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Poor Stress-Management in Adults on the Autism Spectrum

Unfortunately, it is very common for adults with Asperger’s (AS) and High Functioning Autism (HFA) to experience more than their fair share of stress – and to make matters worse – many of these people also lack the ability to manage their stress effectively.

Poor stress-management (PSM) occurs when the person is unable to cope with a particular stressor. Since individuals with PSM normally have symptoms that depressed individuals do (e.g., general loss of interest, feelings of hopelessness, crying, etc.), this condition is sometimes referred to as “situational depression.” Unlike major depression, PSM is caused by an outside stressor and generally resolves once the person is able to adapt to the situation. PSM is different from anxiety disorder (which lacks the presence of a stressor), or post-traumatic stress disorder and acute stress disorder (which usually are associated with a more intense stressor).

Some emotional signs of poor stress-management are:
  • anxiety
  • crying spells
  • depression
  • desperation
  • difficulty concentrating
  • feeling overwhelmed
  • hopelessness
  • lack of enjoyment
  • nervousness
  • sadness
  • thoughts of suicide
  • trouble sleeping
  • worry

Some behavioral signs of PSM are:
  • reckless driving
  • performing poorly at school or work
  • ignoring important tasks (e.g., doing homework, paying bills)
  • hibernating in one’s bedroom or home
  • excessive time spent doing a particular "comfort activity" (e.g., playing computer games)
  • avoiding school or work
  • avoiding family or friends
  • arguing and fighting

The recommended treatment for poor stress-management is psychotherapy. The goal of psychotherapy is symptom relief and behavior change. Anxiety may be presented as "a signal from the body" that something in the persons’ life needs to change. Treatment allows the AS or HFA adult to put his/her anxiety and anger into words rather than into destructive actions. Therapy can help the person gain the support he/she needs, identify abnormal responses, and maximize the use of personal strengths.

Sometimes small doses of antidepressants and anxiolytics are used in addition to other forms of treatment. In people with severe life-stresses and a significant anxious component, benzodiazepines are used. Tianeptine, alprazolam, and mianserin were found to be equally effective in people with anxiety. Additionally, antidepressants, antipsychotics, and stimulants (for people who became extremely withdrawn) have been used in treatment plans.

In addition to professional help, moms and dads can help their AS/HFA teens and adult children with their distress by:
  • having them engage in a hobby or activity they enjoy
  • involving their educators to check on their progress in school/college
  • letting them make simple decisions at home (e.g., what to eat for dinner, what show to watch on TV)
  • offering encouragement to talk about their emotions
  • offering support and understanding
  • reassuring them that their reactions are normal

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5 comments:

  1. I find this extremely helpful. I would love to talk to the person who wrote this or other people dealing with these issues themselves or with their adult Aspie child. We are trying to get some medication to help with this, but I would also like to help my child (age 21) learn some coping skills

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    1. Im 25 and mostly everything on this page rings true. Ive never been diagnosed but recently a psychologist said I might have aspergers but that they dont officially diagnose that anymore.

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    2. No, it's now under the 'high functioning autism' umbrella which I personally disagree with since Aspergers and autism are and can be very different.

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  2. As an Aspie, I lose it under stress. I resort to covering my ears and reciting "I'm sorry," over and over again. When someone screams at me, my palms sweat and my hands are clammy. I shake and I hyperventilate, my thoughts race into a garbled jumble, and I avoid communication altogether. I simply cannot think.

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    1. This is also me Lynn. Most of us, due to our condition, have anxiety/depression and all sorts of other nasties because we have had to work so hard at getting along with others, etc. I am currently hibernating to recover my equilibrium after what was a very pleasant time visiting family interstate. The cruel part is that even happy times are stressors to us! Anything which is out of the expected routine, unexpected outcomes, changes in plans, all stressful as we mentally work thru all the details of what will be NOW expected of us (to appear 'normal') It's a helluva situation, and I applaud you for your honesty and sharing. BTW I also say 'I'm sorry' way too much when not on top of things. We are so very used to being 'wrong' and 'odd' that our very existence seems some colossal reason to be apologetic to the world. Keep going, Girl, you are a heroine in my eyes. Kathy

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