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BYU Study on Autism and Fear

AfraidManaging Editor's Note: How do you help your child (or how do you yourself) cope with anxiety and/or fear?  K

A new study conducted by a BYU professor and two students shows that the severity of autism for children may be caused by fear.

Psychology professor Mikle South discussed that when talking with parents who have children with autism, parents often discuss the difficulties they face everyday when trying to get their children to adapt with life changes as well as changes in daily routines.

“A lot of children and adults who are diagnosed with autism also have a lot of anxiety,” South said.

South explained that in this particular study they were interested in finding out how children with autism learn about fear and how that relates to anxiety. He said that a lot of times children with autism don’t know what to expect, and this makes them afraid.

Paul Chamberlain, 23, a neuroscience major who was a part of the study, explained that the study showed that children with autism can learns things by rules just fine. However, when the rules switch or change, it takes them much longer to learn the new rules, and this can often transfer to anxiety.

“A lot of children with anxiety want things planned out,” Chamberlain said.

Parents can help their children with autism by explaining the daily plan to their kids, Chamberlain explained.

Tiffani Newton, who studied neuroscience at BYU but graduated in June 2012, was also a part of this study with Professor South.

Newton said that since children with autism have such a hard time making changes, parents can help by giving their children an overview of the day and prepping them if there will be changes in their normal daily routines. This helps to assure them that everything will be alright and that they will be okay, Newton discussed.

“They have a different way of seeing things,” Newton said.

Newton explained that typical children can easily adapt to a schedule change that a teacher makes and not even really think about. Children with autism can’t just make that switch automatically, Newton said.

South also discussed that children who had a more difficult time trying to learn what was safe is now not a threat and vice versa in the experiment, were negatively correlated with symptoms of repetitiveness and rigidness. The harder it was for them to make that distinction, the more symptoms of repetitiveness and rigidness they have.

“This was one of the first studies that’s shown this experimentally,” Chamberlain said.


Heidi N

I think this study is great, because if we show this to teachers, they can explain things to children more to assist them in transitioning. It's much better than what the teachers are currently doing, such as disciplining them when they don't transition.


The amino acid L-theanine has helped reduce anxiety.

Also the company Metabolic Maintenance has a supplement called Anxiety Control, which contains Vitamin B-6, magnesium, GABA, glycine, L-glutamine, and two herb powders.

I don't understand why neuroscientists are focusing on behaviors. It's akin to having Yo-Yo Ma work at a convenience store.

Jeannette Bishop

From personal experience, which may be off for our kids, a lot of things that others seem to handle or even enjoy are a source of discomfort, sometimes extreme, or to approaching a level of pain. The only thing I knew for certain as a child was that there were things that were "not fun" to experience, firecrackers and rifle shots at a parade for instance, riding down a water slide, water if the face, in the sinuses, etc., while those around me seemed to be thoroughly having fun and those things either didn't matter much or were part of the fun. Now I tolerate some of these better, but I still do not understand the attraction.

Then there was also the added possibility that if my reaction to an experience seemed inexplicably negative there was a higher risk of admonishment with its added "ouch" or a whole lot of uncomfortable helpfully intended intervention with the reoccurring feelings of "What is the matter with me?" and I usually just wanted to get away. I certainly didn't want to drag the experience out by trying poorly to communicate or convince people of what I wanted or what things were like. I can't imagine what how things would be when speech and language are further compromised in a high stress environment, which may be every environment for some.

The researchers above suggest this is about wanting to feel control. I'm a little inclined to word it more like wanting to know there might be some joy between or with the seemingly unavoidable and all-too-normal moments of the out-of-control coming in or perhaps wanting to know when to expect the worst to end, but I'm also afraid that doesn't get to the heart of reality for our kids.

It would seem more ethical to me to first focus on ending the intentional sensitizing exposures, the speech debilitating exposures, the peace compromising exposures. I don't think that would eliminate our societal diversity, a diversity that may be easier understood by understanding the physiology involved than we do now and that is good for our society in more ways than one, but I'm pretty sure it would shift the spectrum of society into a more humane and healthy state of existence.

Monkey See, Monkey Do

Starting to think that most autism researchers are like a roomful of monkeys with typewriters. Loud and busy, and eventually one of them is going to accidentally hit the keys and come up with something that makes sense. Gee, kids with autism apparently have anxiety and therefore need help with transitions. Like Benedetta said, DUH!

On second thought, maybe they are more like the three monkeys with their hands over their ears, eyes, and mouths...

Tired of hauling luggage up stairs to avoid elevators

Odd timing. We took our child to a hypnotherapist/life coach yesterday to deal with his fears; fear of exams, fear of elevators, fear of storms. Fears, she said, are primarily about not feeling in control and I think that applies to both NT's and people on the spectrum. She just worked on exams, that fear being the most relevant right now. With the first one scheduled next week we will see then whether this had an impact.

In the moment of anxiety we use RescueRemedy to calm things down. But if we know the day ahead will have stressful events, he takes Holy Basil in the morning.


New study?

Gee; I thought all of this was known like way back 1987 or longer.

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