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The Hardest Part of Having Autism?

Marina Sarris
Interactive Autism Network at Kennedy Krieger Institute
January 4, 2018

The hardest part of having autism is the anxiety, a young woman with autism said. "Anxiety gets in the way of my health," she explained. Anxiety is separate from autism, but it is not surprising that she sees the two disorders as being linked.

As an Interactive Autism Network's anxiety series explores, anxiety disorders are very common in children and adults on the autism spectrum. In fact, the symptoms of anxiety and autism may appear to overlap, at least to the untrained eye. Is a teenager upset by a change in his daily schedule because of a desire for sameness, a symptom of autism, or because he has generalized anxiety disorder? Is his refusal to get his blood drawn caused by a sensory sensitivity (common to autism), or a phobia, an anxiety disorder?

As child psychiatrist Roma A. Vasa explained in Anxiety's Toll on People with Autism, it is important to distinguish between autism and anxiety disorder, in order to treat the anxiety. In What Anxiety Treatments Work for People with Autism?, we examine two types of treatments, cognitive behavioral therapy and medications, that are used with people on the spectrum.

One thing is clear: people with autism, and their families, are interested in anxiety and its treatment. In November 2017, more than 500 people attended an online seminar on anxiety hosted by SPARK for Autism, a research project of the Simons Foundation. It was SPARK's most popular monthly webinar thus far, said Vincent Myers, SPARK's communications and outreach specialist. Many others have watched an online video of that seminar, which was led by psychiatrist Antonio Hardan.

Please visit our anxiety series to learn more about the diagnosis and treatment of anxiety in people on the spectrum. Don't forget to check out the "Additional Resources" sections, which contain links to websites that will help you find a child or adult psychiatrist, psychologist, and cognitive behavior therapist. Of course, if you suspect that you or your child has an anxiety disorder, you can start with a visit to your pediatrician, family doctor, or internist. Anxiety – the intense fear, trouble concentrating, rapid heartbeat, and tension – may be hard to handle, as the young woman pointed out. But it does not have to be part of having autism.

Photo credit: Joyce Huis, Unsplash.