Understanding Anxiety and Distressed Behaviour
Neurodivergent people may find it difficult to navigate the world around them. Sometimes, things can go wrong: They may find themselves in difficult social situations, be overwhelmed by their environments, experience unexpected changes in their routines, or feel unable to process or describe their emotions. This can lead to a lot of discomfort, which may be experienced as anxiety or expressed through distressed behaviour.
Parents and carers can employ different strategies to support people experiencing anxiety and/or distressed behaviour. There are also self-soothing techniques that individuals can try out to manage these emotions and behaviours.
Anxiety describes as a feeling of unease, such as worry or fear that can be mild or severe. Anxiety exists across the general population, but can be more common for neurodivergent people, especially when experiencing changes in their routines, difficult social situations, overwhelming environments, and alexithymia.
Distressed behaviour describes what we would normally deem to be physically aggressive behaviour (such as hair pulling, biting, spitting, slapping) or other behaviour that harms the individual or those around them.
Oftentimes, this behaviour can be caused by difficulties processing information and emotions, sensory differences, unstructured time, changes in routines or activities, and physical reasons (e.g., feeling unwell, tired, hungry). An inability to communicate these feelings can lead to anxiety and frustration, which may then manifest as distressed behaviour.