Anxiety in autism: Identifying symptoms and effective coping mechanisms | Health - Hindustan Times

Anxiety in autism: Identifying symptoms and effective coping mechanisms

ByZarafshan Shiraz, New Delhi
May 26, 2024 10:20 AM IST

Equipping autistic children with coping skills early on can help them manage anxiety more effectively. Expert reveals symptoms; tips to manage anxiety in autism

Anxiety disorders are prevalent in both children and adults with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) but while anxiety can affect anyone, it is particularly high in autistic individuals, with estimates suggesting over 50% experience it in their lifetime. To effectively manage anxiety in ASD, a person needs to understand the underlying reasons.

Anxiety in autism: Identifying symptoms and effective coping mechanisms (Photo by Hiki App on Unsplash)
Anxiety in autism: Identifying symptoms and effective coping mechanisms (Photo by Hiki App on Unsplash)

In an interview with HT Lifestyle, Dr Lalit Mittal, Consultant - Dept of Pediatrics at the CK Birla Hospital in Delhi, revealed some of the key factors -

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  1. Sensory issues: Autistic individuals often experience sensory overload, making them highly sensitive to sights, sounds, smells, tastes, and touch. This overwhelming sensory input can trigger anxiety.
  2. Communication differences: Difficulties with communication can lead to frustration and anxiety in social situations. They may struggle to express their needs or understand what others are expecting.
  3. Difficulties with change: Individuals with ASD often thrive on routine and predictability. Sudden changes can disrupt their sense of control and cause anxiety.
  4. Medical conditions: Certain medical problems, such as gut issues, can contribute to anxiety in autistic individuals.

Dr Lalit Mittal highlighted the types of anxiety common in ASD -

  1. Generalised Anxiety Disorder (GAD): This involves persistent worry and anxiety without a specific trigger.
  2. Social Anxiety Disorder: Anxiety arises in social situations due to fear of judgment or negative evaluation.
  3. Phobias: Specific phobias, such as agoraphobia (fear of crowded spaces), can be triggered by overwhelming sensory input.

According to Dr Lalit Mittal, following are the effective management strategies -

  1. Identify the cause: Tailoring interventions to the specific cause of anxiety is crucial. This might involve addressing sensory sensitivities, improving communication skills, or developing coping mechanisms for change.
  2. Medications: Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors (SSRIs) might be considered for adolescents and adults with severe anxiety. However, addressing the cause should always be the primary focus.
  3. Self-regulation skills: Teaching self-calming techniques like deep breathing, mindfulness exercises, and relaxation strategies can empower individuals to manage their anxiety independently.
  4. Regular exercise: Physical activity has been shown to reduce anxiety symptoms in both the general population and individuals with ASD.
  5. Mobile apps: Several apps can help autistic children and adults cope with anxiety by providing visual aids, relaxation exercises, and social skills training.

Equipping children who have ASD with coping skills and self-regulation techniques early on can significantly improve their quality of life and help them manage anxiety more effectively.

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