Understanding and Managing Autism and Anxiety in Adults

The Autism-Anxiety Connection

Autism spectrum dysfunction is usually characterized through social and communication difficulties and by repetitive behaviors. Severe types of ASD are often recognized in the first two years of a kid’s existence, however high-functioning people will not be diagnosed until a lot later in life. Adults with autism who are high functioning could have best delicate challenges, which can be every now and then wrong for signs of attention deficit hyperactivity dysfunction (ADHD or ADD)1; others will have more serious symptoms, like impaired spoken language. No two folks with ASD will enjoy the similar behaviors in the same means.

Though anxiety is not thought to be a core feature of autism, generalized anxiety disorder is the most common comorbid situation discovered in adults with autism. A recent study discovered that anxiety issues are diagnosed in more than 20% of adults with autism spectrum disorder (ASD), compared to just 8.7% of neurotypical adults. Psychosocial symptoms of anxiety can come with problem slumbering, obsessive pondering, and problem concentrating. Physical symptoms can vary from an dissatisfied abdomen to center palpations or dizziness.

Recognizing and treating anxiety in individuals with ASD is particularly essential since it may a great deal impact core facets of autism, particularly repetitive behaviors and social withdrawal. Anxiety complicates existence for other folks on the autism spectrum, particularly when navigating the social world. It can interfere with activity placement and independent residing.

Untreated comorbid anxiety has been related to the advance of depression, aggression, and self-injury in people with ASD. Susan G. Gilroy, co-director of Northeast Arc Autism Support Center in Massachusetts says, “There are people with developmental disabilities with critical anxiety who lead very limited lives because they’re now not getting the assist they need.”2

Better understanding of the best way to recognize and deal with comorbid anxiety problems has the potential to toughen quality of existence for adults with autism and anxiety.

How to Recognize Anxiety Disorders in Adults with Autism

Recognizing the presence of anxiety in patients with ASD is challenging as a result of overlapping symptomology and altered shows of symptoms. For example, minimally verbal patients may not have the ability to express their interior states and as an alternative show anxiety via disruptive behaviors. Other sufferers could be verbally fluent but combat to understand and express their own feelings.

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For these reasons and others, the questionnaires typically used to diagnose anxiety won't paintings for individuals with ASD. Medical providers must instead search for bodily indicators of anxiety, reminiscent of tremors, restlessness, sweating, frame aches, and sleep problems.3 Family members may also be requested questions to see if they understand signs of anxiety.

The Anxiety and Depression Association of America4 explains how anxiety problems would possibly provide otherwise relying at the affected person and calls for from their atmosphere:

  • A particular phobia, specifically an intense, irrational worry of something that poses very little actual risk, might get up early in the process ASD because of over responsiveness to sensory stimulation, corresponding to a loud setting; particular phobias in these patients usually involve highly bizarre stimuli (e.g. advertisement jingles, balloons popping, vacuum cleaners, bathroom flushing, alarms at school), however may additionally present fears (e.g. of the darkish, bugs, needles) which are typical of growing adolescence.
  • Obsessive compulsive disorder, characterized by undesirable and intrusive ideas and consequent compulsive behaviors, is continuously comorbid with ASD. Identifying comorbid OCD in these patients is vital because, while the engagement in repetitive behaviors which is typical of ASD is unrelated to misery, compulsions are carried out as a coping mechanism to relieve anxiety.
  • Social anxiety may broaden as a right away results of social communique impairment, especially if the patient is excessive functioning and acutely aware of their social incompetence. Social anxiety, outlined as intense anxiety or concern of being negatively evaluated in a social or performance state of affairs, in flip leads to avoidance of social scenarios, due to this fact restricting the affected person’s opportunities to observe social abilities, and may predispose the individual to damaging reactions from friends and even bullying.
  • Separation anxiety would possibly result from social impairment, which may encourage overprotective reactions from folks that in flip would possibly toughen avoidance habits; separation anxiety might then rise up when the affected person has to separate from attachment figures.

[Take This Symptom Test for Generalized Anxiety Disorder]

Managing Autism and Anxiety with Medication

Since anxiety is a definite disorder, it can be handled one by one from different domains of ASD. Anti-depressants, anti-anxiety medicines, and beta-blockers are used to regard anxiety in the general population. Few research have been achieved discerning whether these medication are equally efficient in adults with ASD. A small study5 from the Cochrane Collaboration found that the drug Luvox may help deal with obsessive-compulsive behaviors in adults with autism, and fluoxetine (Prozac) might likewise lend a hand with anxiety. The conclusion was once that these drugs will have to be used on a “case-by-case” foundation to treat OCD and anxiety in adults with ASD.

Other studies6 on fluoxetine in adults and youngsters with ASD demonstrated development in repetitive behaviors, however a controlled trial showed that citalopram worked no in a different way than a placebo in decreasing repetitive behaviors. Also, some patients had unfavourable behavioral effects, corresponding to hyperactivity, impulsivity, and insomnia. Medical execs will have to keep in thoughts that sufferers with ASD may be sensitive to low doses of substances. These adults provide vital permutations in treatment responses and adverse reactions to drugs.

Managing Autism and Anxiety with Therapy

When treating ASD in adults, drugs alone is not going to mitigate the indicators of concern. Other interventions are generally needed and might come with abilities coaching, environmental adjustments, behavioral techniques, and using sensory inputs.

Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) effectively treats anxiety problems and OCD in youth with ASD, particularly in high-functioning folks with ok verbal skills. CBT makes a speciality of converting how a person translates a situation with the aim of decreasing unfavorable emotions and unhealthy responses. CBT for anxiety in people with ASD involves:

  • studying to differentiate between helpful and unhelpful anxiety
  • finding out to identify anxious ideas and reinforce executive functions
  • progressive publicity to feared stimuli
  • interventions with oldsters
  • practising reciprocity skills to fortify engagement with others
  • visible prompts to lend a hand the affected person cope with difficulties in abstract pondering

Daily interventions are similarly essential for helping an grownup with ASD set up and understand their anxiety. The National Autistic Society of the United Kingdom7 details methods like maintaining a diary, using apps, and creating a meltdown prevention plan.

Autism and Anxiety in Adults: Next Steps

View Article Sources

1Rosenn, Daniel. Is It Asperger’s or ADHD?. Asperger’s/ Autism Network. (2020). https://www.aane.org/is-it-aspergers-or-adhd/

2Sarris, Marina. Anxiety’s Toll on People with Autism. Interactive Autism Network (Jan. 2018). https://iancommunity.org/anxietys-toll-people-autism

3Sarris, Marina. Anxiety’s Toll on People with Autism. Interactive Autism Network (Jan. 2018). https://iancommunity.org/anxietys-toll-people-autism

4Burchi, Elisabetta, Hollander, Eric. Anxiety in Autism Spectrum Disorder. Anxiety and Depression Association of America.  https://adaa.org/learn-from-us/from-the-experts/blog-posts/consumer/anxiety-autism-spectrum-disorder

5Sarris, Marina. What Anxiety Treatments Work for People With Autism. Interactive Autism Network (Jan. 2018)  https://iancommunity.org/what-anxiety-treatments-work-people-autism

6Burchi, Elisabetta, Hollander, Eric. Anxiety in Autism Spectrum Disorder. Anxiety and Depression Association of America.  https://adaa.org/learn-from-us/from-the-experts/blog-posts/consumer/anxiety-autism-spectrum-disorder

7Anxiety in Autistic Adults. National Autistic Society. https://www.autism.org.uk/about/behaviour/anxiety.aspx

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