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 105,000 Autistic People Experiencing Anxiety Disorder

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Thousands of people could potentially benefit from a new treatment to an anxiety disorder which affects 18% of autistic people, were it rolled out across the UK.

New research by Pro Bono Economics (PBE) for the MQ Mental Health Research charity suggested that there are 105,000 autistic people in the UK with generalised anxiety disorder, a condition that can have a serious impact on sufferers’ lives. The condition leads people to worry excessively over multiple things at once, at levels which can be debilitating, and can lead to difficulty concentrating, difficulty sleeping, dizziness and heart palpitations.

Though autistic people are about three times more likely to be diagnosed with general anxiety disorder than the general population, many treatments are not designed with autistic people in mind. Standard NHS treatments for anxiety, such as talking and mindfulness therapies, may not be appropriate for those autistic people who have difficulty with social interaction and communication.

While NICE guidelines recommend doctors seek specialist advice on tailoring therapies for autistic people, this may not always be available.

ADIE (Aligning Dimensions of Interoceptive Experience) is a new treatment that has been developed with autistic people in mind. It helps autistic people to better recognise their feelings of anxiety, and trials have shown that it can effectively reduce anxiety in individuals suffering from General Anxiety Disorder.

In the report, PBE calculated that making ADIE available to all autistic people suffering from general anxiety disorder in the UK could lead to at least a temporary recovery for almost 6,000 people. The improvement to their quality of life over a year of recovery would have a value of £125–£170 million, or between £21,000 and £28,000 per person.

The ADIE training could also be made available to other groups of people who struggle with anxiety and have found standard treatments ineffective. Clinical trials are ongoing to explore the treatment’s wider potential.

Rachel Gomez, Senior Economist at Pro Bono Economics, said: “Experiencing generalised anxiety disorder can be extremely challenging at the best of times. But managing these symptoms can be more difficult if we face other barriers in our lives. Not only are autistic people three times more likely to experience GAD than the UK average, but they often face barriers in everyday life when society, infrastructure and systems do not meet their needs. In practice, this means that accessing medical diagnosis and treatment can be more difficult, and treatments may not be created and researched with the needs of autistic people in mind. ADIE treatment can improve the quality of autistic people’s lives if they’re experiencing anxiety, and rolling it out could make a difference at scale.

“Mental health makes such a difference to our lives, so it’s essential that care is effective and available for those who need it. This work adds to the calls from many charities and advocacy groups for continued research on autistic peoples experiences, their needs and how best to address them. By actively including autistic people, and others whose needs are often overlooked by society, in the heart of health research and treatments, we can shine a light on the value of accessible support.”

Mariana Bolivar, research lead at MQ Mental Health Research, said: “PBE analysis shows that ADIE is a promising path for autistic people to make a sustained recovery from generalised anxiety, a condition they’re up to three times more likely to face than the general population. We need further economic analysis in mental health research to identify which treatments have the greatest potential to transform public health and ultimately people’s lives.”

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