Anxiety in Children with Autism: Easing Symptoms with ABA Therapy

Anxiety in Children with Autism: Easing Symptoms with ABA Therapy

Parents and caregivers of kids with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) have probably noticed signs of anxiety in their behavior. Individuals with autism often face challenges related to communication, social interaction, behavior, and hypersensitivity to stimuli. These difficulties can increase the likelihood of anxiety in children with autism.

Some signs of anxiety in children with autism include repetitive movements, specific fascinations, and a tendency to avoid social interactions. These behaviors significantly impact the lives of children with autism and their families, making daily routines and emotional well-being challenging. Fortunately, there is a science-backed approach with proven results to address anxiety and other communication and behavioral difficulties in children with autism: Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) or ABA therapy. 

At ABA Centers of Virginia, we offer comprehensive support and valuable resources to parents and caregivers of children with autism, addressing autism and its manifestations, including anxiety. Our ABA therapy provides remarkable benefits by significantly diminishing anxiety levels in children and adolescents with autism. Using teaching approaches supported by positive reinforcement, neurodivergent individuals acquire new skills, decrease challenging behaviors, and achieve greater independence.

In this blog post by ABA Centers of Virginia, we will explore anxiety in children with autism, its definition, how it manifests, the underlying reasons for its presence, possible triggers for anxiety attacks, and how ABA therapy can help mitigate anxiety in children with autism.

What is Anxiety in Autism?

Autism and anxiety are two conditions that are often closely related. Autism is a disorder that affects communication, social interaction, and behavior. On the other hand, excessive worry and tension characterize anxiety, which can lead to physical changes such as increased heart rate, blood pressure, and breathing. Anxiety often involves extreme concern about the future and potential threats, and it can be a persistent condition without an identifiable cause.

Anxiety in children with autism can be incredibly complicated. Communication difficulties can make it hard for them to express their experiences, thoughts, and emotions, complicating the process of obtaining a diagnosis of anxiety and ultimately making it difficult to access appropriate care.

Although anxiety is not a core feature of Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), research estimates that approximately 40% of youth with ASD are diagnosed with clinical anxiety or at least one anxiety disorder, such as Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD) or specific phobias related to particular places, objects, animals, people, or situations.

Anxiety and autism share similarities, but it is crucial to note that they are separate conditions requiring individual approaches. In both cases, whether autism or anxiety, obtaining a professional diagnosis is critical to understanding each patient’s specific needs and taking the appropriate steps to address their symptoms effectively.

What Does Anxiety Look Like in Children with Autism?

Anxiety in children with autism can manifest in diverse ways and vary in intensity. Some of the most common forms of anxiety in neurodivergent children include social fear, stress related to loud noises, and excessive worry about unfamiliar circumstances or disruptions in routine. The emotional reactions accompanying anxiety can make it difficult for the affected person to function and impact their parents and caregivers.

Comorbid (the simultaneous presence of two or more conditions) anxiety in children with autism can sometimes trigger self-injurious behaviors and the onset of depressive symptoms. Some common manifestations of anxiety in children with autism include:

  1. Unusual or violent behaviors in response to changes in routine or environment
  2. Difficulty sleeping
  3. Separation anxiety
  4. Emotional reactions to seemingly simple issues
  5. Lack of concentration
  6. Social anxiety or fear of new people and social situations
  7. Physiological changes such as muscle tension, sweating, increased heart rate, and abdominal discomfort
  8. Repetitive behaviors that do not have a specific function, such as tearing paper
  9. Negative thoughts
  10. Increased stimming
  11. Repetitive verbal responses

Why do Children with Autism Have Anxiety?

Heightened anxiety is one of the common challenges faced by children with autism, often stemming from their difficulties in social situations and adapting to environments. Compared to their peers, children with autism frequently experience higher anxiety levels, making diagnosis and treatment more challenging due to the considerable variability in their underlying difficulties and manifestations.

The characteristics of autism vary from child to child, and symptoms often coexist with other neurodevelopmental or psychiatric disorders. Children with autism are twice as likely to be diagnosed with anxiety than their neurotypical peers. In addition, children with autism experience more compulsions, more significant social avoidance, and fears related to sensory sensitivities.

What can Trigger Anxiety in Children with Autism?

Recognizing anxiety triggers in children with autism is critical in addressing this condition. Understanding the context of these triggers and being able to avoid them is essential. Since triggers can vary from person to person, observing and identifying the specific triggers for your child to provide appropriate help is crucial.

Children with autism face challenges in a variety of areas that can generate anxiety:

  • Transitions: They find it difficult to cope with times that involve a change in activity, such as the start of a new school year.
  • Sensory Sensitivities: Loud noises, bright lights, textures in food, and flavors can trigger feelings of anxiety in children with autism.
  • Phobias: Some people with autism may develop phobias toward specific situations, activities, objects, people, or animals. For example, vacuum cleaners may cause them great fear, generating anxiety whenever this object surrounds them.
  • Changes in Routine and Environment: It is difficult for them to adapt to changes, such as moving to a new house, which can trigger anxiety in children with autism.
  • Unfamiliar Social Situations: Understanding expectations or what may happen in new situations can be overwhelming and cause anxiety, such as a birthday party at a strange house.

Relieving Anxiety Symptoms in Children with Autism Through ABA Therapy

Social and sensory experiences for many kiddos with ASD can be overwhelming, leading to stress and anxiety. It is essential to recognize these symptoms to enhance the quality of life for individuals with autism and effectively address concerns.

ABA Therapy has remarkably reduced anxiety levels in neurodivergent children and adolescents. Through positive reinforcement, ABA therapy teaches new skills and promotes positive behaviors. Using structured rewards and play-based interventions enables children to gain independence and confidence in dynamically handling complex situations.

Through ABA Therapy, individuals with autism can gain coping mechanisms and practical strategies to manage their anxiety, empowering them to interact confidently with their surroundings, engage with others, and embrace new experiences. Behavioral professionals providing ABA Therapy tailor programs to each individual’s needs, offering support in areas requiring improvement and enrichment.

Benefits of ABA Therapy to Manage Anxiety in Children with Autism:

The benefits of ABA Therapy in managing anxiety in children with autism are remarkable. This therapy empowers neurodivergent children and adolescents to acquire critical skills that enable them to:

  • Develop more positive interactions with their environment and the people around them
  • Prepare effectively to face new experiences and challenges
  • Cope with anxiety through positive expression of themselves and their emotions
  • Utilize problem-solving techniques to deal with difficult situations
  • Maintain a consistent focus and the motivation necessary to achieve their unique life goals

ABA Therapy is a valuable tool for empowering children and adolescents on the spectrum, equipping them with the skills and confidence to cope with anxiety and develop more positively in their daily lives. Additionally, ABA therapy can help parents better understand how to support their children effectively.

How Can ABA Centers of Virginia Support Individuals with ASD and Anxiety?

At ABA Centers of Virginia, we understand that anxiety represents a significant challenge that can impact the lives of children with autism and their families. Nevertheless, we firmly believe in the possibility of long-term change.

With ABA therapy and the support of our specialized behavioral professionals, children with autism can overcome anxiety, developing the confidence and resilience needed to manage their anxiety levels and lead calmer, more fulfilling lives.

Coping with anxiety in the context of autism is a shared challenge, and at ABA Centers of Virginia, we are here to provide support. We offer a variety of services to the autism community, including diagnostics, ABA therapy for children and adolescents, as well as early intervention. We also provide valuable resources with essential information.

If you want to learn more about how we can help you, please call us at (855) 957 1892 or visit our website to complete the form and get started.

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