Can ABA Therapy Help To Treat Anxiety?

Anxiety is one of the most commonly occurring mental health disorders in today’s world. According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, approximately 40 million people in North America have been affected by this disorder.

There are plenty of medications and treatments that are used to treat anxiety, and there is constant research being done to unveil new treatments that might help to treat this issue. One, in particular, is ABA therapy – Applied Behaviour Analysis – which is a form of therapy used to help people on the autism spectrum to learn and develop essential life skills and positive behaviors.

ABA treatment for anxiety is also something that has been shown to be effective for people on the autism spectrum. Let’s look into how ABA can be used to reduce anxiety.

Decreasing Atypical Behaviour

For autistic adults and children, social anxiety can be a genuine problem if they feel that they are being watched and judged due to atypical social behavior. ABA therapy can help to decrease those conspicuous behaviors, and even replace them with something more “socially acceptable.”

For example, many people on the autism spectrum engage in self-stimulatory behavior (also known as ‘stimming’) which often involves the repetition of sounds or movements. Some of these stimming behaviors can be disruptive or inappropriate in social settings, and ABA therapy can help to substitute this with less distracting forms of stimming. By reducing behaviors that attract attention, the person will have less reason to feel anxious in social situations.

We understand that not every autistic person wants to replace their stimming behaviors, which is understandable. But it helps to keep in mind that ABA therapy is an option if these behaviors
become debilitating in social situations.

Coping Techniques For Social Anxiety and Generalized Anxiety

Effective ABA therapy treatment can teach people on the autism spectrum how to better cope with anxiety, both in everyday life and social situations. This can include breathing exercises, mindfulness training, relaxation techniques, and mental distractions.

When faced with extreme or irrational fears, some people can resort to disruptive or harmful behaviors (usually to themselves). ABA therapy can help to manage these behaviors and turn harmful reactions into healthier ones, as part of the purpose of this kind of therapy is to reduce negative behaviors in favor of positive ones.

Coping Techniques

Fear Exposure

One technique used in ABA treatment is exposure therapy. Anxiety can cause children to feel fear often in their everyday lives, which can stop them from being able to do even the most basic activities. Exposure therapy targets this by allowing children to feel fear and face their fears in a controlled environment.

This is done by identifying a child’s “triggers” – the things that cause them to feel fear and anxiety. This could be bullying at school, being asked to do things in front of their peers (ie reading out loud in class), going somewhere alone, etc. By gradually exposing the child to representations of their fears in a safe space, they are able to limit their negative fear responses, which will help to dissipate anxiety when these situations are encountered in the real world.

“The Bully In The Brain”

Another technique taught in ABA therapy is “the bully in the brain.” The “bully in the brain” refers to the root causes of anxiety, and this technique encourages children and adults to visualize their fears and anxieties as an internal bully and to give that bully a name. By personifying their fears, they can talk back to them and eventually conquer them.

The point of “the bully in the brain” ABA technique is to empower the subject so that they can feel more in control when they feel scared, anxious, or panicky. Giving them this internal mechanism should reduce anxious thoughts or feelings over time.

Anxiety can be a particularly debilitating problem for autistic children and adults, and ABA therapy is just one of several helpful treatments that can help people to manage and reduce this issue.

If you have more questions about the connection between anxiety and ABA therapy, or whether anxiety medication helps autism, reach out to our team at Bolling ABA. You can send an email inquiry or give us a call to book your first appointment.

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