There are many things that can cause stress in any child. This can include a change in family dynamics, fighting with siblings or typical tension in the home. While these may be manageable stressors for adults, they can be big deals to children so it is important not to dismiss them.
Other stressors for children include issues at school such as teachers, class difficulty, bullies, homework, friends and much more. If you have a child with an Autism Spectrum Disorder you can add even more triggers to the list such as sensory sensitivities, an inability to communicate his or her needs effectively and difficulty de-coding confusing social situations.
Never assume that your child with Autism is without stress. Wouldn't you be if you had to live in a world that was foreign to you?
Whether on or off the spectrum, children do get stressed but they may not display the same signs of stress that adults show. Therefore, it's important to watch for the common signs of stress in your children so you can catch stress before it builds and causes other problems.
If your child has more than his share of emotional meltdowns and you want to minimize the ones that are caused by anxiety and stress then you need to sharpen your detective skills. Below are several common warning signals of stress found in children.
- Withdrawal: Most people can relate to a desire to escape when tension begins to build. This is one area where children often become invisible. Parents tend to see quiet time alone as a good thing and they appreciate the peace and quiet this may bring. But children on the Autism spectrum retreat into their own little world enough as it is so any increase in this type of behavior can be a red flag.
- Unexplained Aggression: Many stressed-out children begin to act out in ways that are uncharacteristic for them and are aggressive in nature. For example, if your child doesn't typically show aggression that involves actions such as kicking, hitting, biting and other aggressive actions – take heed once they begin to engage in these new behaviors.
- Anger – Anger can produce stress when you don't understand what is happening or you are lacking the tools to deal with it appropriately. Not knowing how to identify or deal with angry emotions can heighten anxiety in children. It is scary when angry feelings get out of control, especially if they are your own. Also, even when children understand how to deal with anger, stress can make them less likely to handle it properly. Therefore, be on the lookout for unexplained outbursts of anger that don't fit the crime.
- Lethargic Behavior – Children can become depressed when they are overrun with stress and one of the common signs of this is a lack of energy, or lethargic behavior. It may not be depression exactly, but may just be your child's way of dealing with the stress.
- Developmental Setbacks – If a child is stressed out you may notice that he or she is regressing or adopting habits that have long since been broken. For example, it's not uncommon for young children under stress to resort back to thumb sucking and/or lose the ability to dress him or her self or anything else he or she may have recently mastered.
- Repetitive behaviors – Children with Autism often have a tendency to engage in repetitive movements such as rocking and hair twirling that help to calm them when they become anxious. Don't wait for a full-blown 'stimming' episode to occur before intervening to reduce stress levels. Pay attention to what happens just prior to escalation and intervene with distraction or alter the environment.
Stress may be a part of everyday life but there are many things one can do to prevent stress from building and alleviate it when it occurs. The first step in this process is to recognize the signs and label them as warnings. Knowing what those red flags are will help you intervene quickly when you see them.