Fear, Anxiety, and Autism

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Article first published as Fear, Anxiety, and Autism on Technorati.

Mom and the boys at Sea World, in front of the Polar Christmas display.

Both my boys have trouble with anxiety.  And because of that, we have fairly rigid daily schedules.  If we don't adhere to the schedule, anxiety sets in and it takes quite a while for them to get over their fears.  It's something we have known about and had linked to their autism, but a researcher at Brigham Young University has taken that correlation a step further.  

As published in the journal Autism Research, professor Mikle South and his research team has identified a direct connection to fear and severity of autism. The research used a puff of air that blew against the chins of a child when a yellow card was shown, and used sensors to measure nervous system reaction. They then mixed it up with a red card, changing the expectations. In the test, they used 30 children with autism and 29 neurotypical children.

The results were interesting. No only did the connection between anxiety and fear increase with children on the spectrum, but children with more severe symptoms of autism took a longer time to overcome their fear.

The research is pretty interesting, as we now know there is a direct link with fear and autism, and can start to treat both in conjunction. It helps parents to know that the anxiety of their children is directly related to their placement on the autism spectrum, and they can now understand why it is happening. And those specialists working with children on the spectrum can better address fear and anxiety.

So, immediate practical applications of this research? Try to control the environment as much as you can. If you go on vacation, have it all planned, run some "trial runs" ahead of time if you can, and you will find it will help. A good example of this is the upcoming How the Grinch Stole Christmas autism specific performance at the Old Globe in Balboa Park, San Diego. They have a "meet your seat" night to help children on the spectrum understand what will happen, and therefore control the fear that may occur when the performance starts. These steps can work, and will need to be repeated more often for children who have more severe symptoms.

It's great to see the research that is coming from professionals out there! Much of it is in rooted in the cause, but it's nice to see some good old practical research being done as well.