Home Clinical Psychology & Psychotherapy The Link Between Autism and Anxiety: Understanding and Managing Anxiety in Individuals with Autism

The Link Between Autism and Anxiety: Understanding and Managing Anxiety in Individuals with Autism

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Dealing with anxiety is a common issue for many people with autism, and comprehending this association is crucial for offering the right support. Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is a developmental disorder marked by difficulties in social interactions, communication, and repetitive or restricted behaviours. In recent times, studies have shown a solid connection between ASD and anxiety disorders, with an estimated 40% of autistic people experiencing anxiety at some stage in their lives. 

Clarifying the similarities with bipolar disorder

It is vital to acknowledge that some anxiety symptoms in autistic individuals might resemble bipolar disorder (BPD), a mental health issue characterised by alternating periods of depression and mania. The BPD vs autism debate is a common one, as both share similar features, including emotional instability, social challenges, and executive functioning difficulties. 

However, it is crucial to consult a mental health expert for an accurate diagnosis and customised support.

Identifying anxiety symptoms in autistic individuals

People with autism may display anxiety in different ways, making it essential to recognise how these symptoms may manifest. 

Common indicators include increased repetitive behaviours, sleep disturbances, restlessness, irritability, and trouble focusing. Keep an eye out for changes in behaviour or routine, as these could signal anxiety.

Establishing a consistent daily schedule

Creating a reliable daily schedule can be highly beneficial for autistic individuals in managing anxiety. Routines offer predictability and order, which can alleviate stress and anxiety. Ensure that the plan incorporates relaxation, exercise, and enjoyable activities.

Promoting physical exercise

Physical exercise has numerous mental health benefits and can be an essential tool for managing anxiety. Working out releases endorphins, which naturally improve mood and help autistic individuals feel more relaxed and in control. 

Encourage regular physical activity, preferably outdoors, to facilitate relaxation and stress relief.

Providing a secure and supportive atmosphere

Cultivating a safe and supportive atmosphere is essential for helping autistic individuals manage anxiety. This may involve minimising sensory triggers, such as loud sounds or bright lights, and offering a designated calm space when necessary. 

Encourage honest communication and allow individuals to share their thoughts and concerns without judgment.

Introducing coping techniques

Equipping autistic individuals with coping techniques for anxiety can enable them to handle their symptoms more effectively. Deep breathing exercises, progressive muscle relaxation, and grounding exercises can help reduce anxiety levels. 

Moreover, cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) is a proven approach for helping individuals with autism develop strategies to manage anxiety.

Considering medication options

In some instances, medication might be required for managing anxiety in autistic individuals. Consult a healthcare professional to discuss potential medications and their suitability for the individual’s specific requirements. 

Always keep an eye on side effects and consult the healthcare professional if any concerns arise.

Seeking expert support

Expert support, such as therapy or counselling, can be invaluable in helping autistic individuals and their families understand and cope with anxiety. A mental health expert experienced in working with autism can offer tailored strategies and support to address anxiety effectively.

Establishing a robust support network

A reliable support network can play a critical role in helping autistic individuals manage anxiety. Engage with family members, friends, and professionals to create a network that understands the individual’s unique needs and can offer support and help when necessary.

Takeaway

Grasping the connection between autism and anxiety is essential for providing the right support and resources for autistic individuals to flourish. By identifying anxiety symptoms, cultivating a safe and supportive atmosphere, and implementing coping techniques and interventions, we can assist autistic individuals in managing their anxiety and leading fulfilling lives.


Robert Haynes, a psychology graduate from the University of Hertfordshire, has a keen interest in the fields of mental health, wellness, and lifestyle.

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