Tsunamis, Wars and Nuclear Meltdowns: Dealing with Anxiety in a Child with Autism


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A global financial crisis. Unrest in the Middle East. Earthquakes and tsunamis in Japan. Nuclear radiation fallout. Bombings in Libya.

A cursory glance at these recent headlines would give any neurotypical person reason for concern at our world’s current state of affairs. However, for those on the autism spectrum, these events can create unneeded anxiety and worry, particularly for those who are high functioning.

My son is at an age where he pays attention, understands and fully comprehends current events. As it stands, he already has an elevated phobia of earthquakes and natural disasters, so recent events in Japan only served to exacerbate those fears.

As with any child, it’s important to keep a healthy balance of reality, while at the same time, protecting them from unnecessary information that is going to cause undue fear. As renown autism expert Tony Attwood once stated, "Autism is anxiety looking for a target.” 

Many fears associated with those who have autism manifest when routines are disrupted and children find themselves in unfamiliar situations and events. With apocalyptic headlines coming in on a near-daily basis, parents should do everything possible to provide comfort and solace to their children and ensure them that no matter what happens around them, they will continue to have a loving and caring support system in their lives.

Some things that can be done to allay some of the fears in children with autism include the following:

1) Offer up a favorite game or activity. When anxiety sets in, offer your child a familiar game or activity to help divert their attention from the problem at-hand. This could include a favorite iPad app, Nintendo/PlayStation/Xbox game or book. Tell them that things are going to be fine and providing them with a familiar activity will go a long way in soothing frayed nerves.

2) Limit television and Internet exposure. While it’s important not to completely shield children from the realities of our world, TV time and Internet usage should be kept to a minimum. Internet filters are also very important and one of the best programs I have come across for protecting a child on the Internet is the K9 Web Protection program. This is a completely free software program that can be installed on your computer that will filter news, social media, gambling sites, adult content and just about any other topic you can think of. Everything is customizable and the best part of this software is that it’s free. It can be downloaded at: http://www1.k9webprotection.com/get-k9-web-protection-free 

3) Pray. Take the time to pray with your children on a daily basis. Bedtime is usually an ideal time when you can say your prayers, then discuss the things that are concerning your child — all while they are in a relaxed and safe environment. Talk them through their fears and let them know that despite bad things happening in the world, there is a greater purpose to their lives and ultimately, God is in control.

Children with autism already have a lot to deal with and there is no need to add to those fears by having them concerned with every headline that comes across the newswires. Keeping an open line of communication with children and being a supportive parent or caregiver is typically the best anecdote for any anxiety that may be created from recent news events.

One Response to Tsunamis, Wars and Nuclear Meltdowns: Dealing with Anxiety in a Child with Autism

  1. sandy jones says:

    My child is not autistic, but is seriously struggling with recent disastrous events in our “neighbourhood” including floods, bushfires, earthquakes and the Japanese tsunami – the information here is good for all children…particularly refreshing to see the suggestion to pray – under-estimated in society these days, but probably what we most need. It’s a very unsettling time for little people, and with undeveloped tools for coping, my boy is very fragile and insecure. Thanks for the info!

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