Anxiety is a part of life. Most of us have moments of anxiety during the course of the day – someone cuts you off driving, or you’re late for an appointment you’ve waited month for. These things happen all the time, and we need to be agile enough to go with the flow (for the most part!)
Our stress response was originally intended to prepare our bodies for fight or flight. In our earlier days it came in handy when trying to escape being eaten by a predator. Today, we deal with so much stress on a daily basis that if we don’t have tools to manage it, cortisol (the stress hormone) floods our system, which can cause a wide range of health issues.
Mama, it’s critical that YOU have tools to manage your anxiety. We have an extra dollop of anxiety in our lives. I love EFT or emotional freedom techniques (also known as “tapping”, a mind-body technique that uses light taps on meridian points on the face and upper body, which tells the amygdala to calm down.
It works, and it’s easy to do.
There are many ways to use tapping, the most effective being working with a certified practitioner. I use EFT in my Better Behaviour Bootcamp, and while it’s not everyone’s cup of tea, the majority of Moms in the group love it.
Let’s talk about our kids
Anxiety is probably THE most common challenge associated with ASD. Our kids have to work much harder than most of us just to cope. It can be hard for parents to appreciate what it’s like for them because we can adapt to stress more readily.
You may be wondering why our ASD children experience more anxiety?
I view autism from a developmental perspective (versus a behavioural perspective). This means that “treatment” centers around developmental gaps. These gaps, related to the wiring in the child’s brain cause the difficulties that we see on the surface. This opens the door to understanding the communication, behavioural and social aspects in a different way.
The vast majority of professionals see these three impairments as autism itself. However, autism goes deeper than these symptoms.
The good news? A developmental treatment approach is not just about “stopping behaviour,” it’s about changing the brain, and therefore minimizing developmental gaps.
So how does anxiety factor in? In a nutshell, the wiring in your child’s brain is atypical. This has impacted your child’s development. Your child has difficulty processing information, which causes confusion, overwhelm and anxiety. Our kids are human; they react to frustration like all of us do! If it gets “too big,” we lose it!
So, how does your child express his anxiety? There are lots of different ways, but you can be sure that behaviour is part of it. ALL behaviour is communication; this applies to you, me and your child!
Try this Exercise
Here’s what I want you to do: Get out a pen and paper, and write down which of the scenarios below are most triggering for your child.
Note: My goal is for you to become proactive, so you can be ahead of the curve — and to know how to get things back on track when they do go south!
Here are some common anxiety triggers:
1. Performance anxiety: Perfectionism, fear of being wrong, making mistakes
2. Social anxiety: Feeling uncomfortable and stressed in social situations
3. Anticipatory anxiety: Getting “stuck” in worrying over an upcoming event
4. Separation anxiety: Your child becomes nervous when he or she has to leave you
5. Sensory overload: Your child’s ability to process sensory stimulation is outstripped by what’s going on around him
6. General anxiety: Your child is generally apprehensive and feels restless and on edge
Circle the ones that are most problematic for your child:
- What situations trigger him?
- What do you notice in these situations? How does his anxiety show up?
- Generally speaking, how would you rate your child’s anxiety in these situations 1-5? (1 being low, 5 being high)
Our brain shuts down when we’re anxious.
One of the most important things to keep in mind is that when we’re anxious our ability to think clearly goes south. Think about the last time you were put on the spot; what happened to your ability to recall information… your mind probably went blank.
This is exactly what happens to your child… so when your child is calm, he might be able to manage and make good decisions, but anxiety can rob him of his ability to do so. As a result, he “flips his lid” and becomes impulsive, losing control of himself. (Remember, this is rarely intentional. After all, who would have a raging meltdown on purpose?
Summer holidays are now in full swing. There are all kinds of new transitions around the corner. That means summer camps, meeting new kids, outings, family visits, etc. Look at the anxiety triggers that are most problematic for your child.
Now, note what’s coming up for your child that might be problematic? Look at the strategies listed below and make a list of 2 or 3 things you’re not doing now, that you can start doing!
What you can do to help your child
1.Empathize when your child is anxious: Your child isn’t just trying to be a pill! Use empathy; everyone wants to be heard. Here’s an example. “I know this is hard for you, sweetheart. I’m here, and you’ll be OK.”
2. Model calm: Your response to your child’s anxiety will always influence his behaviour. If you can stay calm, your child’s anxiety is less likely to escalate. On the other hand, if you begin to over-talk, lecture or become rigid, it’s likely to escalate.
3. I’m a big fan of previewing – preview the next week: Have a calendar on the wall, and write down the days’ events so your child isn’t thrown off by unexpected transitions. Preview an event with your child – talk to your child about who’s going to be there, what you’ll be doing – and make sure that your expectations are clear. Try not to be too wordy.
4. If you’re at an event and concerned that your child is going to have a hard time managing, consider going for part but not all of an event; leave while things are going well! This will give your child confidence, and it’s something you can praise him for!
5. Don’t discourage stimming when your child is anxious: This is his way of self-regulating. As I say all the time, there is ALWAYS a reason for behaviour. Don’t worry about what people think!
6. Be sure your child is getting enough exercise and rest – this applies to you as well!
7. Check out the Incredible 5-pt Scale, created by Carrie Dunn Buron, a teacher in Minnesota. (www.incredible5-ptscale.com). This tool is very simple but powerful. I use it with most of my clients.
I hope this information helps you to understand your child’s anxiety a little more. I’d love your feedback!
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