How to Manage Autism Panic Attacks

Approximately 40 percent of children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) also have an anxiety disorder. It is important to note that anxiety can exacerbate symptoms of ASD, making communication and social interactions increasingly difficult. 

In some cases, anxiety may initially be mistaken for or co-occur with other conditions, which can lead to a delayed or missed diagnosis. Recognizing and addressing anxiety is essential for supporting individuals with autism.

In this article, we’ll cover a handful of strategies that parents and caregivers can use to manage autism panic attacks on their autistic children.

autism panic attacks

Managing Anxiety in Children

There are various approaches that can be effective in providing support and relief for autistic individuals. Here are some strategies that can be highly effective:

Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy

Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) is a widely accepted psychological approach for managing severe anxiety in children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD). This therapy combines talk therapy with behavioral therapy and is facilitated by a psychologist who specializes in working with individuals on the autism spectrum.

CBT helps children, especially those with some verbal abilities, to identify the underlying causes of their fears and anxieties. Through structured sessions, children learn to challenge their anxious thoughts and beliefs with evidence-based reasoning. 

This process empowers them to develop coping strategies and gradually face their fears in a safe and controlled manner.

Medication

In some cases, medication can also be beneficial for managing anxiety in children with autism. It is important for parents to consult with healthcare professionals experienced in treating children with ASD to determine if medication is an appropriate option. 

Resources like the Autism Speaks ATN/AIR-P Medication Decision Tool Kit can provide guidance on medication for anxiety in children.

Medication should always be approached with caution and closely monitored by a healthcare professional. It is important to consider the potential benefits, side effects, and individual needs of the child before making a decision. 

A thorough evaluation of the child’s medical history and consultation with a qualified healthcare provider are essential steps in the medication decision-making process.

Professional Help

Finding a qualified therapist who specializes in cognitive-behavioral therapy for children with anxiety is crucial. 

The Association of Behavioral and Cognitive Therapists‘ website can be a helpful resource for locating therapists who are experienced in working with children on the autism spectrum. Additionally, physicians or health insurers can provide referrals to specialists in child anxiety who practice cognitive-behavioral therapy or psychopharmacology with children.

When choosing a therapist, it is important to consider their expertise, experience working with children with autism, and compatibility with your child’s needs. A therapist who understands the unique challenges and strengths of individuals with autism can provide the necessary support and guidance to help manage anxiety effectively.

Strategies for Reducing Anxiety and Panic Attacks

Parents and caregivers should have an arsenal of strategies to help reduce anxiety and provide a sense of calm. There are three effective strategies to achieve this which are as follows:

Communication and Sensory Plans

Developing communication and sensory plans can greatly assist individuals with autism in managing their anxiety. These plans outline specific strategies and techniques that cater to the individual’s unique needs and preferences. 

The plans can include:

autism panic attacks

Creating Safe Spaces

Creating safe spaces is essential for individuals with autism to have a designated area where they can retreat to when feeling overwhelmed or anxious. These spaces can be personalized to meet the individual’s sensory needs and preferences. 

Here are some key considerations:

  • Sensory-Friendly Environment – Designing the space with sensory-friendly elements such as dim lighting, soft textures, and calming colors can help create a soothing environment. It’s also important to minimize clutter and noise to reduce sensory overload.
  • Personalized Comfort Items – Including comfort items like weighted blankets, stuffed animals, or favorite toys can provide a sense of security and familiarity in the safe space.
  • Quiet Retreat – Ensuring that the safe space is free from distractions and interruptions can help individuals with autism find solace and regain a sense of calm.

Self-Soothing Techniques

Teaching individuals with autism self-soothing techniques can empower them to manage their anxiety independently. These techniques can serve as valuable coping mechanisms during times of distress. 

Deep breathing exercises, such as diaphragmatic breathing or square breathing, can help regulate the autonomic nervous system and promote relaxation.

Practicing mindfulness and meditation techniques can also enhance self-awareness and reduce anxiety. Simple techniques like focusing on the breath or engaging in guided meditation can be effective.

Lastly, parents and caregivers can encourage their children to engage in sensory self-regulation techniques, such as squeezing stress balls, using fidget toys, or engaging in repetitive movements, as well as emotional regulation techniques. Doing so can help redirect anxious energy and promote a sense of calm.

By implementing these strategies, individuals with autism can better manage their anxiety and find comfort during panic attacks. It’s important to tailor these strategies to the specific needs and preferences of the individual, as everyone’s experience with anxiety is unique. 

Consulting with professionals and therapists experienced in working with autism can provide valuable guidance and support in implementing these strategies effectively.

Scroll to Top