AUTISM AND ANXIETY
written by Hannah
The National Autistic Society stated that roughly 40% of people on the autism spectrum have anxiety problems compared with 15% of the general population. The only thing about that statistic that surprises me is that it is only 40%. I listened to an interview, Understanding Fear and Anxiety as core emotion in #autism, in which Dr. Temple Grandin stated, “The principle emotion experienced by autistic people is fear.” That was very interesting to me, because I recall just the other day my mom saying sometimes she felt like anxiety seemed like the root of autism. I agreed and said that I thought anxiety was definitely a huge part of Jess’s disability. Mom said, “Like anxiety, OCD, & ADHD mixed in a blender and poured out.” SO accurately describes Jess!
PERSONALITY TRAITS OR AUTISM
I have learned that many things I once attributed to being just part of Jessica’s personality are actually common traits of people with autism. Fear and anxiety are common, and more specifically a reluctance to do new things and the fear of change. Jessica takes a mild anti-anxiety medication, but she still is prone to episodes of major anxiety almost every day. The slightest change in her schedule can cause a week-long (or possibly longer) stretch of constant worry. When I say constant, I mean it can literally consume her every waking thought. Even when nothing on her schedule has changed, she is always worried that it will, and asks us over and over and over to reassure her that nothing has changed.
WANDERING AND ANXIETY
Like many other autistic individuals, Jessica has demonstrated a tendency to wander off (Wandering Jess). One time she bolted just because she did. Another time it was to get chocolate. Three other times were related to anxiety. Although we have told her thousands of times not to go outside without asking, not to open the door for strangers, etc., we cannot completely trust her not to. What if one day she decides she’s “independent” enough to disregard those rules?
WE HAVE TO TAKE JESS EVERYWHERE WE GO
We don’t feel comfortable leaving Jess home alone. So, we take her everywhere we go, and I mean literally everywhere. We love Jessica, and most of the time she is pleasant to be around. She brings much joy and humor to our lives. But at the same time, her own fear and anxiety play a MAJOR role in the stress of our every day lives. Every decision we make about where we go and what we do requires taking into consideration Jessica’s mood, anxiety level, current level of cooperation, and the purpose of our outing.
Sometimes we have to take Jess with us even when she doesn’t want to go. In those cases, factors such as her mood and anxiety dictate her level of cooperation. She will be extra sensitive to sensory triggers such as loud noises, and nearby conversation of complete strangers which can make for stressful outings.
Sometimes, with an added effort of redirection on our part, Jess will ‘snap out of it’ and everything will
be fine. Then, there are those days we expect her to be okay thinking she will snap out of her mood and resistance once we get going, but then she’s foul the whole outing.
IT AFFECTS THE FAMILY
We try to not let Jessica’s fear, anxiety, and moods control our lives and the decisions we make about getting out and doing things. In reality, it often does. Mom gave an example of this in Excuses for Being Anti-Social.
However, sometimes it all works out. We have a GREAT time getting out and all the effort is worth it.