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by Michelle Nicholson

We know it is common for those with autism to experience anxiety. A survey from the National Autistic Society found that 94% of autistic adults reported experiencing anxiety (NAS survey).

Many individuals with autism, have different ways of experiencing the world.  The condition itself is complex and not every autistic person is the same.  However, there are many common traits/symptoms. Autistic individuals might find situations fearful or stressful that others might not, due to having a more sensitive nervous system and difficulties with emotional regulation. To help paint the picture, here are some common occurrences that can increase anxiety in autistic people:

Processing delays and social situations

We might have ‘executive functioning processing delays’ meaning we can find it hard to keep up in social situations due to taking in information slower. Sometimes we might freeze due to these delays, as our brain does not respond quickly enough.

These are some reasons that we might become anxious in social situations.  Our anxiety and autism related issues become compounded.  As a result, we become even less capable.  It can feel like a vicious circle.

Sensory issues and noisy environments

We might also have ‘sensory processing issues’ which often exacerbate our anxiety.  An example of this is we might be oversensitive to sound.  Hearing everything louder can feel overwhelming.

When this happens, we might not be able to hear conversations properly and it can be distracting.  We might struggle to listen and then it becomes more difficult to process information, leading to more anxiety.  These are some reasons many autistic people struggle in noisy environments.

Overload and inability to concentrate

Whilst struggling, we might get ‘sensory overload.’  This can leave us feeling confused, it can affect our concentration.  We might struggle with everyday activities that we usually find easy.  Others might judge us for this.  This can cause extra anxiety.

Extreme sensory experiences

One way to help with reducing sensory overload, and therefore anxiety, is looking after our sensory needs BEFORE becoming overwhelmed.  This can reduce baseline anxiety levels and make it less likely to have a meltdown/shutdown.

Interestingly, depending on our mood/tiredness etc, an autistic individual’s sensory issues can switch from hypo (below normal) to hyper (excessive) and back again.

Some examples of looking after sensory needs:

Most of all, don’t forget that autism gives us a lot of positive qualities too.

The views expressed by the contributor are not necessarily those of Anxiety UK, nor can we guarantee the accuracy of the information provided. If you would like to write a blog for AUK please email [email protected]  for more information.

Anxiety UK is open to all, and our therapist and volunteers are equipped with the knowledge to help with special requirements and needs. Please just let us know if you have any accessibility issues and we will accommodate where we can to give you the anxiety support you require.

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