Anxiety and the Asperger Adolescent
Anxiety, a mood state characterised by apprehension of impending danger, catastrophe, or misfortune, and somatic symptoms of tension, is prevalent amongst adolescents with Asperger’s Syndrome.
The Asperger adolescent may experience symptoms including:
- increased heart and breathing rate;
- increased muscle tension;
- blurred vision;
- dry mouth;
- hot or cold flushes; or
- chest pain.
Anxiety can manifest in a variety of ways that may include crying, freezing, tantrums or “meltdowns”.
Depression and the Asperger Adolescent
Depressive disorders are recognised as the most frequently occurring co-morbid psychiatric condition affecting those on the Autistic spectrum. Depression rates in this population are reported to be as high as 82 percent.
Depression in an Asperger adolescent may initially be recognised by a change in mood, sleep cycle or appetite patterns.
Symptoms may present as depressed mood, feelings of sadness or emptiness, physical and emotional withdrawal, physical and mental exhaustion, sleep disturbance, increased frequency of crying, increased irritability, feelings of guilt and worthlessness, reduced concentration and thoughts or acts of self-harm or suicide.
Why are Anxiety & Depression Rates so high in Asperger Adolescents?
Throughout history, teenagers have endeavoured to differ from adults in dress, behaviour and attitude, whilst simultaneously striving to create links to like-minded peers. They constantly strive to find a common voice within the complex and competitive teen society.
Sadly, the inability of the Asperger adolescent to make this link, despite continuous effort and desire, facilitates the emergence of a sometimes shocking, always painful awareness of being unusual and different.
This emerging awareness of being vastly dissimilar to age peers often escalates pre-existing feelings of social incompetence – which may then be internalised. These internalised feelings, frequently exacerbated by victimisation or bullying, may subsequently lead to withdrawal, anxiety and depression.
The adolescent phase involves dramatic changes typified by hormonal fluctuations, developing bodies and an innate desire to assert independence. Combined with an escalating awareness of sexual matters and a natural focus on sexual exploration. this phase often represents a painfully challenging struggle for the Asperger adolescent.
Given that the primary areas of concern for those with Asperger’s Syndrome include social interaction, effective communication and socially and emotionally inappropriate behaviour, the potential for an Asperger adolescent and their family to experience emotional turmoil is significantly increased.
At an alarming rate, the unusual conversation style, intense particular interests and social skill deficits previously tolerated in a younger Asperger child, will become increasingly less acceptable in the teenage world.
In addition to the prevalence of anxiety and depression associated with the Asperger adolescent, there is an over-representation of drug/alcohol abuse, obsessive-compulsive symptomology, fixation on death themes, anti-social behaviour, suicidal ideation, self-harm and in extreme cases, suicide.
Adolescence can be an exciting, strange and confusing time for any teenager, but for the Asperger adolescent it can also become frightening, isolating and even debilitating. They may struggle unnecessarily in the search for someone to listen to them, take them seriously, and hopefully provide some meaningful perspective and respite from a challenging world.
It helps to talk to someone that listens …
As the mum of an Asperger teen myself, I have a lived experience and a personal understanding of the teenage struggle between social support, family and anxiety/depression.
Would your teenager like to talk to someone who “gets it”? Someone who listens, and understands that being different can be cool – but can often make you feel sad and confused?
Remember that with a little help and understanding, anything is possible …
Author: Christine Burnett, B Psych (Hons), AMAPS.
Christine Burnett is a registered psychologist who offers therapy from a person-centred, holistic and integrated approach. As a mother of five, including a son with Asperger’s Syndrome, Christine has a personal understanding of the day-to-day challenges of family life and the complexities of living with disability in the family. She is passionate about facilitating positive change within the areas of parental health and wellbeing, adolescent mental health and adjustment and coping within a family context.
To make an appointment with Psychologist Christine Burnett, you can book online 24/7 or freecall 1800 877 924.