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Anxiety

Disclaimer: This summary is based off of research conducted by Autism Treatment Network members. It is not a summary of the entire body of research literature available on this subject.

Kids and teens with autism might be more likely to feel anxious [1]. Anxiety is feelings of fear, worry, stress, nervousness, or panic. These feelings might happen when thinking about the future, or could come up at seemingly random moments. Anxiety can be shown through thoughts, physical feelings, and behaviors.

To make sure that a child’s anxiety is seen and treated, doctors and nurses should talk to both the parents and the child [2]. Kids with ASD and anxiety might also have digestive issues like stomach pain, diarrhea, constipation, and nausea [3][4]. Kids with digestive problems and stomach pain have more anxiety symptoms and may be more sensitive to sights and sounds around them [3][4]. This means that digestive issues, sensory problems, and anxiety may go together in children and teens with autism [3][4]. While medications helped reduce some anxiety symptoms for children with autism, negative side effects were common and led some families to stop using the medications [5]. Doctors should be aware of how anxiety medications may cause some children to be in a bad mood, as well as cause other problems in children with autism [5]. Behavioral treatments such as cognitive-behavioral therapy, a type of talk-therapy, help some kids with ASD with their anxiety [5]. Doctors can think about other treatments, such as cognitive behavioral therapy, when they are deciding the safest way to treat anxiety in kids who also have ASD [5].

While medications showed some success in reducing anxiety symptoms for children with autism, negative side effects were common and made the drugs less effective [5]. Doctors prescribing medications should be aware of how drugs may negatively affect both mood and other symptoms in children with autism [5]. Behavioral treatments, such as therapy, showed some success in reducing anxiety symptoms in verbal children with ASD [5]. This suggests that alternatives to medication could be considered when determining the safest way to treat anxiety in a pediatric ASD population [5].

Frequently Asked Questions

  1. WHAT MIGHT MY CHILD BE FEELING?

    • Some might feel fear, worry, stress, nervousness, or panic
    • These feelings might happen when thinking about the future or could come up anytime
    • Anxiety shows in thoughts, physical feelings, and behaviors
  2. WHAT CAN ANXIETY BE RELATED TO?
    Kids and teenagers with anxiety may also have [3][4]:

    • Digestive issues
    • Stomach pain
    • Diarrhea
    • Constipation
    • Nausea
    • Sensitivity to sights and sounds around them
  3. WHAT TREATMENTS HELP WITH ANXIETY?
    Two options for treating anxiety are medications and therapy [5]. Things to be aware of are:

    • Medications can help reduce some anxiety symptoms in many kids. Negative side effects can be common and may make some families decide to stop using the medications.
    • Behavioral treatments such as cognitive-behavioral therapy (a type of talk-therapy) help some kids and teens with their anxiety.
    • Your doctor can think about using medications and cognitive-behavioral therapy when deciding the safest way to treat anxiety in children with ASD.
  4. WHAT CAN PARENTS AND CAREGIVERS DO?

    • Schedule an appointment for you and your child to talk with a doctor or therapist to learn about anxiety [2].
    • If you are not sure, ask them what to look for. What information do they need from you to help your child/teen with their anxiety problems?
    • Keep track of your child’s mood and other autism symptoms as some medications used to treat anxiety can cause them to get worse [5].

Additional Tips

Take your findings to your next appointment. All children and teens with ASD should be checked for problems with anxiety and your doctor can talk about different options to help your child. To learn more about the individual manuscripts referenced above, please click on the title of the article (in dark blue) in the reference section below.


References