Anxiety disorders are by far the most prevalent of the various conditions that co-exist with Autism. I’ve been diagnosed as having both a Generalised Anxiety Disorder (GAD) and a Social Anxiety Disorder (SAD). I have other diagnosed conditions including ADD, PTSD, BiPolar type II and of course Autism; all of which have a high rate of co-existence with anxiety disorders.
In a 2006 study, Prof Simon Baron-Cohen (Director — Autism Research Centre, Cambridge Uni) stated that between 25% and 84% of people with an Autism Spectrum Condition have an anxiety disorder.
There is no reliable published evidence to suggest a causal relationship either way between any of my conditions. So, to me, I just have all those things, they might be (and probably are) related in some way — but it’s a chicken and egg thing, I can’t tell which came first and which, if any could be considered the underlying cause.
Autism is a neurological condition — our brains are wired differently from non Autistics. The way we think, the way we perceive and experience the world is different. Our recognition of these differences, our understanding that we are not like others seems to be one of the main factors triggering anxiety and our sense of disconnection from the world.
Under the DSM-5 or ICD-10 classifications of mental disorders, to receive a diagnosis for an Autism Spectrum Disability requires that our Autism Spectrum Condition needs to be disabling and that it restricts us from having a ‘normal’ life. This diagnosis is done on the basis of observation and reporting on our mainly social behaviours because it is in social interactions that the neurological differences most affect behaviour. Frequently these observations are done when we are young hence this is when most diagnoses are made.
Many of these diagnostic criteria such as social-emotional reciprocity, maintaining and understanding relationships, hypersensitivity to stimuli, fixation of focus and highly rigid inflexible thinking are all greatly exacerbated by anxiety.
It is my observation that an Autism diagnosis is more accurately the recognition of how anxiety is further exacerbating our underlying Autism. The diagnostic process does not and can not (yet) probe into our brains to ‘see’ that we think differently.
Some Autistic people are better able to cope with or manage their anxiety; some Autistic people are better able to mask their behaviours and blend in — consequently it can be extremely difficult for some struggling Autistics to go from having an Autism Spectrum Condition to being diagnosed with an Autism Spectrum Disability where they can possibly receive the help they are needing.
Not all who have an Autism Spectrum Condition will develop an Autism Spectrum Disability. I, like all other Autistics was born with neurological differences but I eventually created a place in the world where I ‘fitted in’. It was only later in my life when I became more affected by anxiety that my ASC became an ASD. My current challenge is to adopt strategies that will reduce my anxieties so that I leave my ASD behind and return to just having an Autism Spectrum Condition.
Losing the disability diagnosis won’t make my Autism go away, it just means my life is getting better again. A life where I can resume enjoying and benefiting from the creativity and differences that Autism brings to my life.