Anxiety and Autism


Anxiety can cause all sorts of problems for people on the autism spectrum, their families and carers, and society as a whole. For example, it may cause some people to shut down altogether, preventing them from communicating with or interacting with other people. Alternatively it may cause some people to develop challenging behaviours – such as aggression or self injury.

In practice, anxiety affects each individual on the autism spectrum in a different way and may even affect the same individual in different ways on different occasions. For example

  • some people may retreat into their particular interest. The more anxious they become, the more they retreat into the interest
  • some people may become more rigid in their thought processes and in their insistence upon routines. When they are happy and relaxed, they may become less rigid and fixed
  • some people may become controlling or oppositional. They may use tantrums, emotional blackmail, and non-compliance to ensure they avoid the circumstances that could increase anxiety
  • some people may become selectively mute – able to talk fluently when relaxed but unable to talk when stressed
  • some people may become angry, aggressive or violent. This aggression may be turned on others or on themselves in the form of self injury
  • some people may develop obsessive thoughts and compulsions

Many people on the autism spectrum become extremely sensitive to any situation that could increase their anxiety. They may get upset about situations that could make them anxious, even if those situations are unlikely to occur.

02 Nov 2017