CONFIDENT SOLUTIONS, LLC
BRIDGING THE GAP BY EMPOWERING CHILDREN, FAMILIES, AND SCHOOLS THROUGH MAKING MINDFUL CONNECTIONS.
I'm not an expert on anxiety and autism, but I did want to share a personal experience we had with our oldest (who has a diagnosis of autism and anxiety). Recently, he was criticized for not putting forth effort during a tennis lesson. After talking with his coach, I spoke with Michael. He let me know he had started to put forth some effort but then his heart started to beat fast and it hurt. As a result of this, he became very scared and decided he would no longer use as much effort as he had. After talking with him about the realities of trying hard (heart beating faster, stitch in your side, etc.) he understood. We went to the gym the next day and used the treadmill. He was able to see what his heart rate was and that helped him feel better. He still didn't push himself too hard, but it was a starting point.
It hurts my heart to think about what this child feels every day. How differently he sees and feels the world. Without his feedback and a teachable moment, this would have continued to be an anxiety driven activity. He would continue to think that if his heart beat fast or he had a "stitch in his side" then it meant he wasn't well. To a person who doesn't know about his disability or to one who doesn't understand about autism, this could look like defiance or an attitude problem.
How can we work on these things? Open communication with coaches, teachers, and family members. Our kids need to feel safe enough to talk with others about their concerns. It is imperative they know they can ask questions. It is important that when they receive the answers to those questions that they don't feel put down or belittled. It requires empathy from adults. On the part of our children they can begin to learn how to observe other people. During our social skills group, all of the kids work on observing others (there is a variety of reasons to do this). They can learn what the expectations are for a group based on what he sees other kids doing. For example, if Michael looks around and sees other kids out of breath or holding their sides he can be cued to think about how they might be feeling. He could be encouraged to ask questions to his coach or his parents when he gets home. He could even do some research on heart rate and what causes "stitches" in your side. The next time he goes and is asked to put forth effort, he will be more prepared for this feeling.