What is it?
Anxiety is a real difficulty for many adults with autism or Asperger syndrome. Anxiety can happen for a range of reasons and people with autism can vary in their ability to cope with it.
Anxiety can affect both the mind and the body, producing a range of symptoms.
Psychological symptoms might include:
Difficulty concentrating, thinking constantly about the worst outcome, difficulty sleeping and becoming preoccupied with
or obsessive about one subject.
Physical symptoms might include:
Excessive thirst, stomach upsets, pounding heart, headaches and dizziness. If you, or someone with autism you care for, experience any of these symptoms, it is important to also get medical advice to rule out other medical conditions.
How can I help myself?
Keep a diary
To help understand and manage your anxiety, try to identify your symptoms when anxious and the causes of your anxiety. One way to do this is to keep a diary in which you write about daily situations and how these make you feel.
Make an anxiety plan
Once you’ve identified the things and situations that make you anxious, think about what will help you manage your anxiety so that you can cope more easily with these things and situations, and create an anxiety plan. An anxiety plan
might look something like this:
Under the ‘situation’ column, write situations that make you anxious.
Under the ‘symptoms of anxiety’ column, write how the situation you wrote in the first column makes you feel.
In the ‘solution’ column, write down an activity that helps you feel less anxious in the situation you wrote in the first column.
Some people with autism have a particular interest or activity they like to do because it helps them relax. If this is the case for you, you could make it part of your dailyroutine. However, if you think you will get even more stressed if you can’t carry out that particular activity, try building a relaxing activity into your routine that you will always be able to do, whatever situation you are in.
You might need some time on your own for periods of the day to help you unwind. Physical activity can also often help to manage anxiety and release tension. Using deep breathing exercises to relax can be helpful, as can activities such as yoga, which focuses on breathing to relax.
Use a visual timetable or write a list to remind you to practise relaxation. Any other activities that are pleasant and calming, such as taking a bath, listening to relaxing music, aromatherapy or playing on a computer may also help to reduce your anxiety. You may find lights particularly soothing, such as spinning lights or bubble tubes.
The Dorset Health Care University published a workbook that can be useful in helping people with autism and other learning disabilities work through their anxiety. You can download a free copy of the booklet here.
Talking about anxiety
If you find direct confrontation difficult, you may feel unable to say that you don’t like certain things or situations, which may make you feel more anxious. You could use a card system to let your family or friends know how you are feeling. You could also carry a card around with you to remind yourself what you need to do if you start getting anxious. You could also use a ‘stress scale’ (a written list of things or situations that make you anxious) to indicate to those around you that you find something particularly stressful.
It may help to buy the National Autistic Societies Autism Alert card (www.autism.org.uk/card), which is the size of a credit card. You can use this card to let people who don’t know you know that you have autism and what this means, in situations you are finding stressful and where you’re struggling to communicate.
Going to a social group for people with autism and meeting other people with autism can be helpful. Go to www.autism.org.uk/directory for information about social groups in the UK or call the NAS Autism Helpline on 0808 800 4104 (Monday-Friday, 10am-4pm).
Getting support from other people with autism
It may help you to read the personal accounts of other people who have autism, and to see how they deal with certain situations and manage any anxiety they experience. A number of people with autism have written personal accounts of their experiences, such as:
Glass half empty, glass half full: how Asperger’s syndrome has changed my life by Chris Mitchell Making sense of the unfeasible: my life journey with Asperger syndrome by Mark Fleisher Thinking in pictures by Temple Grandin
The NAS website includes personal stories, thoughts, reflections, short films, articles and lecture transcripts about life on the spectrum from people with autism, as well as more information and advice on dealing with stress and
anxiety. Visit www.autism.org.uk
Are you living with autism and anxiety and want to share your experience with other people? Post your personal experience in the comments box below where it will be sent to our moderator for approval. Many people find this part of the site very useful when trying to understand their disorder so your comments really do make a difference. Please note, all comments submitted to the Anxiety UK website may be used by Anxiety UK for (but not limited to) publicity and promotional material.
Anxiety UK would like to thank the National Autistic Society for the content on this webpage.