harms their mental health.
Aside from that, other reasons why kids with autism may experience anxiety include the following:
- Sudden or unexpected changes to their routine
- Difficulty identifying, understanding, or managing emotions
Treating Anxiety in Children
The earlier you can have their anxiety disorders treated, the better for your kids. Early treatment can prevent future challenges, such as the following:
- Low self-esteem
- Loss of friendship
- Failure to embrace the academic potential
So, if you notice the symptoms mentioned get to the point where they’re interfering with your kid’s life, consult with a mental health professional.
If they conclude your child needs treatment for anxiety, they may suggest the following:
- Antidepressants. Doctors may prescribe your kid medication to ease their anxiety symptoms. But these are usually temporary.
- CBT. Doctors may suggest cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) for severe cases of anxiety in kids. CBT is a form of “talk therapy,” where kids share their feelings and experience with the therapist. It helps kids unlearn avoidance habits and learn more about better thinking patterns.
- Exposure therapy. This form of treatment aims to help kids face their fears systematically. Here, your kid sees their fear or relives moments that triggered their anxiety in a controlled environment. Although a bit harsh, it helps kids become more comfortable with their fears and worries.
- Try a modern approach like neurofeedback. Neurofeedback starts with brain-mapping (QEEG) to find the parts of the brain that aren’t working right. With more training, the brain learns to control itself. This reduces the symptoms and gives long-term relief.
The Role of Parents in Treating Anxiety in Kids
Parents have an essential role in helping to treat anxiety in kids with autism. And many agree that parents can’t only be “parents” but must be therapists, friends, and coaches for their kids! Here’s how you can help treat your child’s anxiety:
- Distinguish what fears are real to help you establish the best treatment direction for your child.
- Encourage your child for their efforts and engagement in brave behaviors. You may also give them rewards.
- Teach your child to handle their worry and anxiety.
- Discuss how to create exposure hierarchies and coping skills with professionals.
- Work together with your spouse or partner to create a plan to help your anxious child.
Parents play a crucial role in treating anxiety in their children with or without ASD. And you should know more about your kid than anyone else. So, to help your child in the long run, be aware of the triggers and address them fast!