Anxiety and Autism

Key Features

Anxiety is a feeling of unease, such as worry or fear that can be mild or severe. Everyone experiences feelings of anxiety at some point in their life. For example, you may feel worried and anxious about sitting an exam or having a medical test or job interview. However when you are unable to control your worries and they affect your daily life you may have what doctors call an anxiety disorder.

Specific types of anxiety disorders include:

  • generalised anxiety disorder:  constant feelings of anxiety about everything
  • social anxiety disorder: persistent fear about social situations and being around people
  • fears and phobias: fears about specific things, such as a fear of dogs or dentists
  • obsessions and compulsions : unwanted, unpleasant thoughts / and repetitive behaviours designed to prevent those obsessive thoughts coming true
  • other anxiety disorders include panic disorder, separation anxiety disorder and post traumatic stress disorder.

Research shows that many people on the autism spectrum are considerably more anxious than other people and are also more likely to have a specific type of anxiety disorder.  However it is unclear if anxiety is simply a condition that commonly occurs alongside autism, if it is a core feature of autism, or if it is a separate but not independent condition. According to a review by Lecavalier et al. (2014),

“The results of this review raise questions about the underlying relationship of anxiety and ASD. First, anxiety disorders may be independent of ASD and reflect a co-occurring condition. Second, anxiety symptoms may be inextricably linked to core features of ASD. In this model, anxiety symptoms may be distributed from low to high in children with ASD just as other aspects of ASD such as language delay. Third, there may be certain genetic or environmental influences that elevate the risk for ASD and anxiety in some children. In this model, anxiety and ASD may be separate, but not independent such that the presence of one amplifies the other.”

02 Nov 2017