According to the Centers for Disease Controls and Prevention, 1 in 44 children are diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder (ASD).
Up to 84% of those diagnosed with ASD also experience symptoms of anxiety. This may result in a diagnosis of obsessive-compulsive disorder, a specific phobia, separation anxiety, social anxiety, panic disorder, agoraphobia, or generalized anxiety disorder.
An autistic child with childhood anxiety may:
- Have frequent meltdowns.
- Complain of recurrent stomachaches.
- Avoid specific places or situations.
- Exhibit increased self-stimulatory or ritualistic behaviors.
The common presence of anxiety in autistic children raises the question: Is there a connection between autism and childhood anxiety?
The Link Between Autism and Childhood Anxiety
Multiple studies have found that autistic children tend to have higher levels of anxiety compared with non-autistic children.
While studies show that autistic children are more prone to anxiety, researchers aren’t exactly sure why. Some experts suggest there may be a genetic predisposition. Others point to the roles of the external environment in the development of an anxiety disorder.
Never Miss a Beat!
Subscribe to Our HealthBeat Newsletter!
Get Healthy Tips Sent to Your Phone!
Anxiety Treatment for Autistic Children
Fortunately, there are treatment options available to help autistic children with anxiety. Evidence-based treatments for anxiety have to be adapted and personalized to meet the unique needs of these children.
Common anxiety treatments for autistic children include:
- Cognitive behavioral therapy: Cognitive behavioral therapy gives children the tools to identify harmful thoughts and learn new ways to manage challenging situations.
- Parent training: Parent training is designed to give caregivers the specific skills necessary to best manage their child’s symptoms at home.
- Medication management: In some cases, doctors may prescribe anti-anxiety medicine alongside behavioral therapy.
We’re Here to Help
In collaboration with the Child Development Unit at UPMC Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh, the Center for Autism and Developmental Disorders at UPMC Western Behavioral Health offers a network of care and research centers for autistic children and adults.
Our team of experts includes psychologists, psychiatrists, therapists, and other doctors and caregivers who are dedicated to improving the lives of those with autism. Call 412-235-5445 to schedule an appointment or learn more.
Anxiety and Depression Association of America, Anxiety in Autism Spectrum Disorder, https://adaa.org/learn-from-us/from-the-experts/blog-posts/consumer/anxiety-autism-spectrum-disorder
Autism Speaks, Autism Facts and Figures, https://www.autismspeaks.org/autism-facts-and-figures
Autism Speaks, Managing Anxiety in Children with Autism, https://www.autismspeaks.org/expert-opinion/managing-anxiety-children-autism
Psychiatry and Behavioral Health Learning Network, Kids With Autism and ADHD at Higher Risk for Anxiety and Depression. https://www.psychcongress.com/article/kids-autism-and-adhd-higher-risk-anxiety-and-depression
U.S. National Library of Medicine, Anxiety Levels in Children with Autism Spectrum Disorder: A Meta-Analysis, National Center for Biotechnology Information. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5487760/
UPMC Western Psychiatric Hospital is the hub of UPMC Behavioral Health, a network of community-based programs providing specialized mental health and addiction care for children, adolescents, adults, and seniors. Our mission is to provide comprehensive, compassionate care to people of all ages with mental health conditions. UPMC Western Psychiatric Hospital is a nationally recognized leader in mental health clinical care, research, and education. It is one of the nation’s foremost university-based psychiatric care facilities through its integration with the Department of Psychiatry of the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine. We are here to help at every stage of your care and recovery.