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:
- crying spells
- difficulty concentrating
- feeling overwhelmed
- lack of enjoyment
- thoughts of suicide
- trouble sleeping
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 Additionally, antidepressants, antipsychotics, and stimulants (for people who became extremely withdrawn) have been used in treatment plans.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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