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Anxiety in Children with Asperger Syndrome

Asperger's syndrome is an autism spectrum disorder. However, unlike many other autistic individuals, those with Asperger's display average to above average intelligence, and are often able to function well enough in the world to lead closer to "normal" lives.

Unfortunately, there are many challenges living with Asperger's, and estimates say that as many as 80% of those suffering from the disorder may also suffer from intense anxiety disorders. This can create severe problems in terms of emotional wellbeing and continued development, which is why early intervention is so important.

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Causes of Anxiety in Asperger's Syndrome (AS)

Anxiety is always a complicated issue, and while there are several potential causes of anxiety, there are also going to be several unknowns. Often it's not quite as important to examine what causes anxiety so much as it is to understand your symptoms and what they mean for treatment. Take my anxiety test to learn more.

Still, there are many reasons why those with AS may develop anxiety. The following represents a very small and incomplete version of the list:

  • Anxiety in Parents 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 wellbeing 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.
  • Bullying/Mistreatment 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.
  • Social Issues 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.
  • Unmet Needs 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.
  • Over Responding to Stress 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 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.
  • Mental Stress Finally, those with AS many be experiencing various problems with mental stress. Everyone is familiar with the feeling of stress and anxiety they get when they cannot remember a word on the tip of their tongue. Those with AS experience similar frustrations with social interactions and other issues related to living with Asperger's, and that can create mental stress that may develop into anxiety.

This is barely scratching the surface of the links between anxiety and stress. There are also additional issues that affect even those without Asperger's Syndrome, such as low happiness levels, genetic predisposition to stress, etc., that can all influence the development of an anxiety disorder.

How to Control Anxiety From Asperger's Syndrome

If you're a parent of a child with Asperger's - or even an adult with AS - controlling AS anxiety should be a priority and completed in addition to any treatments you're using for Asperger's. Cognitive behavioral therapy should start as soon as possible, and you should also strongly consider introducing new coping tools into your life.

Parents of children with Asperger's need to also make sure that they learn to control their own anxiety, because your ability to cope with stress plays a big role in your child's development.

I've helped many people with their anxiety. Start with my free anxiety test. It's a helpful tool for learning more about your symptoms and making adjustments as needed.

Start the test here.

Author: Micah Abraham, BSc Psychology, last updated Sep 28, 2017.

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