The Connection Between Anxiety and Autism

by Amanda Ng (’17)

anxiety autism.jpg

Fig. 1: Researchers are now shifting their attention to the association between anxiety and Autism.

  Past research has shown that many psychological and developmental disorders can be comorbid, or can occur together. In particular, there has been a connection found between the diagnoses of Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) and anxiety. Previous work has researchers believing that Autism patients’ inability to interact and communicate socially can lead to heightened levels of social anxiety. It has been theorized that targeting these reactions to social situations can help those with Autism.

In a study led by Dr. Max Maisel of Brigham Young University, researchers recruited 76 participants with ASD and 75 typically developing participants, ranging in age from 17 to 70 years of age, in order to test this link. The individuals completed a series of questionnaires that measured their level of identification with behaviors typically characteristic of people with Autism as well as their general levels of worry and anxiety in certain situations.

Data analyses showed that levels of anxiety and severity of Autism Spectrum Disorder have a causal relationship. Individuals with Autism Spectrum Disorder experience heightened levels of anxiety, particularly in social situations, because of the lack of emotional acceptance they experience on a daily basis. Research in this study also supported the claim that some ASD patients exhibit symptoms that are even attributed more to this anxiety than the disorder itself. Their anxiety may be a result of their lack of emotional acceptance rather than their disorder. That said, researchers predict that cognitive based therapies focused on mindfulness may be beneficial in decreasing anxiety in Autism patients.

Future research should investigate the neurological cause of this heightened level of anxiety in order to create better treatments for individuals with Autism.

 

References:

  1. Maisel, et. al., Modeling the Cognitive Mechanisms Linking Autism Symptoms and Anxiety in Adults. Journal of Abnormal Psychology 125, 692-703 (2016). doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.1037/abn0000168
  2. Image retrieved from: https://www.flickr.com/photos/usdagov/26812228965
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