Autism Fears and Phobias

Fear is real!! You don’t have to have autism to have an innate fear or phobia of something. Perhaps you’re afraid of heights, or you have a fear of spiders. The feelings you get when you’re faced with that fear can be immense.

Some people with autism also suffer from anxiety. In fact, studies show that almost half of children who have ASD also have anxiety. Someone with autism struggles at the best of times to regulate their emotions, they can also have extreme sensitivities to sound, taste, touch and smell. 

What sort of behaviour would you expect from a person with autism who has a fear of spiders? From my observational experience it’s a completely reactional and irrational response. It seems that there is a loss of control and the fear of the spider is so immense that all other rational behaviours seem to fly out the window.

However, if I’m to put myself in the shoes of a child with autism who has a fear of spiders, how would I feel? What would I be thinking? Perhaps I’d feel scared for my life and think that if I get bitten by the spider it would hurt and I might die. Perhaps I think it’s ugly with its eight eyes and eight legs and it can run, jump, bite and hide and I don’t like that so I just want it dead.

As a parent I think we all need to realise that whatever the fear is, it is real for this child. In that moment, it consumes them and it is all they can think about. For our child’s sake we need to acknowledge that fear by saying something like: “I understand you are feeling very afraid of the spider at the moment.”

As they continue to become upset, perhaps cry, scream, bang on the wall, you need to keep calm so you don’t add to their anxiety. The best thing is to remove them from the situation to a place where they feel safe. Tell them not to worry, and let them know that you are going to remove the spider.

Once you have dealt with the situation there may be a bit more calming down you need to do along with some reassurance. It may take some time, but eventually their anxiety will ease and things will be as they were before, until the next spider rears its ugly head of course.

Each child will have their own fears and phobias, and some may be a lot more difficult to deal with than the simple removal of a spider. As a result, the way you respond to that fear in that moment will be different.

For example, some children have a fear of certain places, or things, like ceiling fans and vacuum cleaners, or it could be a balloon or a weather event. Some of these things will be avoidable for the most part, however there will eventually come a time when they are faced with their fear and their anxiety will heighten.

As their parent you will have to use your strength to acknowledge and accept the fear, help to contain or remove them from the thing that is causing the problem and then calm them down and ease their anxiety. 

Being the parent of a child with autism is certainly not easy. We get so many ‘curve balls’ and variables that are thrown our way as we walk through life with our child. There will often be things that don’t make sense at first and may never make sense. However, to our child, in that moment, their fear is all that matters, and all we can do as a parent is try our best to maintain our calm and help to guide them through whatever it is that troubles them.

Until next time.


SASI Guest Parent Blogger

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