Autism and Anxiety

Man holding his head
540 385 Paul Louden

Anxiety hovers over a person on the spectrum like a gray cloud. The world is very stressful, because uncertainty looms everywhere.


A lot of people with autism don’t really have any awareness of how stressed they are, how to recover, or how long it’s going to take to recover.


Anxiety is a real and serious problem for many people on the autism spectrum. I’ve heard this from parents, teachers and doctors, and I’ve also heard this from people with autism. Often, anxiety can lead to panic disorder and phobias.


Children with autism express anxiety or nervousness in many of the same ways as neurotypical children. This could mean separation anxiety, anxious worrying or social anxiety. These issues commonly affect both children with and without autism. However, social anxiety is especially common among kids with autism.


That said, one of the most important parts of an autistic’s life is figuring out what parts of their schedule are most stressful for them.


For example, many people on the spectrum become stressed in social situations and don’t know how to pinpoint the source. When you don’t recognize what’s causing the stress, you don’t have the tools to ask for help in finding a way to make the situation easier.


Helping an autistic discover the source of their stress and an awareness of how stressed they are, how to recover, or how long it’s going to take to recover, is among the most important steps toward a more productive life.


If you have any tips or suggestions on how you think people can better understand the stress felt by those on the spectrum, I’d love to get your feedback!


Thanks for reading.


— Paul

  • Rachel

    I know we have a huge issue in our house, so luckily I know the sourse of anxiety, and the anxiety from this issue can be way too much for my younger son diagnosed as on the spectrum. His brother has a slew of emotional issues but never diagnosed with autism. Caleb is 10 his brother is 16. His brother is the aggressive type, always trying to rough house, and pull his brother out of his comfort zone (the 16 yr old is 6’2 and 198 lbs). He yells a lot and causes many loud exchanges between he and myself, obviously I try to keep the volume as minimal as possible, but this causes an enormous amount of anxiety for Caleb. He usually hides in the laundry room and paces back and forth counting his fingers. It breaks my heart. So I’ve gotten them both in therapy, a wonderful place that specializes in creative therapies. Caleb surprisingly loves it, and has opened up in a big way. The older one has serious issues inclkuding OCD and social anxiety/panic disorder, and this therapy has brought out, that he does these things to Caleb because it’s about control, the only thing in his life he can control. its teaching him to back off and find some new coping skills. Its been a long road but I am seeing huge results!!! But these creative therapies are fun for everyone! Adults, kids with autism, and teenagers with issues beyond just teen angst benefit from this type of therapy. Not boring talky talky therapy. Theres some talking of course, but I reccomend this approach if it is something you or tour loved one can tolerate. Its amazing to watch it unravel the jumble of anxiety that happens so frequently to those on the spectrum and those who care for them.

  • Rhonda Leate

    We taught our “spectrum” kid to use nice smelling lip balm when anxiety threatened to take over in classrooms .. the aroma therapy re-focused him on nice things & he didn’t look odd to peers when he used them. He uses a candle tart warmer in his room as well. Everything he wears fits into his tactile issues too..something as little as a “sound” his pants make can him anxious. It’s all about the details!! A novel way for people to understand the overstimulation common to spectrum kids & adults is to have them sit in a room, blast multiple types of music, a siren, crowd sounds, bang the tables..then add flashing lights, strobe lights, etc the. ask them to listen to your speech. It works.

  • Michele

    Enjoyed your thoughts on Autism and anxiety. My 10 year old son is on the spectrum. Has high anxiety and not surpringly difficulty with social situations. Your thoughts were spot on…. how can they learn to control their anxieties when they don’t recognize the cause of it. I had never thought of it like that before but makes total sense!! And this is something I’m going to concentrate on!!

  • Suzanne Stoehr

    When young people, on the Autism Spectrum, suffer from anxiety do they find various types of relief? should the anxiety be treated or their relief (behavior) be punished. this concerns this gramma when it comes to a 21 year old living at a private school. Thank you Paul for sharing with us. Bless You.

  • susan

    We have not witnessed any melt downs or much problem behaviors since becoming more involved w/the school and learning more on our own. Still, there is one signal that helps grandson immediately drop any disruptive attitude that may be lurking around the corner and that is to hold up my hand; palm facing grandson in the “stop” stance. We at home did not teach him this signal but seriously have noted that it works to bring a stop to any behavior or physical action that needs to stop. After it works we give grandson encouragement and thank him for stopping.

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