Dr. Karnik in Moms.com: FFFF Response in Kids with ADHD and ASD

by ih-chi admin

Do you know what “FFFF” is? It stands for Fight, Flight, Freeze and Fib. These words describe our natural reactions when we are confused, scared or challenged.

For special needs children, especially those with ADHD or Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), the FFFF response can easily go from zero to sixty in no time at all. Sometimes their natural FFFF reactions can be misunderstood by others as defiance, aggression or misbehavior.

Child Neurology Consultants of Austin’s board-certified pediatric neurologist, Dr. Dilip Karnik, shared his thoughts on children and teenagers and their complex FFFF responses to stress for an article on Moms.com.

What Does FFFF Look Like

"'Fight' may look like kicking, screaming, throwing, shouting, spitting, or a physical fight. 'Flight' may look like running away, restlessness, or fidgeting." Dr. Karnik said.

"'Freeze' may look like shutting down, feeling numb, becoming pale, holding breath, or a panic attack. 'Fib' is generally when the child is not accepting of his or her responsibility in the situation."

Often these outbursts can lead to an unwarranted scolding or discipline or isolation at school due to a presumed behavior problem, which is usually not the case. There are pathways in the brains of kids with ADHD and ASD that just operate and react differently than others.

Building a Toolbox

Dr. Karnik suggests developing a plan for your child and talking through it with them so they have some helpful resources in their “toolbox” when they are triggered by something that causes strong emotions.

"The best thing to do is to understand that children typically develop these reactions when facing stress. With proper support, they will overcome these reactions. A compassionate approach will go a long way."

Some of Dr. Karnik's pointers for helping your neurodiverse child better manage their reactions include:

  • Letting them know you are always there to help them
  • Encouraging them to talk about an issue
  • Sharing with them techniques to "calm" down such as deep breathing, counting numbers backward, physical exercise
  • Teaching them to express their fear in words rather than negative actions--have them try writing down their emotions in a journal
  • Diverting their attention to a different subject

In addition to ADHD and Autism, Child Neurology Consultants of Austin also has experience treating a wide range of other neurological and rheumatic disorders in children and teenagers from 0 to 21 years old. For an appointment with one of our specialists, or to learn more about our services, please contact us here.