How to Treat Anxiety in Autistic Children & Adults

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Anxiety is a common issue in children with autism spectrum disorder. It can be very hard for parents of autistic children to help their kids deal with it, and many treatments have not been tested on people who live with ASD. This article examines the symptoms, causes, treatment options available today and what researchers are working on next.,

Anxiety is a common problem for autistic children and adults. This article will teach you how to reduce anxiety in autistic adults.


Anxiety is the most prevalent comorbid ailment among autistic children. Anxiety affects between 25% and 75% of all children diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder (ASD). Adults with autism often experience anxiety symptoms.

Anxiety manifests itself differently in people with autism than in those who do not have the illness. As a consequence, it’s easy to overlook or overlook it.

Anxiety may exacerbate autism-related behavior issues. It has the potential to cause further health problems as well as safety concerns.

Treatments for anxiety in people with autism will be different from those used in neurotypical people. Behavioral treatments and specific interventions are often used in treatment, and parents and caregivers are often involved.

The Connection Between Autism & Anxiety

Autism is a neurodevelopmental disease marked by difficulties communicating and socializing, as well as repetitive and ritualistic behaviors. Anxiety is a stress response in the body that triggers the fight, flight, or freeze response.

Anxiety and autism are often linked, and this is thought to be due to a neurological reaction. Both autism and anxiety are thought to be caused by certain overlapping regions of the brain. Neural reactions in the brain linked to how a person interprets rewards, for example, may be a risk factor for anxiety and autism.

Anxiety symptoms in people with autism may be both common and unusual. This implies that standard anxiety symptoms like anxiousness and concern are widespread, but anxiety symptoms in people with autism may also include nonfunctional repetitive behaviors and physical symptoms like sweating, racing heart, muscular tightness, and gastrointestinal issues.

Anxiety symptoms are often intertwined with autistic symptoms, making it difficult to distinguish anxiety from autism. Repetitive activities, for example, are a common indication of autism. When someone with autism is doing something that doesn’t serve a clear purpose, such as pounding their head against a wall or shredding paper, these repeated actions might be an indication of anxiety.

Understanding the link between autism and anxiety, as well as being able to distinguish between the two, may aid in reducing stress and health concerns associated with these comorbid conditions.

Comorbid Anxiety & Autism

According to studies, over 40% of persons with autism spectrum disorders also have at least one anxiety problem. Comorbid disorders are when two conditions occur in the same individual at the same time.

Because anxiety is often underestimated in people with autism, it’s difficult to estimate how common it is. Recent research, on the other hand, are increasingly revealing the overlap.

The brain areas involved in autism and anxiety are comparable. Both diseases include genetic and environmental risk factors, but they are unlikely to occur in the same person. An individual with autism is more prone to suffer from anxiety than someone who does not have autism.

Anxiety may be caused by autistic symptoms that worsen stress levels. As a result, this demographic may experience higher levels of anxiety than the overall populace.

The following are the most frequent anxiety problems in people with autism:

Anxiety symptoms associated with autism include:

  • Fear of change and uncertainty, as well as intolerance.
  • Worry over being unable to participate in a concentrated interest.
  • aversion to social settings (not only related to fears of being bullied).
  • Phobias that are out of the ordinary.
  • Having a hard time leaving a parent or caregiver.
  • Specific stimuli cause hypersensitivity.

Managing Anxiety in Autistic Children

Autism may make it difficult for a youngster to communicate and interact properly. This may lead to an increase in stress levels and, as a result, an increased risk of anxiety. There are various things that parents and caregivers may do to assist children with autism experience less anxiety.

It’s critical to understand your child’s triggers and what can be done to reduce stress in their lives. Keeping the lights low might assist if your kid is hypersensitive to bright lights, for example. Investing in noise-cancelling headphones for trips may also assist to reduce sensory overload and loud sound exposure. Both of these techniques may aid in the reduction of stress and anxiety.

Other suggestions for reducing anxiety in people with autism include:

  • When feasible, alter the atmosphere to create a peaceful and productive workplace.
  • Make a calendar with a detailed schedule so your youngster knows what to anticipate. This may make it easier for them to move from one activity to the next.
  • To get through challenges, use problem-solving skills and a step-by-step procedure. This may assist youngsters with rigid thinking in seeing things from a fresh viewpoint and discovering new methods to achieve things.
  • Assist youngsters in finding an effective way to express their emotions so that they can detect stress and alert you when their stress levels are rising.
  • Introduce yoga, exercise, and/or mindfulness activities to help youngsters reduce stress, release pent-up and excessive nervous energy, and become more aware of their bodies and emotions.
  • Encourage socialization within safe boundaries. Create controlled settings with defined social boundaries, as well as explicit expectations, rules, and penalties.
  • Assist your kid in recognizing and developing their abilities, as well as connecting over common interests.

As a youngster attempts to live with symptoms of an illness they don’t yet know they have, undiagnosed autism may lead to anxiety. Early autism diagnosis and participation in an early intervention program are critical for preventing anxiety from developing.

Parents are their children’s most powerful advocates. Talk to your child’s doctor as soon as possible if you’re worried about autism symptoms, anxiety symptoms, or both. Changes in behavior, mood swings, changes in eating and sleeping patterns, and difficulty at school or with learning should all be noted. Make sure to tell your doctor about your findings.

How Can Adults With Anxiety Be Helped?

Adults with autism are more prone than their counterparts without autism to suffer from sadness and/or anxiety. People encounter different difficulties than children, and anxiety in adults with autism may present in various ways.

Adults with autism may experience the following anxiety symptoms:

  • Constant concern for one’s own health.
  • The terror of the unknown.
  • They are stressed out by events and circumstances beyond their control.
  • Inadvertently forgetting how to behave in ordinary settings.
  • Feelings are difficult to pinpoint.

Adults with autism often have lingering anxiety, which is defined as worrying thoughts and tension that last for at least 10 minutes. Adults with anxiety are more likely to develop depression and engage in self-harming activities. It may also worsen physical health problems and impair one’s capacity to operate in daily life.

Increased structure and stress management skills may assist people with autism manage anxiety. Exercise, good diet, and regular sleep cycles may all assist to reduce anxiety’s frequency and intensity. Mindfulness meditation and yoga are also beneficial holistic treatments.

Adults who are diagnosed with autism or anxiety might benefit from social skills and peer support groups. While these groups will not be able to replace conventional therapy, they may complement existing initiatives and therapies.

Treating Anxiety & Autism With Modified Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)

A modified form of cognitive behavioral therapy is the gold standard for treating anxiety and autism at the same time (CBT). CBT may help interrupt anxiety patterns, and the autism-specific version includes a gradual exposure treatment strategy.

CBT seeks to pinpoint the source of the stressor, assisting clients in recognizing the source of their worry. Once the specific trigger has been identified, effective solutions are designed to address it.

Anxiety is characterized by illogical or persistent dread in the face of genuine threat. CBT may assist to dispel these worries by rationally pointing them out. Sessions may also look at how behaviors are linked to emotions, ideas, and physiological reactions.

Both group and individual treatment sessions may be used in CBT. Clients may focus on particular triggers, emotions, and coping methods during individual sessions. Life skills training and the development of stress and anxiety management strategies are often included in group sessions. Clients benefit from the shared experiences of people with autism who also battle with anxiety in group sessions.

Learning how to confront concerns straight on via direct exposure is the second element of CBT for comorbid autism and anxiety. The buildup will be slow, allowing a person to endure the dreaded event, activity, or feeling for a brief length of time before gradually increasing to longer and longer durations of time. Clients are given coping techniques so that they may control their exposure to stressful stimuli.

In CBT, homework is often assigned in between sessions so that clients may put their newly learned abilities to use. To help their family member, parents and carers should collaborate with the treatment and intervention team. This effort may assist guarantee that therapeutic procedures are usable outside of sessions and can be used in daily life.

Additional Treatments for Anxiety & Autism

Autism is a condition that spans a wide range of symptoms. There are varied levels of severity, which means that different individuals may need different amounts of assistance.

Autism is often treated with a combination of the following:

  • Applied behavior analysis (ABA) is a kind of behavior therapy that aims to reward good behaviors while reducing undesirable ones.
  • Occupational therapy may help with self-care and independence by teaching life skills.
  • Improve your language, communication, and social abilities with speech therapy.
  • Educational approaches to promote classroom engagement and academic success.

Drugs are often used to treat anxiety in the general population, but no medications have been authorized particularly for the treatment of anxiety in people with autism. For someone with autism, medications might have unfavorable side effects and risk considerations. Any drugs should be taken cautiously and thoroughly discussed with the supervising physician.

Autism & Anxiety Resources

Families and people affected by autism and anxiety may find education, information, and support via a variety of support groups, internet resources, and local organizations.

  • SAMHSA National Hotline: The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) offers a free and confidential helpline that is open 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Families seeking treatment for mental health issues might get information and recommendations from them.
  • Autism Speaks Resource Guide: For families, parents, and people affected by autism, this guide includes a wealth of information on treatment options, support groups, advocacy, information, and education.

Doctors, therapists, and teachers may also provide you and your family with information on local services. You may learn to properly manage both autism and anxiety with the correct help.


An Update on Anxiety in Autistic Children and Adolescents (January 2018). Current Psychiatry Opinions.

fMRI of Reward Processing in a Community-Based Longitudinal Study: Disentangling the Autism-Anxiety Overlap 2016 (June). Translational Psychiatry is a term used to describe the field of psychiatry that

A Review of Comorbid Autism Spectrum Disorder and Anxiety Disorders. (February of this year). Neurology in the Future

Anxiety in Autism is Revealed (October 2017). Spectrum.

Your AAA Guide Handbook for ADHD, Anxiety, and Autism. ADDitude.

Anxiety in people with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). America’s Anxiety and Depression Association (ADAA).

Adults with Autism Experience Consistent, Persistent Anxiety. (June 14, 2014) Spectrum.

Managing Anxiety in Autistic Children. (May 2014). Autism Speaks.

Anxiety Disorders in Autistic People: How Common Are They? (Updated September 2018). Autism Speaks is a non-profit organization dedicated to raising awareness about

Support & Education. National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI).

There is a national helpline (April 2020). Administration for Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services (SAMHSA).

Guide to Resources (2020). Autism Speaks is a non-profit organization dedicated to raising awareness about

ADAA is an acronym for the American Diabetes Association (2018). America’s Anxiety and Depression Association (ADAA).

Anxiety is a common condition in autistic children and adults. It can be difficult to treat, but there are some things that you can do. Reference: autism and anxiety in the classroom.

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