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Is Autism An Anxiety Disorder

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Behavioral Treatment To Help Anxiety

Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD) and Anxiety

Cognitive-behavioral therapy is beneficial for many children with autism, particularly Aspergers syndrome, and anxiety. CBT combines talk therapy with behavioral therapy and is facilitated by a psychologist. Children who participate in CBT will identify their triggers and develop an understanding of why these triggers exist. Next, your childs therapist will help him/her become aware of emotions and thoughts surrounding triggers. Your child will then practice thought stopping or not allowing negative thoughts to spiral, and replace negative thoughts with more realistic and positive ones. Finally, your child will learn skills to face his/her triggers in the real world and develop coping skills to deal with moments of anxiety or panic.

According to an article in Developmental Neurorehabilitation, Positive outcomes were ubiquitous, suggesting CBT is an effective treatment for anxiety in individuals with AspergersCBT has been modified for individuals with ASD by adding intervention components typically associated with applied behavioral analysis .

How Anxiety Shows Up In Autism Spectrum Disorder

Research suggests that anxiety is more common in autistic people.

A 2019 study of sibling pairs indicated that about 20 percent of autistic people had anxiety compared with about 9 percent of the population controls.

Many people are fully aware theyre struggling in ways their peers may not be, and that they have some sensitivities and issues that their peers may not, says Dr. Jephtha Tausig, a New York City-based clinical psychologist.

What Are Some Common Signs Of Asd

Even as infants, children with ASD may seem different, especially when compared to other children their own age. They may become overly focused on certain objects, rarely make eye contact, and fail to engage in typical babbling with their parents. In other cases, children may develop normally until the second or even third year of life, but then start to withdraw and become indifferent to social engagement.

The severity of ASD can vary greatly and is based on the degree to which social communication, insistence of sameness of activities and surroundings, and repetitive patterns of behavior affect the daily functioning of the individual.

Social impairment and communication difficultiesMany people with ASD find social interactions difficult. The mutual give-and-take nature of typical communication and interaction is often particularly challenging. Children with ASD may fail to respond to their names, avoid eye contact with other people, and only interact with others to achieve specific goals. Often children with ASD do not understand how to play or engage with other children and may prefer to be alone. People with ASD may find it difficult to understand other peoples feelings or talk about their own feelings.

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What Is Social Anxiety Disorder

Social anxiety disorder is a psychiatric disorder characterized by intense fear of being scrutinized and negatively evaluated by others and excessive avoidance of social interaction.

Dr. Rachel Bédard, PhD, a licensed psychologist, further explains: Social anxiety is viewed as an excessive level of fear or anxiety to social situations, including talking in class, talking in front of an audience, or attending social gatherings. Fears include making social mistakes, making blunders, embarrassing themselves or others, etc. Individuals with social anxiety tend to either suffer through the event or find a friend/family/member/peer to lean on for support.

Dr. Bedard says people with social anxiety are genuinely suffering, and the level of anxiety is quite high. There are a variety of treatment options to support people with SAD, including medications to lessen the anxiety, as well as talk therapy interventions.

I tend to rely on Cognitive Behavioral Therapy , which includes looking at how a person talks to themselves about life/circumstances/success-failure, and how the person behaves in the world, she adds. We create mini-experiments to challenge the beliefs that the anxiety is warranted, and create a pathway to collect the data showing that the person can handle social events. A sense of humor is helpful when engaging in this type of therapy.

Sensory Processing Sensory Overload And Anxiety

Autism &  Anxeity

While its a bit of the chicken and egg discussion, it is an important question to consider as we talk about the topic: Given the sensory processing disorders associated with an autism diagnosis, can/do sensory processing difficulties cause anxiety? Or, does anxiety contribute to a sensory-based response?

In our article on the topic of sensory overload and anxiety, we talked about sensory thresholds and, when all of the stimulation becomes too overwhelming, sensory overload.

How much sensory input it takes to reach your threshold depends on your individual sensory profile, whether you over-respond or under-respond to sensory information.

Meltdowns are reactions to feeling overwhelmed and are often seen as a result of sensory overstimulation.

When a person experiences too much sensory stimulation, their central nervous system is overwhelmed and unable to process all of the input. Its a physiological traffic jam in your central nervous system and the sensory overstimulation causes a physiological response and sometimes even a sensory meltdown.

Because many children with autism are unable to self-regulate, sensory overload can result in sensory-based meltdowns.

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The Bottomline Regarding Autism Meltdowns Panic Attacks And Anxiety

Although none of these conditions are readily mentioned as qualifying or associated diagnoses for autism, those involved in this world are fully aware of how prevalent anxiety, panic attacks, and meltdowns are. In some cases, all conditions may occur simultaneously while some cases only have one or two of these conditions paired with ASD. Like other symptoms of autism, parents and clinicians can learn how to manage and to prevent serious anxiety, panic attacks, and meltdowns with practice and with persistence so that children can function to the very best of their abilities.

Meltdowns, panic attacks, and anxiety in those with autism, can also lead to an increase in eloping or running away from whatever is triggering the episode. AngelSense GPS for Autism was designed specifically to protect children with autism. If your child has a tendency to wander or elope, it is important to take extra precautions to keep them safe. AngelSense provides the most accurate GPS tracking available, with reliable alerts, and lifesaving features designed to address the unique issues those with autism and their parents face on a daily basis.


American Psychiatric Association, DSM-5 Task Force. . Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders: DSM-5 . American Psychiatric Publishing, Inc.

AngelSense is committed to creating a safer world for those with special needs and providing peace of mind to their families.

The Need For A Label May Limit Our Search For Understanding And Healing

Posted August 30, 2015

The subject of autism is so highly fraught, a well-respected child development researcher told me, that she might need to be the only one in her field to never address the issue. A recent study showing that the likelihood of a child receiving a diagnosis depends on the center conducting the evaluation highlights the complexity of the problem.

For his PhD thesis, Phech Colatat at MIT Sloan School of Business Management reviewed records from three clinics established specifically for autism spectrum diagnosis. At two centers the rate was around 35% while at a third the rate was 65%. The MIT news release about the study states:

Those rates persisted over time, even when Colatat filtered for race, environmental factors, and parents education.

But then comes what may be the most interesting finding:

..when doctors moved from one clinic to another, their rates of diagnosis immediately changed to match that of the clinic as a whole.

Colotat, based on extensive interviews and observations within the clinics, develops a theory for this phenomenon: imprinting. The article continues:

Most striking about this study is the subjective nature of the diagnostic process. Once the purpose of the evaluation is to answer the question, “Does he or does he not have autism?” the possibility of exploration of the complexity of a child’s experience is already limited.

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Treatment Of General Anxiety Disorder

Treatments for general anxiety disorder may include medications and Cognitive Behavioral Therapy. A combination of the two has proved the most effective in alleviating symptoms medication alone may reduce some anxiety but will not eliminate it entirely. Medications called SSRIs and SNRIs are commonly used to treat general anxiety disorder. Benzodiazepines are sometimes used in the short-term in order to alleviate extreme cases of anxiety, but they are not safe for continuous use because of the high risk of dependency.

Click here to read the stress management fact sheet for adults on the autism spectrum.

Click here to read the fact sheet for adults on the autism spectrum for managing handling panic attacks.

Click here for the full range of Asperger’s and autism fact sheets at Click here to read an interview with Dr June Groden on reducing stress and anxiety in autitistic children

This autism fact sheet is licensed under the GNU Free Documentation. It is derivative of an autism and Asperger’s syndrome-related articles at

Behavioral Interventions And Skill

Why AUTISM And ANXIETY is hard for YOU!

Beyond coping mechanisms, specific behavioral strategies often help autistic people with anxiety. These may improve social interactions and academic or professional performance.

Social skills training

Tausig says social skills training can help autistic people interact with others, such as knowing to say hello when they enter a building or asking someone about their day.

A small 2013 study involving 58 adolescents ages 11 to 16 suggests that people who participate in social skills training have better knowledge of friendship skills and less social anxiety than their peers.

Applied behavioral analysis

Applied behavioral analysis centers around decreasing unhelpful behaviors that may draw unwanted social attention.

For example, a student can ask to leave class if theyre anxious rather than disrupting the other students.

This method involves rewarding desirable behavior and setting consequences for undesirable behavior.

But not everyone wants to replace behaviors related to autism, such as flapping.

A of six studies concluded that only autistic people who were participating in ABA and using pharmaceutical agents experienced an improvement in symptoms and skills that enhanced their lives.

At the same time, Tausig advises against forcing ABA on anyone.

Everybody is different, she says. If theres a struggle to get them to the ABA facility or welcome the ABA person to school or home and its not getting anywhere, I dont know it makes sense to push things further.

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What Triggers Anxiety In Autism

Helping your child to identify what triggers his/her anxiety is an important first step in helping him/her manage symptoms. Some children struggle with anxiety as a result of a traumatic event while others experience anxiety as a constant in their lives. Anxiety, especially OCD, might be a response to feeling out of control. Social anxiety might stem from a deeply embarrassing social situation or a childs awareness that he/she struggle to communicate effectively.

Panic disorders might develop after trauma and be triggered by smells, sights, sounds, tastes, or touch associated with the trauma. A child who struggles with GAD might find daily life overwhelming. No matter what triggers your childs anxiety, being present and open-minded to triggers will help you to understand him/her better and allow you to help your child develop healthy coping skills.

Ssri Treatment Of Comorbid Anxiety & Asds

Clinically, some data suggest that SSRIs may have utility, especially for youths with comorbid ASDs and anxiety/compulsive behaviors . Although a precise association between serotonin activity and the presence of ASD symptoms has not been established, SSRIs may regulate the dysfunctional serotonin activity associated with the presence of compulsive behaviors and anxiety in individuals with ASDs . However, research supporting this potential treatment indication is needed, and most studies investigating the use of SSRIs in individuals with ASDs involve small and poorly characterized samples with varying efficacy end points and targeted symptoms .

In the following sections, we review RCTs , as well as an expanding body of retrospective and open-label clinical trials, to help elucidate the potential utility of antidepressant medications for treating ASDs and related symptoms . displays studies investigating the efficacy of SSRIs for treating individuals with ASDs and comorbid anxiety and/or repetitive behaviors.

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How Anxiety Affects Children With Autism

Children with ASD can show symptoms of a comorbid anxiety disorder from their early years. A 2011 meta-analysis of anxiety disorders in children with autism found that approximately 40 percent of children diagnosed with autism also met criteria for an anxiety disorder .

There are multiple types of anxiety disorders, but six are most commonly found in children with ASD: specific phobia, social anxiety disorder/agoraphobia, obsessive-compulsive disorder, generalized anxiety disorder, separation anxiety disorder, and panic disorder.

The Indiana Resource Center for Autism at the Indiana University Bloomington has found these types of anxiety disorders to occur at the following rates in children with both anxiety and ASD :

  • Specific phobia: 30%
  • Panic disorder: 2%

How To Spot Signs Of Anxiety

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Both caregivers and people with autism should look out for signs of anxiety. Some symptoms of anxiety overlap with symptoms of autism. This can make anxiety more difficult to identify in a person with autism.

A person experiencing anxiety may lose their appetite or eat more than normal. They may struggle to fall asleep or stay asleep. Sometimes, anxiety can look a lot like anger or fear. Stay alert to changes over time to help you decide whether this is a passing mood or a long-term condition.

You may notice an increase in repetitive or compulsive behaviors or an increase in sensory sensation-seeking behaviors. These behaviors may represent an attempt to decrease or manage anxiety.

It can be helpful to keep a journal to track behaviors and moods. A written record is more reliable than casual observations and memory. Notice changes in sleep, appetite, excitement over special interests, and overall daily mood.

If you or someone you care for is experiencing anxieties, talk to your clinician. They may be able to recommend strategies or treatments to help manage anxiety. Your clinician may also refer you to a specialist or provide access to supportive resources.

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Treatment Fidelity And Engagement

The session engagement checklist used during assessment will also be used after each therapy session to assess and record the participants engagement with treatment and to facilitate therapeutic review including impact of any required autism informed adjustments to therapy, or additional adjustments required.

Looking For Treatment Providers

If you suspect an anxiety disorder in yourself, or your child with autism, how do you find treatment? You can start by talking with your primary health care provider, who may refer you to a specialist. Dr. Vasa recommended taking children to a psychiatrist or psychologist, with experience or training in autism, if possible. But she noted that can be difficult due to a shortage of those providers in many parts of the United States. “We need to increase the number of mental health providers trained in working with individuals on the spectrum,” she said. She and others are working to increase training in autism and intellectual disability for physicians.

Similarly, many U.S. communities do not have therapists trained in CBT for children or adults with autism.

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Understanding Autism And Anxiety As A Comorbid Diagnosis

by Katherine Blanner | Apr 4, 2019 | Autism, Featured Products & Vendors

Dual diagnosis is not an uncommon thing for individuals on the Autism spectrum. For many kiddos with Autism Spectrum Disorder , they oftentimes have symptoms of anxiety. In a 2008 study from the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry, over seventy percent of kiddos who had been diagnosed with ASD had a dual diagnosis. Dual diagnosis, which is the existence of two separate diagnoses, can also be called comorbid diagnosis. Furthermore, one of the most frequent comorbid diagnoses for children with autism were anxiety related.

So if you are a parent of a child with ASD and anxiety, you are not alone.

The Value Of Treatment

Anxiety in Individuals with Autism: Part One

She is doing more things at home, such as making her lunch for the next day.

Treating anxiety or any psychiatric condition is important, perhaps especially so in people with autism. Anxiety could spill over into other aspects of a person’s life. For example, people with autism often have unusually low “adaptive skills,” the so-called skills of daily living, regardless of their IQ scores. Even those with average to above-average intelligence, and autism, may struggle with basic skills such as showering, riding a bus, crossing the street, shopping, or preparing a meal,18 according to a study of 417 teenagers in the Simons Simplex Collection autism project.

Poor adaptive skills may affect someone’s ability to live and work independently in adulthood. It is not clear why everyday living skills would lag far behind intelligence. However, one study of 52 young adults with autism suggested a link to anxiety and depression. The men and women in the study had an average IQ of 110. Those with the lowest adaptive skills also had higher levels of anxiety, depression, or attention deficit-hyperactivity disorder, according to the researchers, who were based in Washington, DC.19

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Examining Data On Medication For Anxiety

What do we know so far, starting with medication?

Three types of drugs antidepressants, anti-anxiety drugs, and beta-blockers are used to treat anxiety in the general population, according to the U.S. National Institutes of Health. Do these medications work the same in people with autism? When doing their detective work, Dr. Vasa and the researchers with the Autism Treatment Network found only a few drug studies that focused solely on youth with autism and anxiety. The studies were small, lacked a control group, and/or did not hide the medication’s names from the researchers. Generally, the results of studies with those features may be less reliable. The best studies use many participants and keep the medication being tested a secret from both participants and researchers, to prevent that knowledge from influencing them.

A few studies showed that children who took either the antidepressant citalopram or the anti-anxiety drug buspirone showed some improvement. Children who took the antidepressant fluvoxamine did not report benefit in another small study. But whether those results will hold up in studies with a more rigorous design is unknown. In addition, some children had unwanted side effects that ranged from mild to severe.12

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