Anxiety and Autism

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Anxiety and physical symptoms

As an autistic adult I suffer from anxiety if routines are changed and it can manifest with physical symptoms.

Today I was planning for an appointment I had tomorrow, I had arranged childcare and my travel route. I had planned what to wear and what to dress the children in, had sorted out our fares and looked online at google maps to visually see where I was going so I was mentally prepared.

I decided to ring up as I often do before any appointment to make sure it was all going ahead and it had been cancelled without anyone notifying me.

I am now left feeling anxious as I have nothing planned to do tomorrow, and I always have something planned to do. If I know I have nothing then I plan something, a movie with the children cuddled up on the sofa with popcorn or a walk in the nearby woods.

But I have NOTHING planned. So the anxiety of my plans changing kicks in .

Stomach pain first then being stuck on the toilet with chronic diarrhoea unable to move, meltdown imminent from frustration at having my plans change and the lack of understanding shown on their part while knowing I have Aspergers.

Then a sensory overload brought on by the heightened emotional state I have found myself in. Suddenly sounds seem louder, lights are brighter and voices pierce through me.

Irritated and feeling like I could climb out of my own skin roaring in indignation I storm out to lie down in a darkened room.

Then I need the toilet again.

Many spectrum children I have noticed have stomach upsets with anxiety, if your child has intermittent diarrhoea more prevalent around a particular event be it school or an activity it may well be linked to anxiety. Vomiting can also be a symptom as can shaking, hoarding and desperately needing things to be the same, unchanging.

It’s how we keep our world safe, how we make sense of our environment.

If we hide a bottle lid for instance in a particular place and check each day it’s there we feel better, we feel safe. If we keep twenty empty crisp,packets under the bed we know we have put them there, we know when we get back home after a socially unpredictable day full of sensory assault those crisp packets keep us grounded they are there, constant and reliable.

Hence why your child may meltdown if you clean their room while they are out.

To clean a child who hoards room you need to appreciate at all times that even a receipt from a packet of gum with a two year old date on it may mean something.

Figure out slowly with your child what can go and what can stay. Unless it’s a health risk like food then for instance receipts and paper could be kept in a scrapbook, empty cols bottles could be kept in a box.

Lining up and keeping things in their place is safety for us, routine and needing reassurance that if things will change we will be notified well in time is very important.

If your child has these physical symptoms and you have had all relevant health checks done by your doctor then it is most likely anxiety.

Ask your child if they are being bullied describing what bullying is as they may not realise that they are bring mistreated by ‘friends’. See if anything has changed in their classroom or if a new child has started the class, or has another child left? New teacher starting? Do they have sufficient support and are sensory breaks in place?

All these things can impact greatly on your child mentally and physically.

Visual supports and sand timers to ease unpredictable change helps greatly for your child’s mental wellbeing.

Be a detective for your child’s triggers and understand that if there’s a change that seems minor to you, like an extra shop stop while out shopping to your child it’s a big change and should therefore be planned for in advance.

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