Autism Spectrum Disorders and Anxiety

Eileen Bailey Health Guide
  • Children and adolescents with autism may be at high risk for developing anxiety disorders. According to Dr. Eric Storch, Associate Profession at the University of South Florida, as many as 80 percent of children and teens with autism spectrum disorders also show signs of anxiety, well above what would normally be seen in a child with autism alone.

    Individuals with autism spectrum disorders find it hard to effectively communicate and interact socially with their peers. They often feel a great deal of pressure to "fit in" to a world they don't understand. While many are of average and above average intelligence, they are literal thinkers and they perceive the world much differently than those who do not have an autism spectrum disorder creating frustration. In addition, sensory difficulties can make them feel overwhelmed when in high-stimulus areas. These differences are stressful and what may begin as worries may develop into an anxiety disorder.

    Add This Infographic to Your Website or Blog With This Code:


    Anxiety is when the level of worry or fear are disproportionate to the stimulus. For example, most teens are nervous when they have to stand up in front of the class and give a report. However, if that fear is so strong that they feel physically sick, faint, sweat, shake or even go to lengths to stay out of school that day, it could be a sign of an anxiety disorder. Symptoms of anxiety disorders often interfere with a person's ability to carry out daily living functions.

    Some of the main symptoms of anxiety include:

    • Trouble focusing 
    • Irritability
    • Restlessness
    • Heart palpitations
    • Stomachache
    • Headache
    • Dizziness
    • Muscle tightness 
    • Sleep problems
    • Shortness of breath
    • Shaking/trembling
    • Chest pains


    In an article that appears on PsychCentral.com, Dr. Storch explains that cognitive behavioral therapy is a generally accepted treatment for anxiety disorders but it is not clear whether this treatment is effective for patients who have both an autism spectrum disorder and anxiety. He is currently conducting research on this topic.

    Medications are also used to control anxiety. These medications do not cure or take away anxiety in the long-term but can be effective in the short-term. There are two main types of medications used to treat anxiety, antidepressants, which must be taken on a daily basis and help reduce overall feelings of anxiety, and benzodiazepines which are anti-anxiety medications are are taken at the first sign of anxiety. These medications are often used for people who suffer from panic attacks.

    Because anxiety can increase during times of transition and stress, self help methods for anxiety are important and include relaxation strategies, such as deep breathing techniques, yoga, exercise. It is also important to eat right as certain foods, such a caffeine, may increase anxiety and get enough sleep.

Published On: July 15, 2011