Anxiety and ASD

October 25, 2016

Anxiety is fairly common and a normal response to real or perceived threats. Feelings of worry and tension, along with physical symptoms such as a racing heart, sweating or trembling are common characteristics of anxiety. For children and young adults on the spectrum this is a real and serious problem. Disabling anxiety can take the form of one or more disorders, including panic disorder and phobias.

According to Indiana University at Bloomington, many children with autism spectrum disorders (ASD) will receive another diagnosis at some point in their development. In a 2008 study, seventy percent of a sample of children with ASD ages 10 to 14, had also been diagnosed with another disorder. Forty-one percent had been diagnosed with two or more additional disorders (Simonoff, et al). These additional disorders, or comorbid diagnoses, can, at times, be extremely debilitating for individuals with autism spectrum disorders.  The most common types of diagnoses are those related to anxiety. Researchers concluded that about 40% of children with ASD had at least one comorbid diagnosed anxiety disorder (van Steensel et al., 2011).

Have you notices these physical symptoms in your child?

  • excessive thirst
  • stomach upsets
  • loose bowel movements
  • frequent urinating
  • periods of intensely pounding heart
  • periods of having gas
  • muscle aches
  • headaches
  • dizziness
  • pins and needles
  • tremors

Or have you noticed these emotional or psychological symptoms?

  • easily losing patience
  • difficulty concentrating
  • thinking constantly about the worst outcome
  • difficulty sleeping
  • depression
  • becoming preoccupied with or obsessive about one subject.

If you do notice any of these symptoms, it is important to also get medical advice to rule out other medical conditions.

Parents can play a critical role in the treatment of anxiety in their child with ASD.

1) Encourage your child for his or her effort and engagement in brave behaviors – especially when it is something they doubted they could do
2) Ignore excessive displays of anxiety
3) Distinguish between realistic and unrealistic fears so that an appropriate treatment direction can be established
4) Convey confidence in the child’s ability to handle his or her worry and anxiety
5) Model courageous behaviors
6) Work together to develop a plan for facing fears
7) Discuss how to share coping skills and the creation of exposure hierarchies with other professionals so that gains in one setting can be generalized to other settings