Anxiety: Kids and Teens

Anxiety is a real and serious problem for many people on the autism spectrum. A recent review of scientific studies on autism and anxiety revealed that we have no clear gauge of how common anxiety disorders are for autistic people. A few small, relatively short-term studies have produced starkly different results: from 11 percent to 84 percent. A reliable estimate will require a study that tracks many more individuals with autism over longer periods of time and that considers the distinctive way that anxiety oftentimes expresses itself in those affected by ASD.

At Autism Speaks, we are actively supporting research into anxiety disorders and other medical conditions frequently associated with autism. This includes both basic research on the underlying biology of autism and the safe development of drugs that can relieve disabling symptoms and improve quality of life. 

Autism Care Network Research on Anxiety

Kids and teens with autism might be more likely to feel anxious. Anxiety is feelings of fear, worry, stress, nervousness, or panic. These feelings might happen when thinking about the future or could come up at seemingly random moments. Anxiety can be shown through thoughts, physical feelings, and behaviors.

To make sure that a child’s anxiety is seen and treated, doctors and nurses should talk to both the parents and the child. Kids with ASD and anxiety might also have digestive issues like stomach pain, diarrhea, constipation, and nausea. Kids with digestive problems and stomach pain have more anxiety symptoms and may be more sensitive to sights and sounds around them. This means that digestive issues, sensory problems, and anxiety may go together in children and teens with autism.

While medications helped reduce some anxiety symptoms for children with autism, negative side effects were common and led some families to stop using the medications. Doctors should be aware of how anxiety medications may cause some children to be in a bad mood, as well as cause other problems in children with autism.

Behavioral treatments such as cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), a type of talk-therapy, help some kids with ASD with their anxiety. Doctors can think about other treatments, such as applied behavioral analysis (ABA), when they are deciding the safest way to treat anxiety in kids who also have ASD.

Disclaimer: This summary is based on research conducted by Autism Care Network members. It is not a summary of the entire body of research literature available on this subject

Anxiety Resources

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