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.

Autism and Immunization: Is There a Connection?

In the later part of the 1990s, parents suddenly began to fear for the health of their children based on a research paper that claimed to prove a connection between the MMR (measles, mumps, and rubella) vaccination and autism spectrum disorders in children. Since the publication of this paper, the research has been discredited and debunked as a fraud, but parents continue to believe that there is some truth behind the controversial information. If you are a parent yourself, it can be confusing and even scary to try to figure out which side of the fence you stand on. The most important first step toward making any kind of a decision about the well-being of your children is to educate yourself fully on both stances.


The Argument Against Immunization

Despite the fact that most of the big names in paediatric medicine, including the World Health Organization and the CDC, claim that there is no link between autism and vaccinations, the concern is still very prevalent among today’s parents. The media has something to do with this, as many actors and actresses have used their presence in the public eye to speak out against vaccinating children for fear of causing autism spectrum disorders. Even some of the more well-known politicians in the United States have made it very clear that they believe in the strong evidence that supports this theory. The National Institute of Mental Health continues to investigate the possibility of a connection between vaccinations and autism, which seems like a pretty powerful reason to believe that there is still a cause for concern.


One of the biggest reasons that parents continue to worry about the connection between autism and immunizations is the steadily rising number of children diagnosed with autism spectrum disorders every year. Since vaccinations became more prevalent in the 1980s and 1990s, children have begun to show signs of autism from a very early age, much more frequently than did children born before this time period. It is a clear fact that more children are diagnosed with autism today, and that most of those children have been given at least one immunization during their lifetimes. Some parents believe that there is a direct correlation between the two, and cite their own experiences, whether positive or negative, as solid proof of that.


The study which originally purported to demonstrate the connection between autism and immunizations focused on a sample group of twelve children, all of whom had been given the measles, mumps and rubella vaccination and later been diagnosed with autism spectrum disorders. The research paper published after this experiment showed a correlation between the injections and autism, as well as bowel disorder, and managed to prove a weak link between all three. The resulting syndrome was labelled autistic enterocolitis, and blamed entirely on the administration of the MMR vaccination. The paper gained attention very quickly, and made the powerful claim that three live virus injections administered at the same time, as in the case of the MMR immunization, greatly increased a child’s chances of developing an autism spectrum disorder. The study claimed that the measles injection was the most prominent culprit, as it affects the immune system more strongly than the rubella and mumps viruses do. The medical community eventually had this research paper retracted, but the information still stands, and many parents consider it worthwhile to consider what the study showed, whether or not the world of medicine see it as a valid point of research today.


Proponents of the anti-vaccination movement look to court cases to support their side of the argument, and many parents take these instances into consideration as well when deciding what to do about immunizations for their own children. In several different court situations, parents and guardians have been compensated for the onset of autism based on the use of vaccinations. Some parents believe that courts would not award these settlements if there was no truth to back up the anti-vaccination claim. Finally, even some paediatricians have concluded that autism in certain children must have been caused by vaccinations. When paediatricians agree with the parents of these children, it is usually too late, and the parents then share their stories in the hopes of bringing the information to others who might be able to make different decisions.


The Argument For Immunization

While there are plenty of aspects to consider on the anti-vaccination side of the coin, it is important to think about the available information to the contrary. There are many reasons why parents continue to vaccinate their children, in spite of the evidence that supports the connection between immunizations and autism. To begin with, many parents conclude that it is better to vaccinate their kids against possible severe illnesses rather than take a chance that they might come down with something potentially life-threatening. Measles, mumps, and rubella are not always fatal, but sometimes, they can cause complications that lead to childhood death. Parents who vaccinate their children believe it is much better to help save their child’s life than to worry about the possibility of a vaccination causing a mental health disorder.


Vaccinations are also necessary in order to protect the people who come into contact with children every day, and parents on the pro-immunization side take this into consideration when choosing to vaccinate their kids. The technical term for this phenomenon is “herd immunity,” which means that enough people have been vaccinated against a disease that, even if a few should fall ill, an outbreak cannot happen. If more and more children are left unvaccinated against diseases like the measles, outbreaks are going to become more common and much more widespread. When a herd immunity is present, it works to protect young children who have not reached the age of vaccination yet, as well as the elderly, immune-compromised, or otherwise ill who cannot receive the immunization themselves. More lives are potentially saved by the lack of these illnesses in the community at large. When children are vaccinated against spreadable diseases, they are helping control these viruses simply by living a healthy life without getting sick.


Herd immunity also spreads to future generations, and parents sometimes even take the health of their future grandchildren into consideration when choosing whether or not to vaccinate their children. When a female child who has been vaccinated against disease grows up and becomes a vaccinated mother, she prevents the spread of illness to her child, which can in turn greatly reduce the risk of birth defects. Communities that have been thoroughly vaccinated have managed to almost eradicate some diseases completely, meaning that future generations will never have to worry about catching something that no longer exists, such as smallpox. Parents who choose to vaccinate their children today are paving the way for healthier generations in years to come.


Finally, some parents simply consider the cost effectiveness when opting for immunizations. Common immunizations do not cost a lot of money, and are usually covered by health insurance. On the other hand, should a child who has not been vaccinated fall ill with a rare disease such as measles, it could cost much more in medical bills to treat the child and bring him or her back to full health once again. Although it may sound a little bit materialistic, the cost of medical bills is a very real concern. For this reason alone, many parents decide to choose immunization over leaving their children exposed to potential health risks.


Which Side is Right?

When you have the basic information for both sides of the argument laid out in front of you, it can be much easier to make a decision and figure out where you stand on the issue of autism versus immunization. Do you believe the countless parents who claim that there is a connection between the two, or do you prefer to stick to immunizing your children against the very real threat of measles and mumps, and take your chances otherwise? When it comes down to it, the choice is completely up to you. Do not let other parents try to convince you to take their side on the matter if you feel like they are wrong, but also do not ignore the evidence that exists to support the argument.


In the end, the medical field is still more or less divided on the topic, and may continue to disagree for a long time coming. It is in your best interest as a parent, to consider the pros and cons of immunizing your children. Do not jump to conclusions based on the first sensational news story you hear – give it careful consideration before you reach your final verdict. You want to do what is best for your children at all times, of course, so try to consider all available information to help you make this important decision.