Anxiety On The Spectrum

Anxiety is one of the co-occurring  disorders that affect autistic children. A study published by the Journal of Child and Family Studies found that autistic children had higher anxiety levels compared to neurotypical children. It is estimated that 40% of autistic teens display signs and symptoms of anxiety.

Why Autism and Anxiety?

There are many reasons anxiety affects autistic children in large numbers. Bill Nason, moderator of the Facebook page, Autism Discussion Page and psychologist, explains that daily experiences that impact their nervous system including sensory, cognitive, social, and emotional vulnerabilities leave autistic children and teens with daily high levels of stress. He explains what comes naturally for neurotypicals, is hard work for them placing their nervous system on high alert even during its resting state. High levels of anxiety make take the form of mood swings, rigid and inflexible thinking and obsessive compulsive behavior.

What are the signs of anxiety?
Physical Signs

Complains about feeling sick

Complains about headaches

Difficulty sleeping

Fidgets and spins


Worries about making a mistake

Difficulty in performing in exams

Is afraid of being placed in a new situation


Apprehensive of meeting new people

Displays difficulty in joining new groups

Avoids interacting with peers

Worried about being laughed at.

Types of Anxieties

Anxiety of uncertainty- fear of anything new and unfamiliar
Social anxiety- difficulty interacting with others during social events
Sensory overload- Becomes anxious in settings that present strong sensory stimulation
Generalized  anxiety- non-specific ongoing pervasive anxiety

Strategies for Reducing Anxiety
  1. Rest
  2. Exercise or physical activity
  3. Allow time to participate in a favorite activity
  4. Self-stimulation can be used for calming purpose
  5. Relaxation techniques such as mindfulness and meditation
  6. Build structure into daily routines
  7. Review the day including what is expected of them
Additional Resources

5 ways to help reduce anxiety in children with autism

10 tips to help calm anxiety in kids with autism

Adults with autism feel frequent, lingering anxiety

Anxiety in autistic adults

Classroom ideas to reduce anxiety

Managing anxiety in children with autism

Unmasking anxiety in autism

The essential guide to anxiety and autism

What anxiety treatment works for people with Autism?

What triggers anxiety for an individual with ASD?


Updated on October 13, 2018



One thought on “Anxiety On The Spectrum

  1. My son has yet to be diagnosed, but has showed some autism flags since he was small. He’s struggled with anxiety, and while his diagnosis might not be autism in the long-run, I do believe it’s not just “social anxiety” he suffers but something much larger, of which anxiety is a big part. Thank you for this post. I’m a speech therapist and have worked with toddlers diagnosed with autism, but still have so much to learn about it.

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