We are faced with common place situations that can make us anxious on a daily basis. A few examples that would cause some form of anxiety would be rushing to work, being stuck in a traffic jam, not knowing how to do an assignment or something seemingly trivial like trying to blend in with an unfamiliar social group. People go through these situations often and despite them causing some anxiety, most individuals are usually able to learn how to cope with them over time.
For someone with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) on the other hand, these commonplace situations can cause great anxiety especially so when they have not learnt how to cope with these stressors. Some of these stressors include:
Unstructured Time (not knowing what would happen next, not having a clear routine)
Academic Situations (understanding what to do and how to do it, not knowing how to break down tasks)
Sensory Issues (too loud, too bright, too loose, too tight, tastes of food, too crowded)
Social situations (unfamiliar events or people, not knowing how to initiate conversations)
Although these situations seem relatively harmless to most of us, for a person with ASD, the same situations can create great anxiety and panic. "What makes the experience of helping students with their anxiety so interesting and challenging is that many times, they don't even know how they're feeling, so they have no foundation for trying to manage the feeling (Page, 2009)."
Using Applied Behaviour Analysis, these challenges can be tackled in a systematic manner. ABA has been proven to be an effective intervention for many challenging behaviours in children with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). With careful observation, negative responses to certain smells, tastes, sounds, movements or touch can be identified. The child's tolerance to these triggers can be increased initially by allowing the child to be exposed to the situation for small periods at a time and reinforcing when the child remains calm. These triggers will be presented for longer periods of time as the child progresses and soon enough, the child would learn to how to tolerate these unpleasant triggers even when reinforcement is not present.
Most children with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) have difficulty dealing with unpredictability or changes in routine. In order to alleviate anxiety, it is important to let the child know what is going to happen next using a calendar, visual schedule, or visual cues. This would be very helpful in dealing with unstructured time or in academic situations. It is also very important to set clear expectations because children with Autism may not understand what is expected of them in a certain situation.
In social situations, children on the autism spectrum may have challenges understanding subtle cues such as facial expressions, body postures or reading between the lines. Using Applied Behaviour Analysis (ABA), the child can be taught appropriate responses in various situations. In a more advanced level, the child can even learn appropriate conversational skills such as knowing when to acknowledge a statement or when to ask a question.
By learning all these vital skills to deal with these common place situations, children with Autism can grow up to have a more fulfilling and independent life.