How to Manage Stress in the Child with Asperger's Syndrome
by Scott Young, MS CCC LNC, WTWC Children's Counselor
Last month I discussed some potential causes of anxiety in a child with Asperger's Syndrome. Now I would like to talk about the ways to manage the anxiety in a child with Asperger’s. To manage the anxiety in Asperger's kids, moms and dads are encouraged to do any – or all – of the following:
-Adapting the School and Home Environment. Students having Asperger's Syndrome may need to have a special education plan implemented to address their many social, emotional, sensory and learning challenges. This may entail organizational and academic supports, decreased work load or service to address sensory motor deficits. Students may need to take breaks away from the classroom to spend time in less stimulating environments. In addition, short, frequent movement breaks such as a walk up and down stairs or jumping jacks can help children focus to complete school and homework. Students with Asperger’s and anxiety often benefit from smaller classrooms and a classroom aide who can help them develop social skills and make friends. These students often excel in certain areas such as computer use or art and can gain self-esteem and decrease anxiety when parents and teachers provide opportunities for them to shine.
-When able be flexible but try to maintain a normal routine. Many children with Asperger's Syndrome know what"s going to happen next in there lives by following a schedule. Plan for transitions (e.g., allow extra time in the morning if getting to school is difficult). If he is old enough, teach your Aspergers youngster increasing independence in anticipating and coping with anxiety in a variety of situations so when a change in routine occurs he knows how to respond. Develop, practice, and rehearse new behaviors prior to exposure to the real anxiety-producing situation . Implement new behaviors in the actual situations where anxiety occurs.
-Gradually shift “anxiety control” to your Asperger's youngster by preparing him for anxiety-producing situations by discussing antecedents, settings, triggers, and actions to take.
-Don’t dismiss his feelings. Telling your Asperger's youngster “not to worry about his fears” may only make him feel like he’s doing something wrong by feeling anxious. Let him know that it’s okay to feel bad about something, and encourage him to share his emotions and thoughts. Don’t punish mistakes or lack of progress or when he can not put his feelings into words . Many Children with Asperger's have problems expressing their thoughts.
-Help your Asperger's youngster identify the source of the anxiety if he is old enough. Create an anxiety hierarchy, and put the events in order from degree of anxiety the events produce Make a list of numerous anxiety-producing situations, from ones that are easy to control to those that are more difficult to control (this is called “anxiety mapping”). When giving instructions on how to control anxiety, provide a step by step approach. This will make it easier control the anxiety.
-Get him/her outside. Exercise can boost mood, so get him moving. Even if it’s just for a walk around the block, fresh air and physical activity may be just what he needs to lift his spirits and give him a new perspective on things.
-Keep your youngster healthy. Make sure he’s eating right and getting enough sleep. Not getting enough rest or eating nutritious meals at regular intervals can contribute to your youngster’s stress. If he feels good, he’ll be better equipped to work through whatever is bothering him.
-Limit your Asperger's youngster's exposure to upsetting news or stories. If your youngster sees or hears upsetting images or accounts of natural disasters such as earthquakes or tsunamis or sees disturbing accounts of violence or terrorism on the news, talk to your youngster about what's going on. Reassure her that she and the people she loves are not in danger. Talk about the aide that people who are victims of disasters or violence receive from humanitarian groups, and discuss ways that she may help, such as by working with her school to raise money for the victims.
-Listen carefully to your Asperger's youngster. You know how enormously comforting it can be just to have someone listen when something’s bothering you. Do the same thing for your youngster. If he doesn’t feel like talking, let him know you are there for him. Just be by his side and remind him that you love him and support him.
- Offer comfort and distraction. Try to do something she enjoys, like playing a favorite game or cuddling in your lap and having you read to her, just as you did when she was younger. When the chips are down, even a 10-year-old will appreciate a good dose of parent TLC.
-Consult a counselor or your pediatrician. If you suspect that a change in the family such as a new sibling, a move, divorce, or a death of a family member is behind your youngster's stress and anxiety, seek advice from an expert such as your youngster's school counselor, your pediatrician, or a child therapist enough to understand this concept.
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.
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