Anxiety in Children with Asperger Syndrome
by Scott Young MS CCC LNC, WTWC Child Counselor
Aspergers Syndrome, as defined by the DSM 4, consists of impairment in social interaction and restricted , repetitive ,and stereotyped patterns of behavior, interests, and activities. These disturbances cause clinically significant impairment in social, occupational, or other important areas of daily functioning. Examples of disturbances include impairment of facial expressions, body postures, and gestures to regulate social interaction, impaired verbal communication, inflexible adherence to nonfunctional routines , and preoccupation objects or activities. Abnormalities in the use of language and interpretation of language are common with Asperger's Syndrome, although language development (grammar, syntax, etc.) is normal. The degree of severity of symptoms can vary among affected individuals. Anxiety and frustration may contribute to disruptive behaviors because of the inability to express his needs, feeling or thoughts.
People with Asperger Syndrome can be anxious from a very early age due to not understanding the social and communication rules of society. They can find social situations confusing, which can raise their anxiety levels as they often do not understand how to converse appropriately, they may not know what to say, how to behave or how to approach others appropriately. Often, people with AS have difficulty reading non-verbal communications like body language and facial expressions – raised eyebrows, arms crossed, hands on hips, smiles from someone who is annoyed, frowns etc. They may also misinterpret what is said to them, taking things literally or completely misunderstanding what has been said or is expected of them. Still, there are many reasons why those with AS may develop anxiety.
A parent that is stressed can cause a child with AS to have anxiety. Children pick up many of their mental health symptoms from their parents, and parents of autistic children are believed to be more prone to anxious conditions. It is tough raising any child, and worries over the health and well being of your AS child can create anxiety in the child as well. While you should never blame yourself since this anxiety is natural, your child will always benefit if you learn to cope with your own anxiety.
Many children with Asperger's also get mistreated, and sometimes bullied. Often it is intentional, but sometimes the bullying is by accident, where children or adults share some unkind words out of difficulty understanding the AS. Bullying can lead to intense anxiety symptoms.
Many AS children have few friends While autism may make it difficult for children and adults to understand social cues, those with Asperger's Syndrome often want to have friends but simply cannot, because they are unsure or unable to interact "correctly." Friendships are an incredibly important tool for avoiding anxiety, and problems making friends can create social phobia and depression.
AS children may be routine oriented instead of goal oriented Some children with Asperger's display needs for order or routines. When these needs are unmet (and often they cannot be realistically met), it can cause stress on the child. Since long term stress can develop into anxiety, this is another potential cause of anxiety symptoms.
While it's not clear if this affects all AS children equally, some children may respond strongly to stress in a way that is incongruous to the amount of stress they should experience in the situation. For example, if they forget a pencil at home they may experience profound stress in a way that a child without AS would not experience.
Unhealthy living can be another cause of stress Exercise, good eating, and other issues are all still important, and especially important for Asperger's children and adults that may not have developed effective coping skills for mild stresses and anxiety. Unhealthy living does cause mild anxiety naturally, and that mild anxiety may be more pronounced in those with AS.
In conclusion children with AS experience various problems and origins that cause mental stress. Those with AS experience frustrations and anxety we all do but it is magnified by the disturbances in social interactions and daily routines related to living with Asperger's.
Scott Young, MS, CCC, LNC earned a Bachelor’s degree in Nursing in 1992 and has been a nationally certified Christian Counselor since 2003. Having worked professionally in inpatient psychiatry for 16 years and with children and adults as a mobile therapist, Scott specializes in family counseling, children’s counseling, parenting concerns, individuals with special needs, developmental and learning disabilities, anxiety, ADD/ADHD, anger, social skills, self esteem, depression, and character building. Scott has seen the importance of looking at each person holistically and considers all areas of health when working with clients. Scott earned a doctorate in Naturopathy in 2014 and offers a comprehensive approach to overall health and well-being by integrating counseling, botanical and herbal medicine, naturopathic and holistic medicine, and lifestyle therapy. Scott is passionate about working with children and serving as an advocate for children with special needs.
Click here to find out more about our Children's Counseling program.