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Mindfulness May Reduce Anxiety and Depression Symptoms in Individuals with Autism Spectrum Traits

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A recent study has explored the relationship between mindfulness and the reduction of anxiety and depression symptoms in individuals with various autistic-like traits. The findings suggest that dispositional mindfulness may play a protective role against the impact of repetitive negative thinking, such as worry and rumination, on affective symptoms in some people but not in others, depending on their specific autistic-like traits. The findings were published in Mindfulness.

Anxiety and depression are prevalent in individuals on the autism spectrum, impacting their functional adaptation. The study used path analysis to test the direct and indirect effects of different autistic-like traits, dispositional mindfulness, worry, and rumination on anxiety-related concerns and depression symptoms in a sample of neurotypical adults.

The results showed that autistic-like traits implying poor attention switching and communication abilities were linked to higher dispositional mindfulness, increased repetitive thinking, and stronger affective symptoms through largely shared pathways. Autistic-like traits implying strong attention-to-detail bypassed dispositional mindfulness in the pathways linking increased repetitive negative thinking and stronger affective symptoms.

The present findings provide the first behavioural demonstration of a neurofunctional model, which proposes that inflexible allocation of attention in people on the autism spectrum can lead to dysfunctional emotional responses, such as anxiety and depression symptoms, through the increase of repetitive negative thinking.

The study found that only specific autistic-like traits, such as attention switching and communication, were associated with dispositional mindfulness, repetitive thinking, and affective symptoms through largely shared pathways. In these cases, dispositional mindfulness could exert a protective role against anxiety and depression through its effect on repetitive negative thinking.

The research also revealed that attention-to-detail autistic-like traits bypassed dispositional mindfulness in the pathways linking repetitive negative thinking and affective symptoms. This suggests that mindfulness may not be as effective in reducing anxiety and depression symptoms for individuals with these particular autistic-like traits.

These findings may help tailor mindfulness interventions for individuals on the autism spectrum, depending on their specific autistic-like traits, in order to more effectively reduce anxiety and depression symptoms. Further research is needed to clarify the nature of the relationship between autistic-like traits, dispositional mindfulness, and affective symptoms.

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