Anxiety: children with disability and chronic conditions

Anxiety: children with disability and chronic conditions

Children with disability or chronic health conditions are more likely than other children to experience anxiety. In addition to the usual childhood fears and worries, these children may worry about things such as:

  • having medical procedures
  • missing out on events, friendships or school
  • coping with their condition or treatments
  • being burdens on their families
  • getting sicker, having a relapse or dying.

Children with disabilities may also have reduced cognitive capacity or delayed executive functioning skills which may make them more prone to anxiety than other children. For instance many children with Autism are prone to very rigid thinking patterns and struggle with changes in their environment. This can make them more likely to feel unsafe and trigger anxious responses.

Signs and Symptoms

The signs of anxiety in children with disability can be very similar to typically developing children and include:

  • Panic symptoms
  • Worry
  • Clinginess
  • Stomach aches and headaches

Less common signs may include:

  • Aggression and challenging behaviour
  • School refusal
  • Demand avoidance
  • Selective mutism
  • Bed wetting


Helping children with anxiety

Many of the treatments for children with disabilities experiencing anxiety are the same as typically developing children. Some interventions may require adaptation based on the child’s needs and cognitive abilities.

Medications may be required for some children if it is not possible to reduce their anxiety and general arousal symptoms through behavioural methods.

Parents can assist their anxious child by:

  • Learning and understanding triggers for anxiety
  • Teaching regulation skills (e.g. breathing, fidget toys, self talk)
  • Utilising apps and others means to monitor and regulate anxiety (e.g. Molehill Mountain)
  • Teaching approach rather than avoidance strategies for anxiety provoking stimuli

It is important to seek help early before the anxiety becomes too ingrained. Anxiety can quickly generalise and become a much bigger problem if left untreated.

Supports available

Children with anxiety may be able to seek assistance under their NDIS plan to see a psychologist, provided that this is in line with the current goals of their plan. If the cause of the anxiety is related to their disability, they should be able to access funds through NDIS.

If however the cause of the anxiety is unrelated to their disability, a mental health care plan (MHCP) from a GP may be able to assist via a Medicare rebate. This is only eligible for children who meet the criteria for an anxiety disorder as diagnosed in the ICD-10.

Some children with anxiety may not be at the level of having an anxiety disorder. In these instances their NDIS funding may be better placed to support them to see a psychologist.

It is important to determine the source of the anxiety to assist in determining the best funding scheme the child may be eligible for. Children who experience anxiety as a result of their disability are not likely to be eligible for support under a MHCP.

If you feel your child may require assistance with anxiety and their disability, contact us at Prosper Health Collective for further information on 6381 0071.

Kellie Cassidy

Dr. Kellie Cassidy is an experienced Clinical Psychologist who works with children, adolescents and adults on a wide range of presenting problems. Kellie strives to assist her clients to improve their wellbeing and reach their goals through evidence based and clinically proven therapies.