This past week at my practicum site, Jessica Minahan, a board-certified behavior analyst and special educator, directed a parent workshop on Helping Parents Help Kids with Anxiety. The seminar was aimed at providing parents and professionals with valuable skills and tips to help children with anxiety. This was my first seminar that I attended within the psychology field and it was a very beneficial experience. The speaker brought valuable insight about the matter at hand and was very engaging and funny.
I learned that children and adolescents with autistic spectrum disorders are at an increased risk of having anxiety and anxiety disorders. Anxiety can be a very debilitating, for as it increases in a situation, working memory rapidly decreases, which in turn can cause the child or adolescent to act in different manner. Oftentimes, children are not able to identify the reasoning for their anxiety but instead lash out in negative mannerisms at parents and professionals. When parents and professionals are at the receiving end of such behavior, it is often easier to address the conduct rather than the root of the problem, or rather anxiety.
Imagine working with a child who often misbehaves in class, answers back to teachers and parents, and has a very negative attitude about learning. A team of parents and professionals can work together to help the child, but when further exploration is not done, it can be so easy to miss the route of the problem. A child can behave well during the morning but can change his or behavior very quickly when they find themselves in an anxiety causing situation, such as overhearing a discussion between classmates about a birthday party he or she was not invited to. That one second immediately put a damper on the child’s day, and in the afternoon, is now a completely different child.
When Jessica Minahan was explaining this example and change of behavior that she sees often in children and adolescents with anxiety, I was struck by how devastating anxiety can be. I never realized the role it plays in children and adolescents, especially in children and adolescents with autism.
In a world where bullying has taken on a new face and lives are lived online, situations that cause anxiety are everywhere now. It was already difficult to be a child when I was growing up, I can’t imagine what children go through nowadays.
The workshop helped prove to me that I made the right choice in changing careers. More than ever, well trained therapists are needed for children and adolescents, to help them navigate such murky waters. Parents and professionals have to coordinate to best assist children and adolescents. I learned so much at the seminar, but what struck out to me the most was how vital it is to help children and adolescents work through their problems, in order to become the best person they can be. Without recognizing the subtle changes in a person and their roots, it can become very difficult to help a person change their behavior.
If you are looking for a book to read, I highly recommend Jessica Minahan’s recent book “The Behavior Code.” Jessica Minahan and Nancy Rapport, a psychiatrist, discuss a systematic approach for interpreting causes and patterns of difficult behaviors found in children and adolescents. After hearing the presentation, the book is definitely on my reading list. The question is when will I be able to get to it? I think I will have to save it for my winter break :)