How Does ASD Affect Mood and Anxiety?

Autistic people are often anxious. If you have ever been around an autistic person when they are overloaded, you will know that the overload brings anxiety with it as the autistic person cannot cope with something going on in their environment that they are expected to process. If you are the parent or caregiver of an autistic child, then you may have wondered if your child’s mood and anxiety levels are linked with their Autism Spectrum Disorder. The short answer to this question is yes. However, in this article, we will discuss the longer answer of why your child’s anxiety levels and Autism Spectrum Disorder are linked.

 

Anxiety and Overwhelm

One of the features of autism is a difficulty in processing information. Unfortunately, the world today tends to be full of information overload, and things which might not bother a non autistic person will most assuredly cause problems for a person with autism. For example, most people are not bothered by large crowds. However, a sufficient crowd can leave a person with an autism spectrum disorder overwhelmed and anxious. This excessive stress becomes extremely difficult for autistic people to cope with at times. When too many stimuli are thrown at a person with autism at once, especially if the stimuli are new, they may experience what is known as sensory overload. They may go nonverbal, feel overwhelmed, cry and try to get away from the stimuli that are causing the problem. With this sensory overload comes anxiety as they no longer feel as if they are in control of their environment and prolonged stress can actually diminish their ability to cope until the stressors resolve themselves.

 

Fitting In

Meeting social expectations can also lead to anxiety or depression for the the person with autism especially if they are a teenager when mood swings are common in most people. They may feel increased pressure to fit in if they attend a public school or are taught in classes with their non autistic peers. They may try to force themselves to make eye contact which studies have shown can cause a fight or flight response in the autistic brain. They may also hide any special interests that they have, especially if those interests are not ones that are considered age-appropriate for their stage of life. Further, they then may push themselves beyond the point of overwhelm to try to deal with the stress of fitting in in a non autistic world.

As if all of that is not enough, these individuals may have methods of self-expression that are not universally understood. For example, an autistic person may bounce or flap their hands when excited. Society takes this as a sign of developmental disorder or deviance and especially if the person with the ASD is a teenager, their peers may shun and ostracize them, leaving them feeling isolated, depressed and anxious.

 

Recognizing Emotions In Others

Another necessary component of fitting in successfully in society is the person’s ability to read the facial expressions of others for subtle social cues. People with autism have a lot of problems in this area due to the lack of development in an area of the brain used for processing facial expressions. . They can usually understand the stronger emotions showing on a person’s face, but more subtle emotions are more difficult for them to process. Due to misunderstanding the proper social cues, the person with autism may react inappropriately to the situation, though most people learn to figure out the context in other ways. Misinterpreting the situation can lead to a fear of social interaction or anxiety that they are somehow socializing improperly. The increased anxiety and depression can make them much more reluctant to socialize which then leads into a vicious cycle of wanting to reach out, not knowing how and having more and more anxiety and depression piling on.

 

There are a large number of ways that an Autistic Spectrum Disorder and a person’s mood and anxiety levels can connect. People with autism may have problems fitting in and expressing themselves in ways society deems acceptable. They may also find new situations, crowds and changes to their environment to be overloading and a large cause of anxiety. However, despite these connections, the situation is not hopeless. People with autism can learn valuable coping skills which they can use to fend off the anxiety and depression they may face as well as curbing the problems which caused the anxiety and depression in the first place. With some support and the help of coping mechanisms and possibly therapy, a person with an Autism Spectrum Disorder can lead a happy and fulfilling life.

Do Spectrum Children Feel Emotion Like Everyone Else?

There are many stereotypes surrounding autism. One of the most insidious is that autistic people do not feel emotions. Many people see the autistic person as overly logical and even slightly robotic, and like the Dustin Hoffman character in the movie Rain Man, these people view them as an impenetrable collection of tics. As any parent with an autistic child will tell you, this stereotype is a fallacy.

 

The Science

Children on the autistic spectrum do feel emotions. They feel just as happy, sad, anxious, excited and elated as anyone else. In fact, there is not any external difference between an autistic person’s brain and a non autistic’s brain. However, there are certain emotions that they may have more difficulty with, such as shame, pride, and emotions that are more social in nature. One of the reasons for these difficulties with more subtle emotions is found in an area of the brain used for facial processing. In a non autistic brain, this area is very well developed and entrenched early in life. Studies have shown that in most autistic children this brain region does not seem as well developed. This lack of development in the brains of autistic children results in a seeming lack of motivation to socialize in some people and a difficulty in reading emotions. In addition, the amygdala, a brain area concerned with the processing of emotions is also not as well developed or modulated in an autistic brain. This means that autistic people, as opposed to lacking emotions may instead have difficulty thinking through and processing their own. This difficulty in processing emotions can lead to the autistic child becoming overwhelmed faster and more severely than a non autistic child would, which can cause them to shut down, go nonverbal and have other emotion regulation difficulties at times of stress.

 

In Practice

The difficulties autistic individuals can have processing their own emotions and reading the emotions of others mean that there are a number of challenges an autistic child must work around. For example, autistic children will overload under stress faster than a nonautistic child will, and they may not be able to communicate what is happening. As a friend or family member of an autistic child, watch for signs that they are becoming overwhelmed. They may cry, cover their faces, go non-verbal or try to back away from the situation. If at all possible, give the child time to process any new information or stimuli that may crop up.

Some autistic children also have difficulties understanding social and emotional cues. They may have trouble accurately reading facial expressions for more subtle emotions and may mistake a scowl of concentration for anger for example. They also may have difficulty telling when you are really angry versus when you are pretending anger as a joke. Be careful to make sure that the autistic child understands what you are trying to communicate.

 

Understand Their Emotions

Be sure that you understand their emotions. Ask the child to tell you how they feel if that is appropriate for the child and their situation.. Help them learn feeling words and facial expressions. Even nonverbal children can learn to draw pictures or write words to tell you how they are feeling. Be patient. It may take longer for an autistic child to pick up a concept than a non autistic child and getting frustrated at them for not getting it right away will only make things worse.

 

Autistic children are generally not like the Rain Man stereotype and the fact this myth has remained so prevalent is unfortunate. Autistic children are suffering from people’s belief that they do not have emotions and their unwillingness to engage with them. Autistic children have the same emotions as anyone else. However, emotions such as shame, pride, and embarrassment are harder for them to understand or read in the faces of other people. On top of this, autistic children have a greater difficulty processing their own emotions. This means that it may take them longer to tell you how they are feeling than it would for a non autistic child. Patience is necessary. If it is at all possible, give them time to process emotions. If you are impatient, you run the risk of overloading the child. Overload may lead to meltdowns or the child going nonverbal. This is not a pleasant experience and it will make the child far less likely to want to tell you anything about how they are feeling in the future. If you are patient and make sure to explain clearly what you are asking and what you want to know, as well as helping the autistic child to understand more subtle emotions, you can go a long way in helping them to navigate a non autistic world much more effectively.

Tips For Reaching Students With Autism

Teaching a student with autism can be a challenge. Their learning styles are often different from those of most other students, and it may even seem that they are taking no interest in the lessons. Usually, however, this is not the case, and the student is simply overwhelmed and needs lessons tailored to the way they learn. This article contains tips for reaching your autistic students and will help you understand their needs better. Before long, teaching a student with autism will be as easy as teaching a student who does not have autism.

 

Use Simple, Concrete Language

Due to the nature of autism, people with this condition do not always understand abstractions, idioms or figures of speech. They may take your words literally and attempt to do exactly what you said. This attempt on their part and your subsequent disappointment can be very frustrating. Simple, concrete language works better as there is no wording to confuse your student.

 

Put Tasks in Sequential Order

If what you are trying to teach is complex, put your tasks in sequential order. Some people with autism have difficulty recognizing the order in which things go, so it can be a help to give them the tasks in the order they need to be accomplished. Breaking down larger tasks into smaller chunks can also be a big help. This way, the student does not get confused or overwhelmed and can more effectively focus on their work.

 

Choices

Choices can be important to any child, but especially to a student with autism. However, too many choices can be confusing. If possible, give your students with autism only two or three choices. That way you do not overwhelm them. Further, do not leave choices open-ended. You are likely to get better results by asking the student whether they would rather read or draw than by asking them what they would like to do.

 

Avoid Distractions

Some students with autism can find colorful wall displays or noise to be distracting. If you are doing a task which requires concentration, allow your student with autism access to a quiet, distraction-free area. This minimization of distraction will help your students concentrate, and will make the task much easier for them.

 

Have a Clear Routine

Children with autism do best when there is a clear daily routine and clear expectations set for them. Avoid changing this routine. If your routine must change, then be sure to warn the child that there is a change in the routine so that they have time to prepare. Changes in routine can lead to anxiety for students with autism. This anxiety can then lead to outbursts and misbehaving.

 

Teaching a student with autism may seem daunting, but it does not have to be. With some preparation and patience and the tips listed above, there will be less frustration for both you and your student. They will have an easier time learning the material, and will not get nearly so anxious. The less anxious your student is, the fewer outbursts they will have and the more smoothly the school day will go. That is something

Music As Therapy: The Healing Power Of Music

For ages, people have turned to music to get excited, calm down, share experiences, and more. Over time, scientific research has shown that this natural affinity for tunes is much more than a feeling—music can have powerful healing qualities.

Music therapy applies those scientific findings to enhance music’s power and help people heal to improve their physical, emotional, mental, social or even spiritual well-being.

Many different groups have been shown to benefit from music therapy, including:

Individuals with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD)
Music therapy has been shown to improve social behaviors, boost focus, reduce anxiety, and even enhance body awareness and coordination for people with ASD, as detailed in a study in Journal of Music Therapy.

Oncology patients
Music therapy can enhance the quality of life of oncology patients in many ways, including by reducing pain and anxiety, boosting mood, and improving heart rate and blood pressure. Cancer.org cites a review of studies reflecting these impacts, and music therapists are part of many cancer management teams.

Soldiers with PTSD
Veterans suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) gained an opportunity to better express and control their feelings and build a sense of connectedness through improvisation on hand drums, as cited in this Huffington Post article.

Special needs children
Most children engage with music quickly, so it can serve as a strong motivator to encourage kids with special needs to make requests, develop motor skills, and complete challenging activities. This post from Friendship Circle shares how.

Alzheimer’s patients
For dementia patients, an aptitude and appreciation for music is one of the abilities that stays with them the longest. Music can be used to improve patients’ mood, manage stress-induced agitation, encourage positive social engagement, and prompt cognitive functioning, according to Alzheimers.net.

Individuals with depression
For people suffering from depression, music can provide a catharsis and much-needed way to connect with others through joint improvisation. Creating music also enables people to positively experience their physical being. These are critical elements of depression recovery, as explained in this BJPsych article.

For pain management
Music provides sensory stimulation that causes patients with chronic pain to relax, reduces stress, boosts their mood, and reduces the patient’s perceived pain level. As explained by Everyday Health, patient learns to relax automatically while listening to music with practice.

Combining the Art and Science of Music

These are only some of the ways music therapy is improving lives. When the art and science behind music combine, they create a powerful therapy technique that can stimulate and heal us, both body and soul. With thousands of certified musical therapists in America today, many different kinds of patients experience the healing powers of music each year.

What is Sensory Processing Disorder?

Sensory processing disorder (SPD), previously called sensory integration dysfunction, is a condition in which a person’s brain has trouble taking in and responding to information gathered through the senses.

Individuals with SPD may be overly sensitive to one or several of the senses, such as sound or touch. Others may be under-responsive to one or more senses. Additional symptoms of include poor coordination, difficulty relating socially, and difficulty engaging in play.

SPD is often seen in developmental disorders such as autism. People with SPD are generally as intelligent as their peers, if not more so. But their brains work differently, so they need extra support to adapt.

Treatment for SPD typically involves occupational therapy and sensory integration therapy to help accustom the person to get used to the things they struggle to process. Left untreated, SPD can lead to anxiety, depression, behavioral problems, and more.

It’s not clear what causes SPD, but research to date indicates it may be genetically linked. Though it’s not currently recognized as a stand-alone medical disorder, many believe that should change.

What is Autism?

Have you or someone you know been diagnosed with autism? Are you left confused, afraid and wondering what exactly this condition is? Are you stuck with media stereotypes about an autistic person’s lack of functioning? If so, keep reading. This article will explain what autism is, without invoking any of the stereotypes commonly associated with the condition, stereotypes which are not true for all or even most autistics while giving a plain-English definition of the features and symptoms of the condition. Do not give up hope. A diagnosis of autism is not a tragedy, though it may feel like it at first, and it is not the end.

 

Definition and Symptoms

When people talk about autism today, they are generally talking about Autism Spectrum Disorders. According to the DSM-IV, the Autism Spectrum Disorders are a set of five developmental disorders that effect the person’s ability to engage with others. These deficits in social interaction can vary in severity from very mild to extremely severe, and in type as well though all people with autism will have some of these core symptoms. People with autism tend to have trouble with developing or using nonverbal social cues. They do not like to make eye contact, for example, and may find it very overwhelming. Autistic children may also not want to make friends with children of the same age, or have any desire to share interests and achievements. People with autism also have delays in development of speech or never develop it at all. As many as forty per cent of autistic individuals never talk. Some people with autism also deal with echolalia, which is the repetition of a phrase they have previously heard. They will repeat this phrase over and over. Other symptoms of autism can include sensory integration difficulties and problems with processing stimuli, as well as atypical movements and fascination with sensory stimulation. These symptoms can make social contact very overwhelming and draining for them.

 

Diagnosis

The mean age of diagnosis for autistic individuals used to be between five and eight years. However, due to more sophisticated methods of diagnosis and the creation of the Autism Diagnostic Observation Schedule by Catherine Lord, Ph.D the age at which autism is diagnosed has been significantly reduced. Most children are now diagnosed near their second or third birthday. This earlier diagnosis means that parents can be more aware of what is going on and can then help their children better adjust to their limitations and the expectations of the world around them. This early intervention to help these children can mean that the child gets the early education they need.

 

Causes

Over the years, many things have been thought to cause autism, everything from drinking milk to getting your children vaccinated. However, none of these is the real cause, and as of yet no one is sure what the cause actually is. The most prevalent theory seems to posit that autism is a very strongly inherited genetic disorder, probably with several genes being affected.

 

Autism may seem like a nightmare. The person with autism may seem unresponsive and hard to reach. However, with some learning on both your parts, and understanding of the person’s abilities and limitations, this condition does not have to be a nightmare.

Are We in an Autism Epidemic?

One in every 68 children in America is diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder (ASD), according to data from the U.S. Center for Disease Control.

This is a much higher diagnosis rate than about 10-20 years ago. Scientific American cites the rate from 1993 to 2003 as one ASD diagnosis for every 2,500 individuals. That’s a major increase.

So are we experience an epidemic of autism? At a glance, it looks like it.

An early study investigating the issue linked autism to vaccines. But this study has since been disproven, and ten of the 13 researchers on the project have denounced its findings. Most notably, as vaccine numbers have remained the same, autism diagnoses have continued to rise.

Since then, additional studies have indicated that the increase in cases of ASD may be inflated. One such study was performed by the Child Development Center in England. By investigating autism diagnoses over a closed time period in the same area of the country, the researchers found that when the same criteria for diagnosis is used consistently, there is no increase in the rate of diagnosis.

Another study by psychologist Paul Shattuck at the University of Wisconsin-Madison observed that as the rate of ASD diagnoses increased, the rates of diagnosis of mental retardation and learning disabilities decreased.

A third study from the University of Gothenburg in Sweden found that when the parents of children diagnosed with autism were asked if their children exhibited specific symptoms of autism, the number of children who met the criteria for ASD remained consistent over time. A Danish study had similar findings, concluding that about two-thirds of the increase in ASD diagnoses in Denmark were because of how the disorder is diagnosed.

It’s possible that there has been some rise in cases of ASD, but the most up-to-date science indicates much of the apparent epidemic is in fact due to changes in how ASD is diagnosed.

Can Diet Cure Autism?

The myth that diet can cure ASD may have stemmed from the belief some people hold that autism is linked to certain types of foods—particularly, gluten and casein. These are proteins found in foods such as wheat, barley and oats; and milk, cheese and yogurt, respectively.

Many parents of autistic children have tried eliminating these foods from the autistic child’s diet completely. Anecdotally, many of these parents report a reduction of symptoms using this method.

However, scientific research into the effects of this diet have shown no difference in symptoms between consuming casein or gluten, neither, or both of these substances, when executed in a double-blind experiment. Researches said that it’s possible the diet may help certain subgroups of people with autism, and more research would be necessary to determine whether this was the case.

While this elimination diet does not have negative effects, parents of children on a gluten-free, casein-free (GFCF) diet need to be mindful of the nutrients this removes from their child’s diet and be sure to replace them from alternate food sources to support their child’s healthy growth.

5 Reasons Big Bang Theory’s Sheldon Cooper is Thought to Be On the Spectrum

Is The Big Bang Theory’s starring character Sheldon Cooper on the autism spectrum?

Co-creator of the show Bill Prady has side-stepped attempts to label the character. But the question keeps coming up, because a lot of fans of the show see startling commonalities.

“On the Spectrum”
To say someone is “on the spectrum” refers to Autism Spectrum Disorder—a single disorder with a wide range of symptoms and severity that used to be considered separate disorders including autism and Asperger’s syndrome.

The question of whether the quirky and quite particular character of Sheldon is on the spectrum is hotly debated, and has come up in fan panels and media interviews ever since the show’s first season.

The show’s co-creators have declined to label Sheldon with this term—Prady says he got his inspiration for Sheldon not from the autism spectrum but from a computer programmer he once worked with. However, that was long before awareness about the spectrum was established. Some argue that it’s entirely possible those co-workers were in fact on the spectrum, but didn’t have the terms to diagnose it.

Either way, Sheldon has been held up as a great example of a person on the spectrum thriving in everyday life. How does Sheldon show traits of being on the spectrum?

  1. Struggles with communication— Some of Sheldon’s funniest moments come from his literal interpretations of people’s comments, and his inability to interpret sarcasm. People on the autism spectrum often have difficulty understanding expressions of emotion, taking expressions too literally and struggling to read people in conversation.
  1. Extreme attachment to rituals—That’s Sheldon’s spot on the couch. When a guest is sad, you offer them a hot beverage. Wednesday is comic shop day. Much like Sheldon, individuals on the spectrum can be extremely rigid in their rituals, and have an extreme distaste for change.
  1. Disconnect from others—People on the spectrum often struggle to make emotional connections or to handle demonstrations of physical intimacy … something that becomes a significant hurdle for Sheldon in his friendships and his relationship with Amy.
  1. Extreme likes and dislikes—Much like many on the autism spectrum, Sheldon is extremely enthusiastic and loyal to the things that he likes. His dislikes, on other hand, can become a disruption for the entire Big Bang Theory crew.
  1. Brutally honest—Another common trait associated with being on the spectrum is brutal honesty. As any of Sheldon’s friends know, he doesn’t parse words when sharing his opinion, so if you don’t want to know, don’t ask—or even let the subject come up. His inability to lie or keep secrets has led to many a quandary on the show.

Even if the show wants to avoid putting a label on its character, that Sheldon Cooper demonstrates characteristics that many who are on the spectrum, or have loved ones on the spectrum, can relate to.

And that’s a wonderful thing. While people on the spectrum have some unique challenges, they also often share some genuinely positive traits, too—much like Sheldon Cooper, they can be extremely honest, loyal, intelligent, and dependable.

Understanding Asperger’s: A Teacher’s Guide

Students with Asperger’s syndrome present a unique set of challenges—challenges that many teachers are not provided with the appropriate training for. This can make welcoming a student with Asperger’s into the classroom seem daunting.

Fortunately, there are a lot of resources available to help teachers fill the gap and educate themselves, so they can make learning a positive experience and help students with Asperger’s feel comfortable and empowered, while managing the disorder’s more challenging traits.

Here, we’ve pulled resources from the Internet’s most authoritative Asperger’s resources to serve as a guide for teachers seeking to learn about Asperger’s and how to support students with this condition in the classroom.

What is Asperger’s Syndrome?

Asperger’s syndrome is a pervasive developmental disorder (PDD). PDDs are a set of conditions that affect a person’s ability to develop basic skills, such as the ability to engage socially and use the imagination.

Children with Asperger’s are typically of average or even above-average intelligence, and although they can struggle to communicate, they have close to normal language development.

Kids with Asperger’s may act eccentrically or make repetitive movements, struggle with change to their routine, and have coordination problems. However, they are also extremely enthusiastic about their interests and highly talented in particular areas such as music or math.

Learn more:
Asperger’s Syndrome, WebMD

Asperger’s in the Classroom

Because students with Asperger’s tend to be highly intelligent, they usually function well in most aspects. However, they struggle to relate to other students, make friends, and participate in group activities in the classroom.

They are also prone to outbursts or tantrums, which can seem sudden, but are likely related to their struggle to communicate or to cope with a busy environment, etc. It can help a student with Asperger’s to cope if you can provide a “quiet space” s/he can retreat to when feeling over-stimulated.

Students with Asperger’s become anxious in unstructured settingswhere people are moving at random, and struggle with change to their regular routine—such as a substitute teacher.

Learn more:
Understanding the Student with Asperger’s Syndrome, OASIS @ MAAP
Challenges for Asperger’s Students, My Aspergers Child

Helping Asperger’s Students Succeed

Because of the unique challenges discussed above, students with Asperger’s syndrome have different support needs in the classroom compared to typically-abled students. There are a lot of ways teachers can modify their lessons and approach to help Asperger’s students succeed.

For example, it can help students with Asperger’s to have visuals that illustrate their daily schedule, and to get as much warning as possible of any upcoming change to the normal routine. They tend to take language very literally, so avoid slang or metaphors when addressing a student with Asperger’s, and give directions in short and direct sentences. Keep an eye out for when the student shows signs of feeling overwhelmed, and help the student break away for quiet time to regroup.

These are only a few of many ways teachers can help students with Asperger’s find success. Teachers should also be aware of all relevant laws and tools available to them, such as the school’s special education specialists and the student’s Individualized Education Program (IEP).

Learn more:
Classroom Tips for Students with Aspergers, School Behavior
Teaching Strategies for Asperger Students, Johns Hopkins School of Education
Individual Education Programs, Organization for Autism Research 

Promoting Understanding with other Students

Because students with Asperger’s struggle to make social connections, they have a hard time connecting with their peers and forming friendships. In their eagerness to make friends, they can develop a willingness to do almost anything to participate—something their peers may sometimes take advantage of. They often cannot discriminate between positive play and mean-spirited actions against them.

Research has shown that when students are given clear and accurate information about Asperger’s, they are more sympathetic to and accepting of peers with the disorder. Take the time to educate the other students in the class about what Asperger’s is, emphasizing the value of diversity and highlighting both the strengths and weaknesses of those with Asperger’s.

Meet with the school psychologist and the student’s parents beforehand to ensure everyone is on the same page about what to say, and don’t disclose the student’s name during the talk unless the parents and the student both agree to it.

Learn more:
Helping Kids Understand Aspergers, School Counseling by Heart
6 Steps to Success for Asperger Syndrome, Organization for Autism Research
Helping Peers Support Students with Autism, Autism Speaks

Working Together

Parents can be your best ally when it comes to addressing issues and finding what will work best for an Asperger’s student in the classroom. It’s best to maintain regular communication with the parents, and don’t be afraid to ask questions—most likely, they’ll be impressed that the teacher is putting forth the effort to learn more.

Teachers should also take advantage of additional support resources available to them, too. Most schools will have a school psychologist and special education specialists who can provide additional insights into how to help an Asperger’s student succeed.

There is also an abundance of information to help teachers understand and support students with Asperger’s online.

Resources:
Teachers and Administrators, Autism Speaks
An Educator’s Guide to Asperger’s Syndrome, Danya International Inc. and the Organization for Autism Research
The Complete Guide to Teaching Students with Aspergers and High-Functioning Autism, My Aspergers Child

Unique Challenges, Unique Strengths

A student with Asperger’s brings a unique set of strengths and challenges to the classroom, for themselves, the teacher, and the class overall. But with patience, education, and understanding, a student with Aspergers can do well in a traditional classroom setting.