Anxiety is very common in autism. Perhaps as many as 4 in 10 people with autism spectrum disorder struggle with high levels of anxiety. This reality further increases the challenges of interacting with the world. But why does it happen?
It remains unclear whether anxiety is part of autism itself. Observational evidence confirms that people with autism often display anxiety. This is true even when they are in a familiar setting. So, anxiety may be baked in or it could be a somewhat inevitable outcome of navigating daily life as a person on the spectrum.
What Increases Anxiety in People With Autism?
Human interactions are very nuanced. Plus, they can differ depending on the setting, timing, and location. People on the autism spectrum may feel steady anxiety when trying to gauge their place in all of this. This reality can create more anxiety due to fear of bullying.
We each use more than words to communicate. For someone with autism, body language, tone of voice, sarcasm, and metaphor might be confusing or even invisible. Imagine the stress of not knowing if you’re truly grasping what’s being communicated around you.
Some of the aspects of “normal” everyday life can be a source of anxiety for people with autism. For example:
- Crowds of people
- Flashing or bright lights
- Loud and/or unpredictable sounds
Fending off such sensory assaults can also be anxiety-inducing.
Common Symptoms of Anxiety in People With Autism
The symptoms of autism and the symptoms of anxiety intersect. This makes it even more difficult to pinpoint cause and effect. For now, consider the following signs to be where both conditions dovetail:
- Sticking to a routine even when it no longer makes sense
- Appearing frightened without an obvious cause
- Sweating, shaking, trembling, and pacing
- Repeating oneself in language or actions
- Wanting to stay home alone and avoid social interactions
- Covering your ears or eyes in an attempt to shut out the source of anxiety
Autism and anxiety evoke a “what came first?” type of situation. But you don’t need to have scientific certainty to be of help. If someone you know with autism is displaying increased anxiety, there are some basic ways to help them become calmer.
4 Ways To Begin Calming Anxiety In Those With Autism
1. Remove the Trigger
First and foremost, if you can remove the source of their anxiety, it will begin the calming process. Take another look at the list of causes above. Keep this in mind for those times when you make need to leave an over-stimulating situation or location or ask if something like lights or noises can be reduced or turned off.
2. Plan in Advance
This is a two-part effort. Firstly, do your homework. Learn more about autism and learn more about the specifics of the person in question. From there, you shift into part two. You do your best to identify in advance any potential triggers you may encounter. Having something like sunglasses on hand to block out bright lights can be a game-changer.
3. Share What You’ve Learned
As you do your research, talk with the person with autism to help guide them. Empower them with the same knowledge you have. This can allow them to be in control of their own needs.
4. Be Especially Aware With Children
If you have a child on the autism spectrum, become familiar with concepts like deep pressure, fidget toys, sensory toolboxes, safe spaces, and more.
It can be quite useful for you to meet with a therapist to talk about all of the above. You can air out your fears and concerns while learning more about being sensitive and helpful. Child therapy can help you learn how to help them, reach out to us to begin.