How to Help Special Needs Children with Anxiety Disorders

anxiety disorders

Everyone faces stressful situations, sometimes on a daily basis. The pressure is significant for special needs children with anxiety disorders. 

Anxiety is a constant struggle, particularly for children with special needs. Special Needs Guru explains anxiety disorders and discusses coping strategies.

What is an Anxiety Disorder?

Anxiety Disorders are mental dysfunctions characterised by fear and worry. Experts define worry as concern about what is to happen in the future while being afraid is a typical reaction to traumatic or shocking events.
Negative emotions like these may cause a person to quiver and have a fast heart rate.

Types of Anxiety Disorders

The different types of Anxiety Disorders include:

  • Generalised Anxiety Disorder
  • Separation Anxiety Disorder
  • Agoraphobia
  • Panic Disorder
  • Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder
  • And Selective Mutism.

How to Help Special Needs Children with Anxiety Disorders

1. Types of Anxiety and What to Look For

The first detail that a parent must look out for is the type of anxiety a child with special needs has. While children with special needs can have one of many anxiety disorders, the most likely to occur are specific phobias, obsessive-compulsive disorders, and social anxiety.

a. Specific phobias

A child with Autism tends to have this condition. It happens when the afflicted individual fears a person or object. For example, he or she may fear dogs and refuse to go near them. The anxiety may cause him or her to hate dogs and avoid them altogether.

b. Obsessive-compulsive disorder

Repetitive behaviour often characterises this condition. A person with this condition often experiences thoughts and impulses that he or she cannot control. OCD sufferers often have these feelings and later realise that they don’t make sense. Fear and doubt typically accompany these feelings.

c. Selective Mutism

This disorder happens to people who are capable of speech but cannot speak in specific situations. For example, a child scolded by his teacher may become fearful of speaking during lessons. People with selective mutism become silent even when the consequences of their actions include punishment or ostracism.

2. First of all, notice your child’s feelings.

You may understand that your child is over-anxious, but he doesn’t. Don’t dismiss him because his anxiety will escalate.

Don’t reassure your child because he won’t be able to stop worrying. The excess chemicals in his brain prevent the logical part of it, or the pre-frontal cortex, from functioning.

Try the FEEL method of assuring your child.

Freeze: Stop what you are doing and take a few deep breaths with your child.

Empathise: Your child needs to know that you understand his feelings. Assure him that you do.

Evaluate: Look for possible solutions once your child calms down.

L: Let go of guilty feelings. You may feel responsible for your child’s fears, but remember that you’re an incredible parent who can give your child the tools to manage his or her worries.

a. Calm Down

Also, you can’t calm an anxious child if you’re worried yourself. Stay cool when your child becomes angsty. It will help him put things in perspective.

b. Praise

Another way to reach out to a tense child is to heap him with praise. Let him not that his efforts have not gone unnoticed.

4. Don’t Punish

Furthermore, don’t be too harsh on a child for his errors. Remember that he will progress, though at a comfortable rate. Modify your expectations of your child to avoid giving him and yourself stress.

5. Embrace change

The unexpected happens with children who have special needs. That said, try to maintain a normal routine whenever possible.

6. Plan for transitions

Adapting to change is a challenge for children with unique needs. Plan for them when possible. If getting to school is hard, allow extra time in the morning.

7. Use Checklists

Teach your child to work through a checklist of things to do when he or she is anxious. It helps him or her calm down. One of the things they could have on their lists is to breathe deeply. They could also learn to evaluate situations and decide if worrying is necessary.

8. Some worry is good

Children need to learn that anxiety is beneficial at times. It keeps them alert when situations are unsafe. It also keeps them on their toes.

Use the 3 Cs method to prevent your child from worrying. Teach him to:

a. Catch his thoughts

He should pretend to put his head in a bubble and write down the anxious feeling that comes to his mind, e.g. ‘Everyone in class hates me.’

b. Collect evidence

Perhaps it isn’t true that every child in class hates yours. Ask your little one to consider all evidence. Your child may have had difficulties finding someone to sit with at recess because his friends were talking to the teacher.

c. Challenge your thoughts

Encourage your child to debate if everyone in class hates him. He can ask himself questions like ‘If people hate me, they won’t help me pick up my toys.’

In all, an anxiety disorder in special needs children is manageable, with some empathy and common sense.